For decades, we’ve been told that eating fat will make us fat and the only way to lose weight is to exercise and cut calories. Yet again, the ‘experts’ appear to be incorrect. Dr Nigel Harris, a senior lecturer of fitness and exercise science at AUT University wanted to test the theory that fat is not to blame for the obesity epidemic and can in fact help people to lose weight.
Harris starts the day with an 800 calorie, 80g fat breakfast shake of raspberries, full-fat coconut cream, cream and chia seed. That’s double the ‘recommended’ calories that should come from breakfast (for healthy adults eating 2000 calories per day).
The diet Harris follows promotes eating lots of vegetables and food containing natural fats – such as nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, avocado oil, unprocessed meat and full-fat dairy products, while limiting the intake of carbohydrates.
“I lost 2 kilograms,” says Dr Harris. “I wasn’t trying to. I really didn’t have any fat to lose. I lost 2 kilograms in total and of that; 1 kilogram of it was fat. So that’s despite eating 3000 calories a day.”
What this demonstrates is that it is possible to eat fat and get lean. While you could technically gain weight from eating too much fat, this is highly unlikely as fat is very filling; following a high-fat, low-carb diet is the easiest way to inadvertently eat less and feel satisfied. The main culprit for weigh-gain is sugar and refined carbohydrates. Eating a traditional high-carb diet causes levels of the fat storage hormone, insulin, to rise, which can stop us from burning fat. Saturated fats are only bad when eaten with a lot of carbohydrates and it’s much easier to overeat fat and carbs together…How many times have you been out for a meal and can’t resist having a piece of warm, crusty baguette smothered in butter? Before you know it, the basket is empty before the starter even arrives!
There are many more studies that demonstrate how lower carb dieters lose a lot more weight than people on low fat diets – of great interest was a very recently published study funded by the US National Institute of Health. In the study 21 obese adults were put on either a low carb diet, a low fat diet or a low glycemic index diet. The dieters had all their meals prepared, and each of the diets had the exact same number of calories.
The low carb dieters lost the most weight, low glycemic index were second and low fat lost the least weight. It is important to note that a low glycemic diet is similar to the low carb diet, but some grains are added, like old fashioned oats and brown rice, carbs that digest slowly.
This is a very interesting finding, because traditional nutritionists will tell you that a calorie is a calorie, and that all diets with the same energy intake should have yielded the same weight loss. But they didn’t. In fact, participants burned around 300 calories per day more on the low carb diet. This shows that you can get better metabolic effects from a lower carb diet.
What if everything we thought we knew about calories was wrong?
Weight loss is much more complex than simply calorie counting and scientists are starting to discover that the standard way of measuring calories, established more than 100 years ago, may not be terribly accurate, especially when it comes to higher fat foods, like nuts. Food scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently published a new study that finds almonds have about 20 percent fewer calories than previously documented.
It is important to note that the calorie figure you see on a food label isn’t always the amount you will ingest. A 30g handful of pistachios is said to contain around 170 calories, the reality is more like 160. When eating a similar serving of almonds, you are likely to get just 128 calories rather than the 170 stated on the label.
So, how exactly do you lose weight?
The answer is simple, eat fewer carbohydrates. Start by reducing most of the white ones; bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and especially added sugar (including alcohol). Replace some of your breakfasts with eggs, try omelettes; they will keep you fuller than cereals. Minimise carbs and boost your protein intake at lunch time if you wish to reduce that 3pm nap attack. Don’t worry about fats, except avoid the ones that deep fried foods are cooked in. Other fats can be healthy, such as Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Avocadoes and Nuts, all of which can help to boost mental performance. Of particular note is oily fish (Salmon and Tuna), the DHA in fish oil is a major structural component in our brains, and low levels are associated with all sorts of mental issues (depression, neurological decline, memory issues). Try our delicious Mediterranean Salmon recipe.
Keep your vegetable intake high (especially the brightly coloured ones), but just try to reduce the bulking carbohydrates that tend to go hand in hand with our meals. By following this, very simple approach you should lose weight. Of course exercise will only help with your journey. Most importantly, do not be concerned if you have a splurge day. This is the bain of many dieters; they think their diet is ruined if they do. It isn’t, it will just affect the speed of your weight reduction. In short, it’s no big deal; we all deserve a treat every now and then.