Low-Fat is BACK!
When it comes to weight loss, which diet is best: a low-fat diet, or low-carb? Everyone thinks they have the fat loss answer, depending on which anecdote or eating plan they’ve just heard about.
You probably know about the new study that suggests we all may be making the wrong assumptions when it comes to low-fat and low-carb diets.
It turns out, one isn’t better than the other.
A year-long study out of Stanford University monitored a group of over 600 people, half of whom followed a low-carb diet and the other half, a low-fat diet.
They weren’t given any targets or told to count calories, just to stick to certain kinds of foods and limit either fat or carbs.
For example, the low-fat diet group avoided oils, fatty meats, full-fat dairy, and nuts, and the low-carb diet group avoided cereals, grains, and starchy vegetables. Both groups were told to eat more veggies and avoid processed foods.
What the researchers found was that people in both groups, despite their genes and other factors, lost an average of 12 pounds each, putting the kibosh on the whole low-fat or low-carb diet debate.
Low-carb or low-fat didn’t matter, but what did matter across both groups was the type of carbohydrates or fats participants consumed.
Those who ate the fewest processed foods, sugary drinks and unhealthy fats while eating the most vegetables lost the most weight.
“If you reduce starch and sugar and you increase minimally processed healthful foods like vegetables, weight will go down naturally,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and nutrition expert at Tufts University who is not connected to the study. “About 10 pounds a year, which is pretty substantial.”
The results add to a growing body of research calling fad diets into question.
More Confused Than Ever?
Don’t be: the question isn’t “Which diet is best”? but “Which diet is best for you“?
There’s no easy answer here, but there is an answer.
The right diet for you will be one that’s effective and sustainable. Your own body chemistry, your lifestyle and personal tastes are the important factors, and it may take some experimenting.
Lead study author Christopher Gardner told PBS that he and fellow researchers analyzed the participants’ insulin levels and genetic variations that might be linked to how their bodies process fats and carbs, but the results this time around were inconclusive.
Stanford researchers plan to continue combing through the data to see if other biological factors, such as those linked to individual microbiomes or to epigenetics, for example, impacted the results.
Gardener has a hunch that one key factor is satiety:
Some people might feel full after eating a bowl of steel cut oats for breakfast, for instance, while others still feel hungry. Meanwhile, the same people unsatiated by oatmeal might do better with eggs and an avocado.
A low-fat diet may work better for you, for example, but your friend swears by low-carb.
It seems to come down to which diet you find more satisfying.
No one has to be wrong.
Example: Me and My Husband
After many years of following a strict low-carb diet, I went through a period of extreme stress, and found myself gaining weight and feeling unsatisfied and out of control.
While I believed, intellectually, that a low-carb diet had the edge, my body was telling me otherwise.
Out of desperation, I reverted back to the low-fat diet which had helped me shed post-baby weight back in the early nineties.
While the low fat diet was no longer trendy, and went against the “ketosis fat-burning advantage,” I was happily surprised to find my weight almost falling off (and without the hunger I remember from years ago).
The difference this time around, was my inclusion of higher amounts of (lean) protein, which I had become accustomed to over years of low-carb dieting.
For inspiration, I’ve been using a cookbook I’ve had forever, Secrets of Fat-Free Cooking by Sandra Woodruff, RD, and tweaking the recipes to include more lean protein.
I looked for a more recent low-fat cookbook, but since low-fat diets aren’t popular right now, I couldn’t find a newer option that surpassed my ‘Old Faithful’ (suggestions, anyone?).
I didn’t (and don’t) count calories or carbs, and I eat to fullness. I even have a “cheat meal” every week or 2, where all bets are off.
I lost nearly 40 pounds, and have easily kept it off for a year now. And I really do mean easily.
By the way, my husband is still on a very low-carb ketogenic diet, and when he follows it strictly, he happily loses weight while eating high fat and high calorie meals.
I often joke that I am reminded of that old English nursery rhyme (only I’m Jack, and we have dogs):
Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean
Jack ate all the lean,
Joan ate all the fat.
The bone they picked it clean,
Then gave it to the cat
So here are the low fat cooking techniques and supplies I use that will be useful for those on (or back on) a low fat diet.
Low-Fat Diet Cooking Techniques and Supplies
Why do it:
Because it doesn’t require cooking oil, broiling is a great way to cook healthfully. It works particularly well with thin, lean cuts of meat like chicken cutlets, thin cuts of pork, and fish, which cook through before they dry out.
A plus: Less than 10 minutes of a broiler’s intense heat creates something that’s too often lacking in low-fat cooking―a crispy crust.
What you need:
A broiler pan. It has two parts: a slotted tray and a pan the tray rests on. The slots siphon off any fat that drips off the food.
If you don’t have a broiler pan, you can place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet. To avoid hours of soaking and scrubbing, line the pan or sheet with foil.
To reinforce the flavor of the marinade or glaze, baste the food frequently during broiling using a basting brush or a paintbrush (a new one, of course).
If you’re serving the liquid with the meal, be sure to set some aside before you baste so you don’t contaminate the cooked food with bacteria from the raw meat.
Why do it:
Steaming has a nutritional advantage besides requiring no fat. “It retains among the highest amounts of nutrients of any cooking technique,” nutrition specialist Wendy Bazilian, R.D., says.
Steaming creates a closed environment that envelops the ingredients in moisture. It’s the ideal technique for fish and vegetables, ingredients that tend to dry out easily.
“Usually the paler and whiter the fish, the lower the fat,” says Bazilian, who cites halibut, cod, snapper, and sole as examples.
The trick is not to let the pan run dry. As a reminder of when to add more water, toss a few marbles or coins into the pan before you add the steamer. The force of the boiling water causes them to jangle; they’ll quiet down when the pan dries out.
What you need:
The standard steaming setup consists of a collapsible metal basket in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.
For a makeshift version, place a small heatproof bowl upside down in a deep pot, add ½ inch of water, and balance a small heatproof plate on top. Place the food on the plate, then cover the pot with its lid.
Drizzling a few drops of olive oil over steamed food just before serving will impart a lot more flavor than sautéing the ingredients in an entire tablespoon of fat.
Why do it:
When you poach, the liquid gives food an exceptionally tender texture, which in turn infuses the liquid with its own flavor.
To poach, place chicken or fish in a large, shallow pan, add just enough water or broth to cover it, simmer gently so that only a stray bubble breaks the surface.
By the way, if you’re making chicken, remove the skin before you poach it: “You immediately cut the fat grams by more than half,” says Bazilian.
What you need:
A saucepan that’s deep enough to submerge the ingredients and a watchful eye, so that only an occasional bubble breaks the surface (otherwise, the meat may become tough).
Instead of pouring the cooking liquid down the drain, turn it into soup by adding vegetables and perhaps some pasta for substance.
Recent research indicates that when people eat soup, they tend to fill up quickly due to the volume of liquid. As a result, they consume fewer calories overall without feeling deprived. “That psychological satisfaction,” Bazilian says, “is very, very important.”
Cooking en Papillote (In Parchment)
Why do it:
A combination of steaming and baking, this cooking method works really well with fish and chicken (which dry out easily), because the paper pouch traps the moisture and the juices.
Just place food on a piece of parchment paper, wrap it up, and put it in the oven.
When it’s ready, as you pull away the crinkly, slightly burnished edges of the parcels, you’ll feel almost as if you’re unwrapping a healthy gift.
What you need:
Don’t substitute wax paper, which shouldn’t be directly exposed to heat. If the seams start to unfold as soon as you let go, use a lemon half or a carrot as a paperweight.
The ingredients for a parchment package are limited only by your imagination.
Use a different fish. Add some olives. Try asparagus instead of fennel, potatoes in place of beans.
Whatever your creation, include a variety of colors as well as some fresh herbs, finely chopped garlic, or thinly sliced fresh ginger.
Why do it:
When you puree vegetables, they go from ordinary to velvety with the touch of a button.
Puréeing involves two basic steps: simmering the vegetables (say, squash or broccoli, sweet potatoes or cauliflower) until they’re tender, and blending them with broth until they’re smooth.
Adjusting the amount of broth determines whether you end up with a soup or a side dish.
If you want to put a little olive oil in your purée, fine. Bazilian explains that eating low-fat isn’t just about avoiding fat. “It’s about choosing fats intelligently,” she says.
What you need:
Food processors are terrific for chopping, but for a really smooth puree you’ll need to pull out the blender.
If you’re using a traditional countertop model, whir hot vegetables in batches, filling the jar only halfway―unless you want to spend the night cleaning the ceiling.
A time-saving alternative is an immersion blender. Basically a blender on a stick, it can be placed directly into a pot of hot liquid.
Add a garnish―choose something with a contrasting texture and color, like pumpkin seeds or fresh herbs.
Chopping the seeds distributes the crunch and makes a small sprinkle seem like an abundance; heating the seeds brings out their flavor and aroma.
The best diet for you will appeal to your personal tastes and allow you to enjoy your food and feel satisfied.
To some extent, it also depends on your biochemistry (I hit a ‘wall’ with low-carb dieting, and began to gain weight, instead of lose).
With the right cooking techniques, a low fat diet can be extremely flavorful and satisfying, allowing you plenty of volume, the full compliment of nutrients, and much-needed fiber.
If you haven’t thought about the low-fat diet in a long time, now is a good time to revisit the idea, as science has proven that it’s as effective for weight loss as the low-carb diet.
Admittedly, it’s not in style (at the moment), but when it comes to your weight and health, there’s no need to be influenced by “groupthink.”
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