Getting to the truth about fats vs. carbs

By Carol Taylor, MCN, RDN, LD, Registered Dietitian and Journalist

When it comes to diets, weight, and eating patterns many – even medical professionals and researchers – focus a lot on calories or carbs or fats.

For a while, fats equaled foe. On a basic level, it’s understandable. The body needs six nutrients to stay healthy: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water.

Three provide calories:
Carbohydrates: starches like bread, rice and pasta, vegetables, beans, and fruits.
Protein: meat, fish and shellfish, poultry, dairy such as milk and yogurt, beans, and tofu.
Fats: oils, butter plus the fats in nuts and seeds, meat, and dairy

Carbohydrates and protein have just 4 calories per gram, while fats have 9 calories per gram. Calories are the amount of energy released when the body breaks it down. So, if stored body fat is stored calories, then wouldn’t it make sense to cut back on calories. And cut back on fats, which

provide the most calories. Simple math, right?

But our bodies are not simple. Each is unique and complex. We’ve learned so much more about the body, how it works, how one is not like another in many ways, and how much we have yet to learn.

We tried replacing fats with carbs (and still are), often with refined, highly processed carbohydrates such as lower-fat chips and cookies. When fat was stripped from foods, companies added sugar to make up the difference in taste and texture. People often didn’t lose weight and maybe even gained weight. And too many refined carbohydrates – foods made from white flour and highly processed foods such as chips, snack crackers, and sweets have been linked to a greater risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.
Our bodies need some fats for energy and to help absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. They help us feel full and food tastes better.
But that doesn’t mean fats are better than carbs, especially if carbs are replaced with foods high in saturated fats (bacon, butter, steak, heavy cream, coconut oil, cream cheese, lots of cheese, gravy). Too much saturated fat is still considered unhealthy for the heart. (More recent research has found whole-fat dairy is not linked with heart disease.)

Replacing refined carbohydrates with moderate amounts of
Monounsaturated fats – avocado, canola oil, olives and olive oil, nuts and peanut butter, salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, rainbow trout, and mackerel
Polyunsaturated fats – corn oil, flaxseed, safflower oil, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and oil, and walnuts and
Plant proteins – tofu, beans, peas, nuts, seeds lentils, tempeh, and whole grains such as quinoa and oatmeal
can help protect the heart and lower the risk of death from coronary heart disease. Focus on eating more of all those delicious, fiber, vitamin, and mineral rich foods above along with lots of vegetables, fruits, and protein will help you naturally cut back on rich refined starches and sugars. A gradual shift to a more balanced, nutrient dense foods most of the time will create a healthful eating pattern that is sustainable for uniquely you.

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