Monday, June 29, 2009

Farm fresh high fat food

High-fat or low-fat
A familiar topic is rearing its head again. And that is the choice between a small amount of very flavourful high-fat food or a much larger portion of a far blander low-fat equivalent. This is a real conundrum and I think it's best handled on a case by case basis. Such a serious sentence!

My old view, tainted by Atkins and "French Women Don't Get Fat," was definitely in the high-fat camp.

For the last 5 months I've been eating a VERY low-fat diet, eating almost no nuts or cheese, except a tablespoon here or there. I came to this conclusion rather organically. Basically we all have things we're not willing to give up. Be it wine, an after dinner sweet, bacon - whatever, we all have our issues. My main issue was hunger. I just hate being hungry. I also don't like flavourless food. So for months I ate almost no sweets, almost no cheese, no mayo, no alcohol, no baked goods. I got used to it. I tried to work bacon, prosciutto, ground beef, and other rich flavorful foods into the mix when I craved them. But I realized that I could add a slice of cheese to my sandwich which I didn't even taste that much or have an entire yogurt 2 hours later for the same amount of points or calories. As a result of trying to stave off hunger with more volume high-protein/low-fat diary, eggs, legumes and meats my cravings for rich flavourful foods diminished. I was satisfied with 3 almonds or a few drops of gorgonzola. Rich lovely cheeses kind of grossed me out they were so intense. I basically fell over to the low-fat side of the equation as my cravings for rich foods waned and as my need to not be hungry increased (remember WW cuts back your food allowance as you lose weight).

Fast-forward to now, 5+ months later - and I'm pretty much done losing. I am still sometimes struggling with hunger but my main goal recently (I gave up on the last 3 pounds) is to eat more organic, more local, more whole foods - and more weight training, but that's another matter. I do pretty well on the whole foods already, but not great, and as with many of these nutritional topics I'm thinking about what I feed my family as well as myself. I am reading information about the nutritional value of whole foods, many of which I eat, but many I don't as they're so high in fat.

Dairy wars
One place I'm confused is with dairy. There seem to be wildly conflicting attitudes on how to eat dairy: whole versus low-fat, grass-fed versus corn-fed, raw versus pasteurized. I have read and internalized these arguments and I'm definitely convinced that grass-fed is superior. I won't go into the reasons here but a quick Google search should tell you all you need to know. Some people are pushing me towards raw dairy. I'm not sure I can go this far or if the benefits of more bacteria in the milk are really that important. But I'm open to trying it. And as for non-homogenized...I don't know what I'd do with separated milk. I do understand that the natural vitamin D is in the fat and that Vitamin D helps calcium absorption, but I eat all sorts of leafy greens with olive oil.

As for eating high-fat versions of things like yogurt and milk I think I could do that now if I wanted to. I am much more used to small portion sizes so I could better handle it. I know Weight Watchers objects to high-fat foods largely because the calories get consumed so quickly that you have overeaten before you know it. But it is possible in theory to have 1/4 cup high-fat yogurt instead of 3/4 cup non-fat. When offering other people advice on this one I would say this: eat the low-fat until you are comfortable with much smaller portions or food and able to resist overeating. Then switch to a smaller size of the high-fat version with the same amount of calories.

Is it a diet or a lifestyle?
Now - this raises a larger question. I think it's important to view weight loss as a lifestyle change and not as a diet. But in reality that concept is only about 90% true. Not every single solitary change you make when losing weight needs to be sustainable. Most of them do but there can be exceptions. I believe 80-90% is about right. There are some things I did just to prove a point to myself or to break myself of bad habits. Once I had retrained my brain I worked those habits back in. This includes sweets at night, snacks between meals, and alcohol. I have those things very rarely now, but I do have them sometimes.

Back to the farmer's market...
So this brings me back to the farmer's market. After a recent trip I came home with some incredibly ridiculously expensive items. For lunch I had some grass-fed ground beef, a bit of extremely rich cheese on dense seeded whole wheat sourdough bread. I also had some roasted red peppers from a jar and some arugula pesto with walnuts. I must admit the food was incredibly rich and delicious. I was supremely satisfied with a very small amount. I savored everything for a long time afterwards, and all in all, it was just a different experience from a salad with diced chicken breast on top and vinaigrette.

My new low-fat self was challenged. I think now I'm ready to eat higher fat foods in small portions. I have both the willpower to stop and, due to my increased exercise the ability to enjoy a few more calories during the day. Wish me luck!


  1. I'm a believer in full fat, but small amounts. I feel like I could eat gobs and gobs of the fat-free stuff and never feel satisfied. Plus I wonder what the true costs are of engineered food. I love our local dairy which sells fresh local, but pasteurized, milk and dairy products. The dairy farmers I know drink it raw, but pastuerized works for us. The ultra-pasteurized milk sort of grosses me out since it never spoils! And it has no flavor. Still, for weight loss and habit-changing, I should probably consider cutting back on fats for the time being.

  2. Interesting discussion. I think ultimately pasteurization has been a blessing for many - economical access to important nutrients. Dairy farmers can naturally drink it raw since it is right there for the taking. But someone in the middle of NYC for example either has no access to, or may not be able to (or willing to) pay the "whole" milk price. The important part about the whole foods movement to me is to recognize that we don't have to expend as energy to get a calorie, so using technologically enhanced goods means we can easily over-consume, which is why, for example, white bread that is so cheap and plentiful makes us gain weight. We dont harvest it and make it and do a zillion other things daily to burn it off. We just sit at our computer and eat it.

  3. White bread is also unhealthy as all the nutrients and fiber have been removed - so it doesn't make us full even if we were leading more active lifestyles.