The Knives are out for Fat

Well, the fat has really hit the fan today. In the wake of the National Obesity Forum’s robust stand against a low-fat diet, there’s been a chorus of voices damning its report, with Public Health England’s chief nutritionist branding it “irresponsible and potentially deadly”. Stern words indeed.

Let’s take a look at what’s got everyone up in arms. Here’s what Dr Aseem Malhotra, a senior adviser to the National Obesity Forum, had to say: “The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history.

“We must urgently change the message to the public to reverse obesity and type 2 diabetes. Eat fat to get slim, don’t fear fat, fat is your friend.”

After decades of brainwashing, his words have the ring of the evil queen urging Snow White to try a nice rosy apple. Fat, sadly, has simply had the worst PR in the world and it’s going to take an awful lot of flag-waving to rehabilitate it.

Throughout the ‘90s (when the low-fat movement really hit its stride), I worked in food processing PR, handling pan-European campaigns for behemoth US food ingredients companies. I can still recall in three languages the technical applications of a host of additives I worked on. At the time – and this was long before the scales fully fell from my eyes – I admired the ingenuity of the food industry to manufacture such a vast range of fake foods, while quietly wondering how healthy they might be.

These additives were engineered to make low-fat foods palatable by putting back in the “mouthfeel” that had disappeared along with the fat content. The other thing that evaporated with fat content was taste, hence why sugar – cheap and addictive – was poured into our new generation of “healthy” low-fat foods. And the net result? Certainly not a more slimline public, as promised by all those lovely adverts and label claims. Instead, we got a catastrophic rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Irresponsible and potentially deadly. Now, where have I heard those words before?

My PR days are long, long behind me. So too is any belief I may have once held that the likes of margarine and low-fat yoghurts are anything but damaging to our health.

As a health coach, the loudest drum I now bang is for people to ditch low-fat and return to the good fats that have been a key part of the human diet for ever. It’s a topic I return to again and again, most recently here.

I’m delighted to reproduce below the outline recommendations put forward in the National Obesity Forum’s report.

  • Eating fat does not make you fat
  • Saturated fat does not cause heart disease and full-fat dairy is probably protective
  • Processed foods labelled “low fat”, “lite”, “low cholesterol” or “proven to lower cholesterol” should be avoided
  • Starchy and refined carbohydrates should be limited to prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes
  • Optimum sugar consumption for health is zero
  • Industrial vegetable oils should be avoided
  • People should stop counting calories
  • You cannot outrun a bad diet
  • Snacking will make you fat
  • Evidence-based nutrition should be incorporated into education curricula for all healthcare professionals.

(Amen to that last one!)

The perverse insanity of fat-phobia has gone on, unchecked, for far too long. Too many people have paid the price of their health. I fervently hope that this report marks a turning point and that, before the decade is out, we’ll see low-fat foods lose their grip on the public’s purse and plate.

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