We instinctively tag a person as a villain if they are called ‘Mogambo’, ‘Gabbar’ or ‘Shaakaal’. Sounds judgmental, but that’s how we are wired to think. Something similar happened with fats, one of our body’s three most essential nutrients. Just because we associate the word fat with a shape and outer body appearance, the nutrient too got bundled with it and popular belief became that fats make you fat. Moreover, for the fast food companies, propagating this belief became a way to cut their costs by replacing good quality fat sources with cheap shortening alternatives that also had longer shelf life. And so everyone was happy with the fat-free era – the producer since this opened up a totally new market for them, and the consumer, who was mostly gullible enough to believe that those zero-fat wheat crackers, sugar-laden breakfast cereals, It’s-not-butter spreads and low-fat milk were good for her health. Except, world over, the reality is much different from what was expected.
Let us talk about India alone. In a recent review paper titled ‘Epidemiology of childhood overweight & obesity in India’, the observers reviewed the data on trends in childhood obesity reported from India during 1981 to 2013. The analysis on the data from 16 states across the country showed that the childhood obesity rate is around 20%, up by 4 % in just 5 years. At last count, India ranked third in the list of the most obese nations in the world! The western countries that are the creators of addictive, fast, convenient and palate pleasing foods and also the lands of origin of a bouquet of diets are doing even worse. Neither is their supermarket food working for them, nor the highly researched and recommended fad diets. On the other hand, we all have that granny or those aunts who gawk at our measly plates and squirm at the thought of roti without ghee or dal without tadka. They seem to be pretty confident that fats are a must for glowing skin, functioning joints and an active body. Granted, that they may not have the best of figures themselves but you would notice that they aren’t morbidly obese, physically fatigued, brain fogged or chronically ill. What are we missing? Did we go after the wrong guy?
Let us, therefore, understand the true role of fats in our bodies. Fats are essential for our bodies. Along with carbohydrates and protein, fats are responsible for supplying calories for all bodily functions. Fat molecules help transport vitamins and minerals throughout the body. Vitamins A,D,E,K are all fat-soluble, so fats are required in our diet to ensure proper absorption of all these vitamins. Without adequate fat in the body, many diseases associated with the deficiency of these vitamins such as vision troubles, dry skin conditions, poor blood clotting and bone softening can occur. Also, fats provide the necessary insulation to our vital organs and protect them from sudden movements. Additionally, our nerve cells are coated with fat tissues, which enable smooth transfer of electrical signals within our body. Contrary to popular belief, a low fat diet leads to increased appetite, less satiety, more fatigue and resentful, along with causing hormone imbalance, insulin resistance, weight gain (yes!), digestive issues, poor brain function and even diabetes – the very disease that low fat products claim to fight.
The body’s craving for fat, which is a result of our evolution and genetic makeup of thousands of years, does not simply go away because we are on a diet. To compensate for that craving, we end up substituting good fats such as cow’s ghee, cold pressed oils, home-made butter and omega 3 rich oils with apparently bad foods with processed sugar, simple carbohydrate products such as breads and cake and even the covert bad foods that present themselves as “healthy”. Some examples of such foods that have gained a solid place in our households are multi-grain biscuits, breakfast cereals, low-fat chips and fat-free bread spreads. They have successfully pushed out our home-made mathrees with achaar, stuffed paranthas with curd and besan cheela out of our plates in the name of being easy to get, quick to eat and fortified with nutrition with their marketing strategies. When popular faces of celebrities lend their voice and support to such products, we feel that they validate the goodness of the product and thus start the endless cycle of getting addicted to one product after another.
I recently attended a health workshop by Akshay Chopra, a fitness enthusiast and author of many books on nutrition. Some of the highlights of his session were as follows-
- Every diet works for some time for a simple reason – that it cuts out the junk! Simple. The fact is that you may get short-term results by suppressing your cravings but in more than 99% cases, the person gains back the weight (and even more) once the self-control ends, and it always does. The important thing is to train your mind to identify good, healthy, local and pleasing to the palate cuisines and stick to them in moderation.
- Black coffee does indeed help in increasing metabolism and mobilizes stored fat, but it is only beneficial to do so if one is working out, so that the fat gets converted to energy. He has personally been taking butter-coffee for a long time and swears by its taste and impact.
- Any product that is marketed as ‘no-one-can-eat-just-one’ is a product that contains unhealthy amounts of taste enhancers, salt, sugar and low quality fats. They are so addictive that indeed, no one can stop at just one. Avoid those. Nutritious, wholesome food, which is eaten slowly and consciously, leaves a person feeling light and happy, neither ready to burst, nor unsatisfied.
- The key to digestive health and long life lies in eating local, seasonal food and that too, up to 80% of one’s capacity at any time. Being a little hungry at the time of wrapping up the meal gives time to the stomach to process the food a little, which in turn tells the brain that it is through with the meal.
- Before making a grocery purchase, think if your previous generation (or better still, the generation before) had access to this food. They can still be kept as a benchmark in terms of long-term health management. Reading labels and checking the percentage of sugar per serving will give you an idea of how that item might taste and what impact it may have on your body.
In short, if you are a person who, for many years, has had toast without butter, parantha without ghee, eggs without the yolk and only soups and bread for dinner, loosen up a little bit. Start by making small changes to your diet and incorporating good fats, without frying them. My simple rule is to swap the white with the yellow or brown in your diet. See if you feel more satisfied, more active and ready to burn those extra calories from fats. If you want to become a low-fat person, you don’t need to give up fats in your diet. Take them in moderation and then burn the extra calories. In two words -Eat Fat.
* For specific medical issues, contact a professional, preferably a nutritionist.