We’ve all heard the wisdom that eating fat, any fat, is bad for you. “Fat-Free” is supposed to be healthy.
But, like so many fads, it turns out to be incorrect.
The low-fat craze was based on surveys that showed that people who ate high-fat diets had more trouble with heart disease and stroke. Cause and effect, right? But as it happens, reducing fat in the diet didn’t actually improve health outcomes. By contrast, the heart-healthy “Mediterranean Diet” turns out to include up to 45% of calories from fat. That’s hardly low-fat!
There are probably several reasons that we were wrong. We now know that some fats are better for you than others. We used to think that “saturated” fat, such as the fat in butter, was completely bad for you; but it turns out that the effect on your health is neutral. On the other hand, the oils found in nuts, plants and fatty fish seem to be actually helpful.
And anyway, we have to eat something. If lots of sugar and processed starches are substituted for fat in a low fat diet, they may not be so good for your either, and in fact you will probably wind up eating more calories total!
In particular, fructose and corn syrup cause damage that can lead to obesity and diabetes. Carbohydrates (starches) cause damage too.
So, how to feed your kids?
It’s ok to eat a little meat, butter, and eggs. Try quinoa: it’s tasty, just as easy to cook as rice, and very good for you. Yogurt is excellent, but not the presweetened kind: if you sweeten it yourself with a little honey, it’s much better than the prepackaged high-sugar kind.
Frozen and packaged meals are full of bad stuff. (If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, maybe it isn’t really “food!) Surprisingly, fruit juice and sweetened drinks, even if “all natural”, are as bad for you as soda. And avoid fast food restaurants, for certain.
And … don’t forget the non-diet health opportunities: give your kids daily exercise, minimize TV and screen time, and encourage them to trust their appetites!
Click here to read more about dietary fat.
Click here to read my thoughts about avoiding obesity, beyond watching the diet.
Click here to read how to avoid food battles, and teach kids to manage their own food intake.
— David Epstein MD