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The Skinny on Fats

For decades we’ve been taught to be wary of fats—especially saturated fats—because they cause heart disease and weight gain. Now we’re told that they’re not such villains after all. “Don’t blame fat” (Time, 6/23/14, pages 28-35) gives us the history of the anti-fats movement as well as the reasons for the scientific turnaround in thinking. A few points stand out in this article that are relevant to becoming a “normal” eater.

One is an explanation of how certain carbs can hurt you. According to Dr. Dariush Mozzaffarian, incoming dean of nutrition science at Tufts University, “It has to do with blood chemistry. Simple carbs like bread and corn may not look like sugar on your plate, but in your body, that’s what they’re converted to when digested.” This doesn’t make carbs bad, but it’s helpful to understand this process when trying to cut sugar intake.

If you’re trying to eat when hungry and stop eating when full, it’s useful to recognize that, “…sugars stimulate the production of insulin, which cause fat cells to go into storage overdrive, leading to weight gain. Since fewer calories are left to fuel the body, we begin to feel hungry, and metabolism begins to slow in an effort to save energy. We eat more and gain more weight, never feeling full.” Although this theory is challenged by Dean Ornish, repeated studies conclude that it’s difficult to lose weight if you’re going the low-fat route because “fat and meat can produce a sense of satiety that’s harder to achieve with carbs, making it easier to simply stop eating.” So if you’re avoiding fats and eating lots of carbs, you may actually end up hungrier and less satisfied—and fatter.

Plus, “More and more of what we eat comes to us custom-designed by the food industry to make us want more.” Stop a moment and digest this nugget of truth. The food industry wants you to eat more of their product and doesn’t care a fig about your health or your weight. “How we eat—whether we cook it ourselves or grab fast-food takeout—matters as much as what we eat.” A hamburger or steak, or practically anything you consume outside of your home, is going to be a great deal healthier if you buy it in the supermarket and cook it in your kitchen. Although what we eat may seem the same whether it’s consumed inside or outside the home, in truth, it isn’t.

In many ways, the deck is stacked against us—heredity, the food industry, a history of dieting, and varying scientific conclusions can make it difficult to know exactly what and how to eat. The best we can do is to remain informed about nutrition, use our critical thinking skills, follow the rules of “normal” eating, and try to eat mindfully.