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Not all calories are created equal

26 Oct 2016 ||
Posted by: Anthony Power

My first rule of food?  Do not count calories ever!

In my many years of nutritional practice, I have always counselled my patients to never count calories. Why?

Because not all calories are created equal.

It really is like comparing apples and oranges.

This has been borne out in recent news articles in the UK that called on the guidelines trumpeting low-fat be replaced by the call to eat more fat and more saturated fat at that!

What!? More eggs, bacon, cream, meat, cheese, coconut oil and butter? Surely not.

If you weren’t aware, there is a groundswell building with the paleolithic, ketogenic, low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) way of eating. This movement has really thrown the cat-amongst-the-pigeons and caused quite a stir.

LCHF calls for the significant or cessation of carbohydrates and an increase in the amounts of fat in a patient’s diet.

But surely this will cause heart-attacks, stokes, elevated cholesterol and obesity? In fact, the majority of evidence has shown the opposite!

That’s right, increasing FAT and reducing CARBOHYDRATES has seen a significant lowering of insulin and blood sugar levels, significant weight-loss, falling inflammatory levels and lower cholesterol.

This is completely contrary to the last 50 years of diet advice where we have been told to eat low-fat and we will lose weight. But look around. This approach doesn’t seem to have worked. In fact, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease continue to rise.

This increase in illness may certainly have a number or elements including a more sedentary lifestyle, the increase in fast-food and soft drink and the overuse of antibiotics.

But independent of that, the evidence of a higher fat and low sugar/carbohydrate intake does have merit and the evidence is strong.

One of the largest and most compelling recent studies in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine followed more than 7000 participants 

Two groups were divided by diet to gauge cardiovascular events.

One group was given a higher-fat, Mediterranean-type diet, the other a low-fat, higher carbohydrate diet (similar to our current guidelines). The study was actually stopped early due to the cardiovascular events in the low-fat, high-carbohydrate group!

That’s right: more people were dying on the low-fat diet.

A calorie of one food cannot be compared to another

Why then, given all we have been taught about the ills of fat, am I actually saying that more fat and less carbohydrate/sugar may be a good thing?

There are a number of reasons.

Firstly, the hypothesis that saturated fats cause death have never really been conclusively proven out in research. That’s right, many studies have shown that saturated fats don’t raise cholesterol and doesn’t increase the chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

Carbohydrates and sugar have been implicated in a number of studies to be the real culprit behind elevated cholesterol, heart-attacks and strokes, diabetes and obesity.

And when I talk about carbohydrates, I mean anything made with flour, sugar, rice and grains (yes-even gluten-free).

In fact, all carbohydrates (healthy legumes includes) will be broken down by the body to produce glucose.

This glucose in excess, and over a long-period may cause even mild insulin-resistance, elevated blood sugar levels and is implicated in CVD, diabetes, inflammation and excess weight-gain.

In my practice, my patients will usually abstain from all carbohydrates for short time and then legumes and starchy vegetables are then added-back.

Other reasons that fat won’t make you fat are:

  • They are highly nutritious and ‘nutrient-dense’ 
  • They don’t increase insulin/blood sugars (in fact in the majority of cases they are ‘neutral’ foods to diabetics)
  • They are high in anti-oxidants
  • Fats are satiating (so you won’t want to overeat)
  • Eating fat will help you ‘burn’ fat. It is thermogenic
  • Quite a large proportion of fats are not absorbed (they actually ‘feed’ our good germs

What's the catch?

There is some fine print but not much.

It is important that you concentrate on food quality, so ideally those high-fat foods are grass fed or even organic to they don’t contain a great deal of toxins.

Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables such as parsley, spinach, broccoli and cabbage.

Add plenty of herbs and spices to your food like thyme, oregano, chilli, black pepper, turmeric and cumin. Don’t hold back on the onion or garlic either. 

Eat plenty of fermented foods like yoghurt (yes, full fat and unflavoured), sauerkraut, kefir (like yoghurt) and kimchi (a spicy fermented Asian condiment).

Make sure your fats are not subjected to high-heat or chemically altered into trans-fats so limit fried foods and margarine.

Fry with fats that can sustain high temperatures like organic butter and coconut oil.

And eat plenty of nuts and seeds.

I also advise patients to avoid all the health claims on the label like low-fat, gluten-free, super food, natural sugar and natural.

Just think back to the bad old days when they told us to stop eating eggs, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and butter. Thankfully those days are gone.

Now, pass the organic Australian butter please. I need to fry some eggs for breakfast.


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