It seems as though every few years, a new diet fad comes along. The low fat approach was popular last decade, only to give way to a type of diet that is almost its complete opposite – the ‘low carb’ Atkins or Zone approach. It’s easy to forget that it was only about a decade ago when pasta was considered healthy – in fact, athletes were told to ‘load up’ on carbohydrates such as pasta before a big race or sporting event!
That sort of advice would be ridiculed today, and maybe that’s understandable. But the low fat approach to eating and weight loss deserves a second look. After all, there are so many harmful types of fat out there. Nowadays, most of us know that we should avoid the ‘trans fats’ that are in many snack foods, and we try to avoid foods that are high in saturated fat or cholesterol. There is solid medical evidence that shows us that eating low fat is better for heart health.
Susan Powter, a popular fitness guru, lost more than a hundred pounds using a low fat approach to eating coupled with a lot of exercise. She claims to eat about 3000 calories a day – way more than you would eat on any diet plan, and about a third more than is recommended for a woman – but she maintains her slim, fit physique. Her secret? She eats no foods that deliver more than 30% of their calories in the form of fat. In fact, she tries to keep that fat percentage down as low as possible – around 10 – 15%, with 30% being the maximum allowable. Powter claims, in her no-nonsense manner, that ‘fat makes you fat. That’s why they call it fat’. Does she have a point?
It is a bit controversial, because according to her plan, you could eat plates of bread and pasta all day long on the basis that they don’t have much fat. By now, everyone knows that that wouldn’t be the best idea, particularly if you’re eating bread or pasta that’s made from white rather than whole wheat flour. For one thing, these foods fill you up without giving you much nutritional value, which is a serious problem in and of itself.
Also, simple carbohydrates raise your body’s glycemic level, which provokes an insulin response and has been proven to lead to weight gain, particularly around the stomach, where it puts you at risk for diabetes and heart disease.
The secret, then, is to limit fat but to make wiser carbohydrate choices as well. Whole grains, for example, are on top of the food chart as the type of food most recommended by many nutritionists. If you replace your white bread, rice and pasta with whole grain versions, that might be the best idea of all. The fiber in these foods will help you feel fuller, and you will get all the benefit of a tasty, low-fat diet with added nutrition.
The jury is out on whether one can really eat 3000 calories worth of low fat food and still lose weight. Unless you’re exceptionally active, it seems doubtful – that’s a lot of calories. But if you want to follow the low fat approach to eating, you can definitely eat enough to stop you from feeling hungry. You can have all your favorite foods, but the low fat version of them. For example, you’re welcome to have popcorn, but don’t slather it in butter. Instead, you can add great taste by sprinkling a little soy sauce on your popcorn, and that makes it less dry as well. You won’t even miss the butter. And you can have pizza, but make it yourself,, and put about half the cheese on it than you would otherwise have done. Use strong, good quality parmesan, for example. You won’t even notice that there’s less cheese if the cheese you do use has a lot of flavor.
Fruits and vegetables also figure prominently on this eating plan. Chances are, if you are eating a lot of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, you won’t even miss the higher fat foods you used to love. In fact, there may be no reason to mix them, because the supermarket shelves are full of lower fat alternatives!