Carbs vs fats in the news…again
A few weeks ago, a study was published that resulted in a lot of dramatic headlines, such as “Your Low-Fat Diet Could Kill You!”
The media always make a big deal out of these nutritional studies because they know we need to eat, we like to eat, and we’re already confused about what we should eat. Or not eat.
Headlines that the one above are great clickbait.
Observational studies do not prove cause and effect, and are very dependent on the participants’ honesty and commitment. At best, these studies identify interesting trends. At worst, they contradict each other and make us crazy when we go to the grocery store.
Is alcohol good or bad? Is coffee good or bad? Is milk good or bad? Is salt good or bad? Are eggs good or bad?
And now we’re back to the question of fats and carbohydrates. What’s good and what’s bad?
Here’s what I think.
Too few fats is probably bad
I was interested in this particular study, called the PURE study, because it was quite large, tracking 135,000 adults in 18 countries. In short, researchers found that people on strict low-fat diets (less than 10% calories from fat) didn’t live as long as those that enjoyed more fat in their diets—even the much-demonized saturated fat.
This observation really didn’t surprise me. Less than 10% calories from fat is really low. We need some fats in our diet.
Fats give us energy. Fats help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients. Fats give us the “essential” fatty acids our bodies need for brain health, blood clotting and immune functions.
We probably don’t even know how important fats are to our health, or how they work in combination with other foods. Again, nutrition is very complex and difficult to study.
Too many carbohydrates is probably bad
The study also reported that those people with diets high in carbohydrates (more than 77% calories from carbs) were just as likely to die early as those with low-fat diets.
This did surprise me a little, because even relatively good-for-you carbs like whole wheat bread, brown rice, fruit, and potatoes can be considered bad for you if you eat too many every day. Dried fruits and fruit juices are especially high in carbs.
I’ve always assumed that you can’t eat too many fruits and vegetables! I remember a public health campaign many years ago that encouraged people to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day—or more. “Five alive, nine divine” was the tagline.
Interestingly, the PURE study showed no health benefit in eating more than 3 or 4 servings of fruits and vegetables a day!
Eat everything in moderation
I’m a huge fan of Michael Pollan’s books on food and nutrition (see below for my favorites!). And I love his advice: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
I like to cook and I like to eat almost everything. If I follow any diet plan, it’s a Mediterranean-style diet with olive oil, vegetables, garlic, legumes, nuts, fish and lean meats. I try to limit portion size and exercise enough to keep the extra pounds off.
I prefer using butter to margarine, and I love ice cream.
While I get some saturated fats in my diet, most my fat calories are considered the “healthy” fats.
If this latest study changes anything in my diet, it will be cutting back on carbs. I grew up in a family that always had to have bread, pasta, rice or potatoes as a side dish, and I’ve just kept up that tradition.
I can easily eat less bread and potatoes. My husband and I love pasta, but I recently bought a nifty tool for making spaghetti noodles out of zucchini (see below). It’s amazing! Rather than do away with pasta entirely, I’m replacing half the pasta with the zucchini noodles (zoodles, a friend calls them).
I’ve heard that finely chopped cauliflower is a great substitute for rice. I’m going to try that next time I make a stir fry.
I no longer buy orange juice or dried fruit, and I’m going to try and eat only seasonal fruits.
If you are interested in knowing more about the results of the PURE study, I recommend these two reviews:
They present the findings with more consideration to the limitations of the study, and don’t try to frighten the reader with threats of early death 🙂