There have been hundreds of fad diets which drift in and out of favour, but one of the most recent fashions has finally been promoting a more balanced approach – a sort of food revolution that many people refer to as the healthy, or ‘clean’ eating movement. It has completely changed the way huge numbers of people think about, cook and enjoy food, which has been a wonderful transformation to watch and participate in over the past few years.
As this has been born from no one book, or person, in particular, I thought it might be helpful to summarise the key guiding principles as I understand them:
- A reduction in processed foods, alcohol, sugar and refined carbohydrates
- A move towards more plant-based eating, increasing legumes, fruit & vegetable consumption
- A reduction in wheat, dairy and meat consumption (with associated increase in vegan eating)
- Less worry about overall fat and embracing of healthier fats
Unfortunately, despite the scientifically proven benefits of consuming a diet packed full of fresh produce, low-GI carbohydrates, healthy fats and plant-based proteins, the inevitable backlash against this movement has begun. But what can be ‘wrong’ about such a highly varied and flexible diet? The healthy eating movement is not a fad diet (something I would never support), as it promotes all food groups in balanced quantities.
Interpretation of its principles varies considerably from person to person, and I think the key concern here is perspective. Rigidly held rules, with no room for the flexibility required in real life to allow food to be enjoyed without anxiety, is sadly a recipe for disordered eating. There is no such thing as a perfect diet, and constantly seeking out the idea of this dietary perfection will inevitably lead to demoralisation, because it is an unachievable goal. Foods are not ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’. They are just foods. To be chosen with care, prepared with love and eaten with enjoyment. So, let’s keep some balance, trust in the guiding principles and remember that there is always space for a slice of proper, old-fashioned cake on your birthday.
One of the main controversies that has hit the press recently has been around fats. The healthy eating movement promotes their consumption, so long as it is done with balance – focussing more on enjoying an abundance of healthy fats found in things like olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish. However, this goes against public health advice, which still generally advocates a lower-fat diet. This has lead to a great deal of confusion, and some fairly strongly worded responses from both sides.
If this has left you wondering what you should be doing, here is my own interpretation of the debate. And you might be glad to hear that it is actually pretty simple. It is far more about finding the right balance of fats than it is about their overall quantity. Fat should not be feared.
- Avoid trans fats: they are unequivocally bad news and serve no benefit to us. Found in processed fats like margarine, cakes, biscuits and after heating cooking oils (especially sunflower) to high temperatures.
- Consume saturated fats with caution: alone, it is not the evil nutrient that it has been made out to be in the past, but you still want to make sure that you are eating more unsaturated fats to keep everything in optimal balance. Try to avoid too much saturated fat eaten alongside refined carbohydrates or sugar – as this is a pretty bad news combination.
- Enjoy polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats regularly: things like nuts, seeds and olive oil can be enjoyed every day and have multiple health benefits.
- Consider supplementing with omega-3 fats: as very few of us manage to eat enough in our everyday diets – but do make sure that you are eating whole fish as well if possible
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EAT FAT, GET THIN by DR MARK HYMAN
A fantastic resource which delves deeply into the science and background of the fat debate, is a book recently published by a friend and mentor of mine, Dr Mark Hyman. Not only a practicing doctor, US-based Mark is a successful author, political advisor and driving force behind the Institute of Functional Medicine, where I am continuing my own studies (see my blog post on Functional Medicine here).
‘Eat Fat, Get Thin‘ presents fascinating break-throughs in our understanding of dietary fat, and unlike many diet books, reliable scientific evidence is presented to back up the claims. I would never promote anything that I do not personally believe in, but I genuinely feel that the revolutionary information contained within this book is essential reading for anyone interested in how their diet may affect their health, now or in the future. Once read, you will never view fat the same way again.
Eat Fat, Get Thin deftly reveals how our long-held beliefs about dietary fat are fundamentally flawed and based on misinformation. And beyond the in-depth scientific validation, Dr. Hyman’s empowering narrative provides an action plan enabling everyone the opportunity to recapture health and finally attain a healthy body weight.” David Perlmutter, MD, author of Brain Maker and Grain Brain
BUY EAT FAT, GET THIN