I awake each morning trying to remember which diet plan I’m doing this week. Is it low fat, low carb, or vegetarian? Slimfast, Nutrisystem, or Jenny Craig? Sugar Busters or South Beach? I’ve even been known to start a day on Weight Watchers and end it on Atkins.
But lovers of things containing fat, take heart. I subscribe to a newsletter on healthy aging and jumped for joy this morning as I read that many people are way too limited on the fat they consume. Since hot fudge sauce is my valium, I can now live in perpetual lala land! (Ah, that it were so easy.)
Consider the following risks of a diet too low in fat – from the American Heart Association no less!
1. Poor Vitamin Absorption
Eating a diet too low in fat can interfere with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Because these nutrients are fat soluble, your body needs dietary fat to utilize them. These vitamins are stored mostly in the liver and fat tissue and are important in bodily functions such as growth, immunity, cell repair and blood clotting. If you’re not eating enough fat to bring these vitamins into your body, they will be excreted, and you may be at risk for a vitamin deficiency.
A diet that’s too low in fat—especially essential fatty acids, which your body can only get from food—might hurt your mental health. Both omega-3s and omega-6s play roles in mood and behavior. They are the precursor to many hormones and chemicals produced in the brain. One study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders has linked low and abnormal essential fatty acid intake to depressive symptoms. Other research shows that, because fatty acids help to insulate nerve cells in the brain, allowing these nerve cells to better communicate with one another. People who are deficient in omega-3s may suffer from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and ADHD. Lord knows I don’t need any further disorders, think I’ll have a stick of buttah, as Paula Deen encourages us.
I know from personal research, that withholding chocolate chip cookies contributes to acute depression. Go ahead and have one just don’t eat the whole bag.
3. Increased Cancer Risk
Colon, breast, and prostate cancers have all been correlated with low intakes of essential fatty acids. Research has shown that a high intake of omega-3s slows prostate tumor and cancer cell growth, too. If your diet lacks healthy fats, you could be increasing your risk of cancer.
4. High Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Low-fat diets also play a role in cholesterol levels and heart disease. When your diet is too low in fat, your body’s level of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) goes down. This is problematic because you want your HDL level to be high to help protect against heart disease. HDL collects “bad” cholesterol from the blood and transports it to the liver for excretion. When those ratios are out of balance—and when your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) level gets too high, you face cholesterol problems and an increased risk of heart disease. Essential fatty acids, especially Omega-3s, can elevate HDL, improve cholesterol levels and protect the heart.
5. Imbalance of Nutrients—Especially Carbs
If you’re not eating enough fat, then you’re likely getting too much of other things, namely carbs and/or protein. This affects the overall balance of your diet, which could lead to health problems. A carbohydrate-rich diet can inflate appetite and girth and increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. On the flip side, a high-protein diet taxes the kidneys and liver and can lead to osteoporosis. Both cases can result in nutrient deficiencies. The key is to balance all three macronutrients—fat, carbs and protein—to ensure optimal nutrition and disease prevention (more on that below).
If you’re always choosing low-fat or fat-free foods at the grocery store, you could be shortchanging your weight-loss efforts. Many of these processed foods contain added sugars to enhance taste; often they’re similar in calories to the original full-fat product. Research has shown that people tend to believe these foods are “freebies” and will even overeat them, thinking they’re healthy or low in calories when they’re anything but. Plus, fat helps carry flavor in our foods. It leads to fullness and satiety, which means you can get by longer on a meal or snack that provides fat without feeling the need to eat again soon. When that fat is missing, your appetite may get the best of you.
Considering the health risks of not eating enough fat, it is definitely important to include enough in your diet daily. However, not all fats are created equal. Foods such as avocados, canola and olive oil, almonds, tuna, salmon and flaxseed are all excellent sources of healthy fats. High-fat meats and dairy products, trans fats (hydrogenated oils), and saturated fats should be limited.
I’m thinking if I add flaxseeds to my chocolate chip cookies, I can call them nutritional supplements.
Just as eating too few calories can hurt your weight-loss efforts, a diet too low in fat can hurt your health, too. Enjoy a moderate amount of fat daily with the peace of mind that you are protecting your heart, brain and your body with every bite.