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High fat, low fat, what next?

Last Tuesday I got a name check on the Radio Scotland Kaye Adams show. A client had phoned in to discuss the latest advice on eating fatty foods. He described how I had encouraged him not to avoid full fat products and instead to monitor the amount he was eating. (He also called me a dietician which isn’t true but I won’t worry unduly about it.) Their resident expert went on to praise my advice, in particular where it related to portion control. Go Me – fame at last!

Okay, so I’m enjoying showing off the radio mention but the salient point here is the full fat argument. The latest recommendations from the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration are that we should plump for full fat foods and treat sugar like it’s poison. These reports are being debunked as fast as they can be slapped onto the newspages so it seems everyone wants permission to gorge on pasties and diet soda.

My nutritional learning when I first became a Personal Trainer was to take 40% of your calories from carbohydrates and 30% each from protein and fat sources. If a client requests a diet plan this is what I recommend. These are broad brush strokes, though, and don’t really demonstrate the content. Take, for example, the difference between calories from fat and protein. There are 4 kilocalories per gram of protein and 9 kilocalories per gram of fat. This means that your protein source on your plate could be a palmful of lean fish but your comparative fat source could be a cube of cheddar no bigger than a matchbox. Both would equate to 30% of the calories on your plate. You’d get a bigger helping of mozzarella and a smaller chunk of parmigiano, though, so you’d still have to check the percentage of fat on the cheese packet and do your sums from there... confusing much?

Several years ago I ran weight management classes with the NHS called “The Winning Weigh” where we were instructed to recommend bulking up on starchy carbohydrates to reduce hunger. Within the same course dieticians would recommend artificially sweetened juice in place of sugary drinks. Although it’s practically the opposite of this most recent report, it was the advice at the time.

So here’s my take on maintaining a long term, sound relationship with food. I believe ultimately that full fat is best. To me, a natural healthy diet will not be achieved until a client has a handle on portion control and this means that full fat is perfect but there’s not much of it on the plate. Consider also the artificial sweeteners, including healthy sourced sweeteners such as Stevia, and their effect on the portion size. Their sole effect is to encourage a person to eat more bulk with fewer calories.

This means that a person who regularly consumes their recommended calorific intake in reduced fat and artificially sweetened food will be consuming a far greater physical amount than one who eats only full fat, naturally sweetened produce. How can this person understand food when they don’t even know how many mouthfuls constitute a normal diet? When their stomach elasticity doesn’t even correlate with their calorie intake? When their digestive throughput is bulked with artificial preservatives rather than good old fibre? That’s a losing battle and I truly believe it’s the cause of the yoyo dieting because people simply do not learn to eat real food.

I know how terrifying it can be for me to tell you that you should ditch all the “reduced”, “lower”, “sugar/fat free” crap that you currently use as your weight management crutches. It doesn’t have to happen in one day and if you’ve been successfully using these products to keep your weight under control I’d recommend planning their departure from your life with care and self respect. After all, if you’ve become so accustomed to overly sweetened foodstuffs that a perfectly ripe Perthshire strawberry doesn’t taste like a slice of heaven to you then you’re missing out on so much flavour.

I also know that when you meet someone who has a genuine relationship with their diet, it’s a pleasure to eat with them and relish all good food together. And that’s the true gift of food. Everything in moderation to me means ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING in moderation.

Enjoy Good Food!

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