Weight Loss Myth: “Avoid Fats in Your Diet”

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Nutrition is probably one of the most widely misunderstood areas of our lives. It’s this confusion that leads us to experiment with fad diets, take weight loss pills, and read blog posts like this one (thanks for joining us). However, the uncertainty surrounding nutrition and weight loss is nothing new. Much of the advice that we base our eating habits on comes from decades-old misinformation. For instance, from 1960 to 1980, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Health and Human Services agency, and food industry lobbyists all endorsed a set of dietary guidelines that would go on to sabotage beach bodies for decades to come. Their advice was this: stay away from fats.

This herculean myth allowed the food industry to market low-fat, high-carb, and highly processed snack foods as the convenient solution to our health issues. And yet, rates of obesity and associated diseases like diabetes have skyrocketed since these guidelines were formally published in 1980. The data is in, and we now know that this advice is totally wrong. There is no evidence to suggest that cutting fats out of your diet has real health benefits – quite the contrary. We now know that moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats offer important health benefits for a properly functioning human body.

“Your body needs fat,” says Ann Porter, RDN, LDN, a reputable dietitian, nutritionist, and founder of Nutrition on the Go, Inc. in Rockville, Maryland. “Fat provides energy and is a carrier of essential nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids. Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and support cell growth. They help you absorb certain nutrients, protect your organs, produce hormones, and keep your body warm.” Sounds important!

“So why did they consider fat bad in the first place?”

Good question. The answer is simple: there are more calories in fat than there are in carbs or protein. Let’s back up for a second. There are only three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Protein and carbs each have 4 calories per gram, while fats include 9 calories per gram. The idea that fat is inherently bad because it has more calories is a terrible oversimplification—one that many older adults still apply to their diets today. Porter continues, “Consuming high levels of calories – regardless of the source – can lead to weight gain.” By eliminating fat from your diet, you are merely setting yourself up to consume more carbs. And that’s exactly what happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Today’s health-concerned seniors are more likely to avoid healthy fats than younger generations, as they were present during popular anti-fat campaigns. Health authorities have since modified their advice, making room for healthy fats in our daily recommended calories.

So, how should seniors incorporate fats into their diet for overall health and fitness? The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for adults is 20% to 35% of total calories from fat. However, Porter cautions that not all fats are created equal. “Consuming high levels of saturated or trans fats can lead to heart disease and stroke. Always remember to choose foods that provide good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and balance the number of calories you eat from all foods with the amount of calories you burn.” Consider having a sit-down with a registered dietitian to learn about your own daily nutrient requirements. Until then, here’s a free consultation from Ann Porter: “Aim to eat a balanced, healthy intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, including low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts; and limit your intake of sodium, sugar, sweetened beverages, and red meat. Doing so means that your diet will be low in ‘bad’ fats, sufficient in ‘good’ fats, and you’ll be on the right track towards optimal health.”

Of course, also be sure to exercise daily. The combination of a proper diet with a quality workout routine is a potent formula for longevity and fulfillment among older adults. Looking to improve your health and overall quality of life? Get in touch with RenewMe Fitness today.