Is Fat the Enemy? How the USDA's Food Pyramid Brainwashed Dieters

It's a word that sends many dieters running for the hills: fat. Dietary fat has a bad reputation, and unfortunately it was unfairly earned. While it's true that fat can make you, well, fat, the reality is that not all fat is created equal. It's important to realize how fat affects your body and understand why it's not always the enemy, especially if you're consuming the right type of fat from healthy foods.

Fat Consumption Guidelines According to the USDA Food Pyramid

The food pyramid was endorsed by the government in 1992 and became the staple of healthy eating. Doctors and nutritionists across the nation used the food pyramid as a guideline, which helped patients and clients eat healthier and more well-rounded diets.

Most of us are somewhat familiar with the food pyramid. The idea is to consume so many servings per day out of specific food groups, which is outlined in the pyramid itself. The bottom of the pyramid represented foods that should consist of the majority of your diet, which includes carbohydrates from breads, cereals, rice, and pasta. The pyramid recommends 6-11 of these servings per day.

The next level includes 3-5 servings of vegetables along with 2-4 servings from the fruit group. The following level recommends consuming 2-3 servings of dairy per day along with 2-3 servings of meat.

The very top of the pyramid contains fats, oils, and sweets. There are no recommended serving guidelines for these food groups, although the pyramid suggests that you eat them sparingly.

What's Wrong with the Food Pyramid?

While it's true that the food pyramid is a recommended guideline, the reality is that there are several flaws in its system. First, the majority of the pyramid is based on carbohydrates. While not all carbs are necessarily bad, that's not necessarily addressed by simply looking at the visual representation of the food groups.

For example, the pyramid recommends that the average person consumes 6-11 servings of carbs per day - which it specifically outlines as pasta, bread, and rice.

It's no secret that consuming too many carbs on a daily basis is a recipe for weight gain. This is especially true when you consume carbs that come from white bread, pasta, and rice. However, this is clearly not depicted in the pyramid.

On the other hand, the food pyramid also suggests that you should steer clear from fats and sweets as much as possible. This sends the message that fat is generally bad, and if consumed too often, it will result in weight gain. While too much of any food, period, can cause weight gain … the reality is that fat is not always the enemy.

Why You Shouldn't Fear Fat

Out of all of the dietary supplements to worry about, fat should be one of the least of your worries. Fat is a major source of energy and it's smart to include in your daily diet. However, diet books and mainstream media scared many dieters away from fats and all of the benefits that come along with it.

It's important to keep in mind that there are different types of fat. There are trans fats, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and poly-saturated fats. If you remember back to the low fat diet fad of the 1990s, you'll likely remember that fat was removed from almost everything - cheeses, salad dressings, soups, and more. Fat free was the way to be.

This was also a time when there wasn't much distinction between healthy and unhealthy fats. Unhealthy fats such as trans fats are found in food items such as candy bars. Trans fats are one of the worst types of fats for the body and can make you pack on the pounds if you aren't careful.

What's clear to nutritionists now, however, is that some fats are bad for you, and some fats are quite beneficial. For example, monounsaturated fat is found in olive oil, which is a healthy supplement for your diet. You can also find healthy fats in food items such as fish, walnuts, and even avocado.

When you consume fats from healthy sources, there is no need to fear health complications or an expanding waistline.

Fat: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Depending on the type of fat that you consume, you can experience a variety of benefits or pitfalls. When you consume healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats and poly-saturated fats, you can experience:

  • Improved body composition: A dieter who consumes healthy fats and low carbs can experience better body composition and lower body fat.
  • Improve insulin sensitivity: Another perk of healthy fat consumption is improving insulin sensitivity, especially when combined with a low carb diet.
  • Lower your risk of stroke and heart disease: While fat was traditionally believed to increase your chances of heart disease, this couldn't be further from the truth with monounsaturated fats. In fact, monounsaturated fats can actually lower your risk of both heart disease and stroke.
  • Reduce bad cholesterol: If your cholesterol numbers were higher than desired during your last checkup, adding monounsaturated fats to your diet can actually help get your numbers back in control.

The type of fat that is considered bad is primarily found in deep fried foods, candy bars, cookies, and more. Now that you can see the benefits of healthy fats, here is the bad and ugly side to consuming too many unhealthy fats:

  • Weight gain: One of the most common and well known side effects of fat consumption is excessive weight gain. This is essentially why the food pyramid recommends that fat is consumed sparingly, although it doesn't specify the type of fat in the visual diagram.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Heart disease is a serious concern for those who eat a large amount of trans fats and other unhealthy fats. This is the type of fat that is famous for clogging arteries which result in heart disease or even heart attack.
  • Increased risk of diabetes: Another risk factor for too much fat consumption is increased risk of diabetes. By consuming an excessive amount of fat and sugar, you can impact your body's efficiency for processing insulin - which can lead to diabetes.

As long as you're consuming the right type, there is no real need to fear fat. Be sure to get your fat from sources such as avocado, olive oil, and peanut butter for best results. Also, try incorporating avocado oil or avocado mayonnaise into your diet.

1. The Huffington Post: What The Government Got Wrong About Nutrition - And How It Can Fix It
2. The Huffington Post: Stop Eating So Many Carbs - They Make You Fat
3. American Heart Association: Monounsaturated Fats
4. Livestrong: What Are the Dangers of Eating Too Much Fat?