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Worst Idea of the week: “Fat-Free Living” Month.

According to the USDA, which has never been exactly a “thought leader” when it comes to food and nutrition, January is Fat Free Living Month.

This is possibly the worst idea the USDA has ever come up with, with the possible exception of the 1992 Food Pyramid.

Virtually every health professional now understands that fat is vital for our health. But since apparently the USDA did not get the memo, let’s repeat some of the many ways fat is essential in our diet:

1) Fat is an important part of cell membranes.
2) Fat is our main source of energy
3) Fat cushions our organs and tissues and protects them from injury

And that’s just the beginning. Without fat, major vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K are not absorbed (which is why they’re called the ‘fat soluble’ vitamins). Neither are important carotenoids like the eye-protecting lutein and zeaxanthin. Even calcium needs some fat for maximum absorption.

Dietary fat helps us to feel full and to feel fuller longer, thus decreasing the likelihood of cravings and overeating. Unlike carbohydrates, dietary fat has virtually no impact on the fat-storage hormone insulin. In fact adding fat to a meal lowers the overall glycemic impact of the meal. Low-glycemic diets have been linked with lower rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity and even Alzheimer’s. And a fat-free diet replaces fat with carbohydrates, usually of the worst kind. Research has shown that this substitution has significant negative consequences for our health.

Dietary fat is the starting material from which we make all sorts of important chemicals in the body called eicosanoids which, among other things, help regulate clotting and inflammation.

One particular type of fat - omega-3 fatty acids from fish and flax, bears special mention, since it has been a big part of the Atkins Nutritional Approach for many years. The benefits of omega-3 fats in the diet are now universally recognized. They lower blood pressure, improve mood, and possibly most importantly, lower inflammation. Inflammation is now recognized as a major component of every degenerative disease we know of including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. And omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most anti-inflammatory compounds on the planet.

The Atkins Nutritional Approach is based on principles that continue to be supported by research and experience: whole foods, low sugar, plenty of protein, no trans-fats, antioxidants and, yes, a nice balance of fats from a variety of sources. The “Fat-Free” month is an idea whose time should never have come in the first place. It’s time to say good-bye to it for good.

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