Many people believe that a low-fat diet is the best way to improve heart health — when, in reality, healthy fats are better than no fat at all.
Diet fads come and go. As soon as a new diet comes on the scene, it often seems as if nutritionists quickly learn that the diet doesn’t have quite as many benefits as dieters were led to believe. But although diets change throughout the years, some trends remain consistent — low-fat diets, for example, have persisted in various shapes and forms throughout the past few decades.
What is the low-fat diet “myth”?
Beginning in the 1980s, diets with minimal amounts of fat were considered to maximize nutrition and improve heart health. The idea seems pretty simple: if you don’t eat fat, you won’t gain body fat. Although minimizing body fat can technically help with weight loss, scientists assert that a nutritious diet rich in healthy fats can be even healthier than no fat at all.
Low-fat diets aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When you swear off all fatty foods, you are excluding potentially heart-healthy foods in exchange for fewer calories and less flavorful meals. It’s true that too much fat can lead to heightened cholesterol and diminished heart health. But the truth behind fatty foods is more complicated than that. For your best heart health, dieters should avoid saturated fats, but continue to eat unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated vs. saturated fats
A variety of reasons explain why diets rich in unsaturated fats consistently prove to be healthier in the long run when compared to strictly low-fat diets. Foods rich in unsaturated fats can actually strengthen your cardiovascular health by improving circulation, providing crucial nutrients, and helping your nervous and immune systems. Plus, replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is a reliable way to decrease harmful cholesterol levels.
Unsaturated fats come in a variety of different forms, from omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats to monounsaturated fats. Common examples of foods with healthy fats include fish, natural oils (olive, canola, peanut, and others), nuts, seeds, tofu, and avocados.
Benefits of a good-fat diet
For heart-healthy eaters, the benefits of a diet rich in unsaturated fats aren’t limited to the cardiovascular contributions made by unsaturated fats. Diets rich in good fats are also ultimately better than low-fat diets because they are easier to maintain. Low-fat diets, while they might be an effective way to lose weight in theory, require you to greatly restrict the types of food you eat. Instead of a normal, balanced diet, low-fat diets often place strenuous demands on your eating habits. With an ultra-low-fat diet, you might find yourself constantly abstaining from food that’s perfectly healthy in moderation. As a result, your dietary restrictions may lead you to have difficulty ordering from restaurant menus, cooking foods you actually enjoy, and savoring your overall dietary experience. The abstinence-based approach of low-fat diets can make you hungry, and these diets are rarely maintained for long periods of time.
Because low-fat diets can place a major strain on your eating habits, they have the potential to be much less effective than a more permissive diet rich in unsaturated fats. When you can eat more of your favorite healthy foods — from eggs, to peanuts, to fish — you can improve your heart health, enjoy your meals, and have a diet you can actually stick with.
Heart health at Tri-City Cardiology
With our team of qualified heart health experts, Tri-City Cardiology can help you to improve your heart health, one bite at a time. Our clinics are located across the Phoenix metro, which means you won’t have to travel far to find trustworthy, patient-focused heart care. To learn more about taking care of your heart, contact us today!