The Forty-Year Low-Fat Folly
It seemed to make sense: If you don’t want fat on your body, don’t put fat into your body. Fat has 9 calories per gram (about 120 calories in a tablespoon), compared to just 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates or protein. So, in the 1970s, prominent nutrition experts began recommending that everyone follow a low-fat diet, in the belief that eating less fat would automatically help lower calorie intake and prevent obesity.
The Truth About Body Fat
In our weight-obsessed culture, it’s common to disparage the fat in our bodies. But body fat is a highly specialized organ, critically important for health and longevity. Among its many functions, fat surrounds and cushions vital organs like the kidneys and insulates us against the cold. Body fat also signifies health, conferring beauty when distributed in the right amounts and locations. But critically, fat is our fuel tank — a strategic calorie reserve to protect against starvation.
Why Calorie Restricted Diets Don’t Work
According to the USDA’s Choose MyPlate website, “Reaching a healthier weight is a balancing act. The secret is learning how to balance your ‘energy in’ and ‘energy out’…” A secret, indeed! In reality, no one, not even nutrition experts, can accurately “practice” calorie balance. Without elaborate technology, it’s virtually impossible to estimate to within 350 calories a day how much we eat and burn off. A calorie gap of that magnitude can mean the difference between remaining thin and developing morbid obesity in just a few years. For that matter, if counting calories were key to weight control, how did humans manage to avoid massive swings in body weight before the very concept of the calorie was invented?