For decades, we have been told that to stay fit, we need to cut fat from our diets. “This whole idea is scientifically untrue. In fact, science shows just the opposite. The reality is that the more fat you eat, the more fat you lose and the better your body functions,” writes Mark Hyman, an American physician, author and scholar, in his new book, Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why The Fat We Eat Is The Key To Sustained Weight Loss And Vibrant Health. The book focuses on incorporating high-fat, plant-based foods into the diet for a healthy life.
In an email interview, Dr Hyman clears up the air on whether eating meat high in fat content is good for health, and the approach one should take to manage weight. Edited excerpts:
Growing research says meat can lead to heart disease, cancer, even depression. Another set of studies claims that vegetarians have weaker immune systems. What’s the truth?
Looking at the research, it is easy to get confused. Studies on the vegetarian diet show they aid weight loss, reverse diabetes and lower cholesterol. Healthy diets that include meat, like the Paleo Diet, seem to do the same thing.
The problem with a lot of the research around vegetarian diets and diets that include meat is that we’re often looking at individuals who eat a diet high in processed foods.
The key is to focus on a diet rich in whole, real foods, healthy fats, and healthy protein....
I call this a Pegan Diet or Paleo-Vegan, which is what I have chosen for myself. It focuses on what is common between the Paleo and vegan diets, and it is very low on glycaemic load (a measure of the quality and quantity of carbohydrates in a meal). The Pegan Diet is low in sugar, flour and refined carbohydrates of all kinds, high in vegetables and fruits, low in pesticides (no additives and preservatives), high in good-quality fats (nuts, seeds, omega-3 fats), and provides adequate protein for appetite control and muscle synthesis. Ideally, organic, local and fresh foods should form the crux of the diet.
Most dieters keep a tab on their calorie intake. Does this strategy really work?
Food, it turns out, is not just calories, but “information” that radically influences our genes, hormones, immune system, brain chemistry, even our gut flora, with every single bite. If you eat the same amount of calories in kale or gummy bears, do they do the same thing to your body? We are continually told that the regulation of weight is as simple as calories in/calories out, but it’s not that simple, and it doesn’t work.
Some experts suggest a high-fat, low-carb diet for weight management; others claim that a low-fat, high-carb and high-protein diet does the trick...
Everyone is different. Some people do better eating a high-fat diet, while others do better eating a moderate amount of healthy fats and more plant-based carbohydrates, but everyone needs healthy fats, and no one needs processed or refined carbohydrates. In fact, eating fats shifts your body towards fat-burning. Fat works on the brain to cut your appetite, so you tend to eat less overall during the day. On the other hand, calories from sugar and carbohydrates do exactly the opposite. They slow your metabolism and shift the body into “fat storage” mode, resulting in increased hunger and cravings.
The best way to figure out what works for you is to start with a low-glycaemic, whole-food diet, including healthy fats and proteins, and play around with the quantity. Keep a food journal so you can keep track of how different foods affect your body.