I can still remember when fat-free half-and-half came out.
It was like a miracle had appeared in the dairy case. We gazed at the tall, slim container, disbelieving the promise. Could it be true? Could we actually drink cream in our coffee again?
In my efforts to slim down, I was one of the first in my family to adopt nonfat milk. “It looks like milk-colored water,” a friend said skeptically. I downed it with a casual smile. “It’s healthy,” I told him.
Today the dairy case is full of fat-free contenders. Whether you’re looking for yogurt, cottage cheese, or sour cream, you can get a version with all of the protein and none of the fat.
And that’s good, right?
Except we’re living in the 21st century.
A time when research has moved on from the fat-free craze that captivated the end of the 20th century.
Today, 5 out of 5 experts interviewed by Time magazine say you should never drink fat-free half-and-half.
Why would you replace a natural product with fat-free milk bulked out by corn syrup, carrageenan, artificial color, disodium phosphate, guar gum, and vitamin A palmitate?
It’s taken a long time for the tide to turn, but now most folks realize that fat-free dairy products come with a steep cost.
To preserve the taste, food manufacturers pump sugar and sodium into nonfat dairy options.
As a result, nonfat dairy is more likely to make you GAIN weight than its full-fat counterpart.
Researchers have found that people who choose full-fat dairy products are less likely to be obese than those who don’t. Enjoying the full-fat version won’t contribute to diabetes or cardiovascular disease, either.
In fact, the fatty acids in dairy could even help you burn more energy and store fewer calories as fat.
I’m not surprised.
Switching to a nonfat diet—at least, as nonfat as I could make it—didn’t help me slim down. Instead, I continued fighting my weight for about another decade.
I drank herbal teas, ate cabbage soup, and refused to have butter or cheese in the house. The less I ate, the more I patted myself on the back.
And wouldn’t you believe it…
It wasn’t until I moved in with a boyfriend who adored cheese and never bought anything but full-fat milk that I realized I’d wasted years of my life.
Eating the occasional cheesy treat and putting full-fat milk in my tea didn’t make me gain weight.
Rather, for the first time I could remember, I no longer felt hungry all the time.
I was full … and I wasn’t any fatter.
The ‘war’ on saturated fat is the biggest mistake in the history of nutrition.”
Now we know the truth. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat.
If anything, not eating fat can make you fat.
Obesity rates started to rise at about the same time the first guidelines came out recommending a low-fat diet.
So should we all be eating the Atkins diet?
Should we load up our bread with butter and slosh cream into our coffee?
The answer is no.
And this is where it can get a bit confusing.
Researchers are quick to clarify that full-fat dairy products don’t contribute to obesity as long as they’re consumed in normal quantities.
Replacing the dairy products you eat now with full fat (and ideally unsweetened) versions can help you lose weight.
Eating a lot more dairy products? Not so much.
Researchers are also investigating whether organic dairy products from grass-fed cows might be a superior choice when it comes to weight loss, citing increased amounts of Omega 3s.
But dairy isn’t the only or even the best source of healthy fats.
Omega-3-rich plant-based fats such as extra virgin olive oil and avocados belong in every diet. (Not all plant-based fats are the same, however. Most vegetable oils don’t have olive oil’s health benefits.)
For me, learning to enjoy flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds made a world of difference. When I throw a tablespoon or two of seeds into my morning smoothie, I feel full for the rest of the day.
And I think back to the days when I ate half a nonfat yogurt for breakfast, banking on the fact that I’d be busy at work to power through hunger pangs. I marvel at the fact I’m slimmer now than I was then.
It takes courage to embrace fat.
I still flinch when I look at the back of a package of hemp seeds and see that 80% of its calories come from fat. I spent too many formative years chasing the nonfat dream to break the habit.
But I’m learning to move past it. I’m learning to stop demonizing dietary fat.
After all, as I’m getting older, I need that fat to keep my skin luminous and radiant. (Skin ages fast on a low-fat high-sugar diet.)
Is it time for you to make friends with fat?