The following is a guest blog from Kaitlyn, our social media manager, editor, mom of two boys, and devoted Hometown Harvest customer. Follow along as she embarks on a 10-day real-food-only pledge.
Much of the “real food” pledge seems pretty intuitive; fruits & veggies are healthy, so of course we should eat lots of them. A concept that’s not so easy to understand is the insistence on whole foods—fat and all. While not explicit in “the rules”, the 100 Days of Real Food blog encourages folks to give up “lite, nonfat, or low-fat” foods like skim milk, nonfat yogurt, low-fat cheese, etc. But we’ve had it drilled into us for decades that high amounts of saturated fat (the kind found in animal products) can be linked to heart disease and, well, FAT in our bodies…so why would we consciously add that kind of fat back into our diets?
The truth is that the increase in American obesity rates has occurred despite “low-fat” products flooding the market, so it could be that fat in its natural form is not the problem. Food activist Michael Pollan makes the argument that in order for low-fat versions of products like milk and yogurt to taste good, processed ingredients like sugars and salt are added in. It’s also suggested that without the fat, we don’t feel as full and tend to overeat (entire box of fat-free Snackwell’s anyone?). Would we be better off just eating the whole, unprocessed form of the food in its most natural state? Some argue yes, and that it’s all about the portion size, baby.
In recent years, there have been a growing number of studies linking certain health problems to this “low-fat” craze that suggest we are missing out on key nutrients by not eating some whole-fat foods. In the Journal of Epidemiology (2008), two studies were published linking nonfat milk consumption to higher levels of prostate cancer in men compared to men who consumed whole-fat milk or nondairy calcium sources. As the mother feeding two boys and my husband, this caught my attention when I learned of it in a nutrition course I recently took.
There has also been significant attention paid to the issue of Vitamin D deficiency in many Americans these days, myself included. Vitamin D is somewhat of a super nutrient, and helps the body protect against heart disease, cancer, bone problems and many others. When I had my Vitamin D levels checked in late 2011, they were so low that I was prescribed a high-dose supplement. I heard this scenario repeated among friends and family members, and our pediatrician recommended a Vitamin D supplement for both my children. Initially this broad deficiency was linked to poor exposure to the sun (due to sunscreens and indoor occupations) but I have to admit that I am not diligent about slathering up before heading outside. So where is the deficiency coming from?
Some suggest that this fat-soluble vitamin is not being absorbed by our bodies when we consume nonfat dairy products (even those fortified with Vitamin D). In fact, most Vitamin D supplements are supposed to be taken with food, presumably to increase absorption through fats. Would it just be easier to drink a small glass of whole milk or use a tbsp of real butter to sauté fresh veggies? Could this help explain why cultures like those in Greece or France consume very high-fat diets but still maintain much lower levels of heart disease?
Of course this does not take into account those with dairy allergies and intolerance, but it does go to the larger argument of avoiding so-called “lite” or “low-fat” food products in general in favor of whole fat products with all their nutrients intact. If we’re avoiding refined sugar, eating plenty of fresh produce and whole grains, perhaps reasonable portions of whole fat foods could make a beneficial difference to overall health.