In a matter of 20-30 years, we've gone from demonizing butter and glorifying grains to pinning bread as the "bad guy" and putting sticks of butter in our morning coffee!
Honestly, I can't keep up with it all...
I titled this article "Bread vs. Butter", but the discrepancy goes far beyond that.
It's more about carbohydrates vs. fats.
If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, then the idea of eliminating fat is nothing new...
Studies during this time found a negative health correlation with consuming excess SATURATED fat (<-- this is key for later on...) and deemed it harmful to our health...
But to keep it simple, the media suggested we eliminate all fat from our diets.
This led to the "Light" and "Fat-Free" food craze that swept through every grocery store aisle in America...
There was just one problem...
When you take the fat out of food, you're basically removing all of the taste which isn't the greatest for sales as I'm sure you could imagine.
So to fix this, companies started pumping their new "Low-Fat" treats with extra added sugar (refined carbohydrates).
Fast forward 20 years and the rate of obesity is rising faster than ever before...
Here's why I believe we saw such a steep rise...
(And take into account I'm a 22-year-old kid who doesn't have a nutrition degree and only has one credit in statistics.)
The media spent so much time demonizing dietary fat that people assumed that it was fat, and not calories, that caused excess weight gain.
"Look how much fat is in this!"
"I can't eat that! It's too fattening"... while downing a sleeve of "fat-free" Oreos...
You see, "Low-Fat" foods typically contain just as many calories as their full-fat counterparts.
Unfortunately, people assumed that the lower fat content meant they could eat more, which ultimately led to eating more calories...
...which led to gaining more fat...
...which led to worse eating habits...
...which led to higher rates of obesity...
...which got passed on to their kids...
You get the picture.
But what happens next is the climactic plot twist in our foodie movie - so get your Fat-Free popcorn ready!
Remember that scene from the film Se7en where Brad Pitt finds out that Kevin Spacey...
"What's in the F#@%ING BOX!?!"
Yah, it's like that!
(if you've not seen it, I don't wanna spoil the surprise... If you watched it, you know what scene I'm talking about!)
Okay, back to dietary fat...
If you've been following the latest nutrition trends, then you are probably aware of the new low-carb movement.
It seems like overnight fat turned good again, and carbohydrates were to blame for our expanding waistlines.
"I'm eating healthy and still can't lose weight! I've stopped eating bread and everything!"
In my opinion, this low-carb thing is just another fad to hide the fact that we are eating too much and being too sedentary.
Note: There are plenty of professionals who are WAY smarter than I am that preach low-fat and low-carb diets for a number of different health reasons.
Typically, though, I've found that when there are extremes, the truth tends to land in the middle.
I've basically just spit out a bunch of statistics and conspiracies so far in this article...
Let me try and explain my opinion on the "Butter vs. Bread" (a.k.a. fat vs. carbs) debate with some actual facts, so you don't feel like you're following the advice of some self-proclaimed internet fitness guru...
The Science-Stuffz Behind Fats and Carbs
Fat is one of the three macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and protein) that make up the food we eat.
Common sources include Nuts, Butter, Cheese, Oils, Avocados, and Fattier cuts of Meat.
There are also different types of fat as well. The biggies are Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Polyunsaturated Fat.
Pretty much everyone agrees that Trans fat is the bad guy here.
Saturated fat has gotten a bad rap as well, but recent studies have shown that there is no significant correlation between higher or lower saturated fat intake and risk of disease.
In fact, eating some saturated fat is probably a good thing as it is an important precursor for testosterone production.
Each gram of fat contains 9 calories.
(This is why fat has been targeted as the cause of weight gain. Each gram of carbohydrate and protein contain only 4 calories per gram whereas one gram of fat contains more than double that)
Now, just because fat contains more calories per gram than carbs or protein DOES NOT make it worse.
It's just easier to overeat on fat (which is what most people typically do because of added oil and butter with foods).
If you're tracking your calories and macronutrients, you don't need to worry about this.
Along with carbs, fat is a fuel source for the body.
There is a ton of back-and-forth as to whether the body prefers to use carbohydrates or fats as its primary source of energy, but there is so much conflicting evidence that it's hard to keep it straight...
Just know that the body uses both carbs and fats to fuel the body.
It starts by using carbohydrates and then switches to using fat stores once all of the carbohydrate energy has been used up.
Fat is essential for many bodily functions as well, especially the endocrine system (testosterone, thyroid, etc.)
Fat also helps with the absorption of vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E, and K.
Going too low in fat can have a number of unpleasant side effects involving your endocrine and hormonal health.
To avoid this, I recommend that 20-35% of your calories come from fat (depending on preference).
As stated above, carbs are a macronutrient and contain 4 calories per gram.
They provide energy for the body, and a particular type of carbohydrate (glucose) is what provides energy to the brain.
(There is a process of turning fat into things called "ketones" that provide energy to the brain in the absence of glucose, but that is beyond the scope of this article.)
Carbohydrates are found in fruit, vegetables, grains, many processed foods/drinks, and seemingly everything we crave at 11 pm at night...
Carbs are stored in the liver, brain, blood and muscles as glycogen. Their main job in the body is to provide us with energy.
When people recommend low carb diets, it's usually to reduce the response of the hormone insulin.
Insulin is the "fat-storing" hormone in the body, so the theory goes that lowering your carbs (and insulin levels) will lead to less fat storage.
The problem is that carbs aren't the only macronutrient that causes spikes in insulin, protein does this as well.
And the truth is that for most people, spikes in insulin doesn't matter as much as total calorie intake.
If you aren't eating in a calorie surplus, you simply CANNOT gain weight.
The only times I recommend a low-carb diet is for people with Type II Diabetes (where proper insulin secretion is compromised) or folks with insulin resistance who may fair better on a lower carb diet.
For most people, carbs should make up anywhere from 35-60% of their diet.
Context, Context, Context.
So which is better for losing weight, Low-Fat or Low-Carb?
It depends on the context of the situation.
If you are active and lifting weights, you should eat more carbs to fuel your workouts and muscles.
If you are diabetic, overweight or mostly sedentary, then you may want to have a lower percentage of your total calories come from carbs.
Whichever way you go, it's still important to find balance.
It's never a good idea to eliminate fat entirely, and for most folks, eliminating carbohydrates isn't necessary nor enjoyable.
Who wants to live a life absent of bread, cupcakes, and cookies?
As long as your calories are set correctly for your goals and you're getting enough protein, the ratio of your carbs and fats isn't as important.
Just make sure you get sufficient amounts of each. (essentially, don't go below 20% of total calories with either carbs or fat).
Other Tips to Maximize Your Results
Try to get at least 20-40g of fiber per day. These come from whole food carbohydrate sources such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
Limit Refined Sugar
Sugar is a form of carbohydrate.
While naturally occurring sugars in fruits and whole grains are nothing to worry about, there is some evidence that eating too many carbohydrates in the form of refined sugar can cause adverse health effects.
Limit things such as non-diet sodas, candy, white bread, and packaged sweets.
(remember, you don't have to totally eliminate these things, just practice moderation)
Eat Mostly Nutritious Foods
I believe in being flexible with diet, but that doesn't mean you should go and stuff your mouth with Twinkies and Twizzlers all day (no matter how good that sounds...)
I typically follow the rule of 80/20.
Make sure AT LEAST 80% of your food choices come from whole foods (fruit, veggies, nuts, legumes, lean meat, etc.) and then 20% can come from "dirty" foods such as ice cream and pastries.
The media loves to demonize one food over another because it's sexy...
and Sex Sells.
I don't know if it's human nature or what, but we always try to label things as good or bad.
"So and so said fat was healthy, therefore carbohydrates are bad."
"I'm a Republican, therefore Democrats are evil."
"I love rap music, therefore country music is ear-numbing."
"I'm a Vikings Fan, therefore the Packers suck" (okay, this one is actually true...)
If someone tries to sell you on a fancy diet plan that involves eliminating carbs, eradicating fat, or any other type of extreme dietary change - run as far away as you can in the opposite direction.
The truth is that proper weight loss nutrition comes down to:
- Being in a calorie deficit
- Eating enough protein
- Eating mostly whole foods
- Get a balanced ratio of carbs and fats
- BE CONSISTENT!
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