Fat is an essential nutrient that has definitely been portrayed as evil for as long as I can remember, but research is now showing us that it might not be as bad as once thought for your health. Your body needs fat for:
- Normal growth and development
- Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
- Absorbing certain vitamins (like vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
- Providing cushioning for the organs
- Maintaining cell membranes
- Regulating body temperature
- Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods (let’s be honest, fat free is free of taste and texture)
With saturated fat no longer considered to be the devil of the food world, what can we blame our obesity and poor health on? You guessed it-carbohydrates. But here's where we have gotten it so wrong. Carbohydrates are not your body's enemy. In fact most people don't really even know what carbohydrates are. They are not just bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, but also fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and even dairy products. Your body needs carbohydrates because:
- The glucose that results when carbohydrates are broken down is the body’s preferred energy source.
- Your brain can’t function properly without them.
- They help spare protein reserves needed for muscle growth, maintenance and repair.
- Carbohydrates help the body burn fat more efficiently than protein.
- Many foods high in complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) are also high in dietary fiber which helps with better digestion, better blood sugar control, lower cholesterol, cancer prevention and less constipation.
- They provide many micronutrients, such as potassium, B vitamins, vitamin C, which are essential for your body to perform.
- We love them!
Does that mean you should swear off all processed foods and anything white? Absolutely not! White carbohydrates like potatoes and cauliflower provide many essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. And is really realistic to never eat anything processed, like chips, again and be happy? Just like fats, try to include both in your diet using moderation and balance.
So that brings me back to the original question of which is better low fat vs. low carb for health and happiness. I would argue that going low on either will have negative consequences on both your physical and mental health. Our bodies need all foods in moderate amounts (yes, even “junk” food once in awhile). Too much or too little of one macronutrient can be just as harmful as too much or too little of another one. The focus should be on finding an eating plan that is realistic and sustainable. What good is losing weight on a “low something” diet if you can’t maintain it once you add the “banned” foods back into your life? And you will eventually add them back in because our bodies need what they have to offer. Luckily for me, a recent study looking at success of different diets proved that the most successful diet is the one that you can adhere to. Remember, your goal is to be healthy and happy. Ditching the diet and learning how to use moderation with all foods can better achieve this. It’s all about learning how to enjoy a Real Bite!