Every time I see a commercial or print ad boasting about how low-fat and/or low-calorie a food is I want to scream. The menu at Subway tells you that their “FreshFit” options only have 350 calories and less than 5 grams of fat! Oh hooray! The kids’ menu at Olive Garden has little leaves next to the healthy options – at the bottom you learn that those are the options that are low in calories, fat, and sodium. Oh, thank goodness, I wouldn’t want to feed my child any more of those calories than I have to. And carbs! In his song “Let’s Eat”, Macklemore sings, “I never knew what a carbohydrate was. Turns out it’s all the snacks I love…”
How ignorant is our society that the most popular definitions of “healthy” are low-calorie, low-fat, and low-carb? Let me break down this magical diet trifecta one by one.
Calories are fuel. They are not any more indicative of the nutritional value of a meal than the number of channels you get on your TV is indicative of the quality of the shows you’ll be able to watch. Just because I have 300 channels doesn’t mean I’m better off than you, with 50 channels, because maybe you all you’ve got is channels like TLC, E! Entertainment, and Bravo (I’m sorry). Similarly, just because my lunch is 450 calories doesn’t mean that I’m better off than you, with a 600-calorie lunch. Maybe your lunch is a nice big salad full of nutrients, and mine is two slices of greasy cheese pizza.
Carbs are one of the three macronutrients that all food is made up of. Basically, they are what gives you energy. Carbs = energy (thanks ISP!). They seem to have become synonymous with processed grains such as white bread, pasta, and flour, which are certainly bad for you. But unprocessed grains like quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat, wild rice, bulgur, etc. have countless benefits. And don’t forget about your good ol’ fruits and veggies! They’re carbs! There are a whole lot of opinions on whether grains should be part of the human diet (see: paleo) but I’m pretty sure we can all agree that we need more fruits and vegetables, not less. It makes no sense to go on a low-carb diet because if carbs = energy, then a low-carb = low-energy and we already are struggling with getting enough sleep, let’s not make it any worse!
Fat is another macronutrient. I’ve wondered why we’ve demonized this particular one so much. Perhaps it’s because the name is something most of us are afraid to have on our bodies – fat. The fat we eat provides us with energy, maintains our core temperature, and helps us absorb certain nutrients. A salad with no nuts, avocado, etc., and a low-fat dressing is practically an oxymoron. Why bother eating all of those vegetables if you’re not also giving your body a way to take in everything that makes them so healthy? Saturated fat, in excess, is detrimental to your heart’s health, yes. That’s why moderation is key. And if you get the majority of your fat from sources like nuts, avocados, and cold-water fish, which have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, it’s not an issue.
I’m sure you’ve read some of those magazine headlines. I mean, is there anything else to do while waiting in line at the store? You’ve probably seen: “3 Diet Tips That Really Work!”, “Low-Carb Alternatives to Your Favorite Foods”, or “Low-Fat Dinners Under 400 Calories”. Well, I have few “tips” of my own. They’re pretty revolutionary. Are you ready? You might want to sit down for this:
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods
- Listen to your body
- Be awesome
– Beatrice Naujalyte