Monday, April 13, 2015

Should You Eat Less Carbs and More Fat?

If you’ve been following the health news recently, you’ve undoubtedly seen articles saying that carbs are evil and fats are no longer considered bad for you. They might even cite a study or two that suggests the notion. Considering how tasty fatty foods are, it is understandable for people to want to see these studies as a green light to eat as much fat as they want. Unfortunately, throwing caution to the wind is not wise in this case. To understand why, we’ll have to take a historical look at our diet.

Decades ago, dietary guidelines that encouraged eating more carbohydrates and less fat were published in an attempt to reduce the rate of heart attacks and heart disease. At that time, it was believed we were eating too much fat. As a result, we started to eat more carbs and fewer fat calories. However, this didn’t do much to improve heart disease and seemed to have caused other problems such as obesity and diabetes to grow in size.

Now, current studies show that the high-carb low-fat diet wasn’t such a great idea after all. Their results suggest that we should eat fewer carbs and more fats compared to that diet. But, they don’t show in absolute terms how much more fat and how much less carbs is healthy. They also don’t prove that a low-carb high-fat diet is good for you.

So yes, we should eat fewer carbohydrate calories than before. Yes, we can probably eat more fat than we were told to before. But no, that doesn’t mean we can safely eat as many fat calories as we want.

If you think about it, this shouldn’t be surprising. Considering that our bodies need fats, carbs, and proteins to function normally, it doesn’t make sense to deprive it of any one nutrient. Carbohydrates are not inherently bad for us. They are the easiest nutrient for our bodies to extract energy from. In fact, our brains run almost exclusively on glucose, a carbohydrate, for energy. Similarly, fats are not necessarily bad. They are an excellent way for our bodies to store energy and they also provide many other important functions throughout the body. Proteins serve as building blocks and also as a source of energy.

On the flip side, too much of anything, nutrient or otherwise, is bad for our bodies. The body can only process so much of any substance at a time. Get too much of it and it becomes toxic. Even absolute essentials such as oxygen and water can hurt and kill us if we get too much of either!

We’ve already seen the effects of high-fat and high-carb diets over the long term. Currently, I’m seeing a trend in articles about high-protein diets since people are avoiding carbs and fat. If these high-protein diets become wide-spread for long enough, I wouldn’t be surprised to see future studies showing deleterious effects. At that point, with strikes against carbs, fats and proteins, I wonder what direction the next trend will take. Perhaps then, people will remember that balance is the key to much of life and health.

As for now, the next time you see an article about a health food trend, skip the hype and take a step back. Look at the context from which the recommendation is being made and see if it makes sense. If a study is cited, consider looking at the actual publication and seeing what it actually says. It may be quite different from what articles about the study say.


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