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Health 1It appears that an increasing number of people have decided to go on ‘fat-free’ and high-protein diets. At least, that’s the way it seems to me, since many of my patients are intent on eradicating fat from their diet.

Take, for example, Patient X, an actor who appears in several dramas on television. She wanted to lose weight and told me that all her ‘actress friends’ were ‘going fat-free’ and she wanted to know if she should follow suit. I told her what I tell all my patients: “Fats are not the villain in the waist wars. You need a balanced diet of fish, poultry, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes!”

And it is not just the patients. A friend of mine – Mrs X, was suffering from arthritis. Her physician told her that her pain would go away if she went on a fat free diet. She did as asked, and consequently not only did the pain worsen, but she also became Vitamin D deficient, because this vitamin is primarily found in milk and fish which also contain fat.

What most people do not realise is that fats must be an integral part of their diet because they contain essential nutrients that are necessary to maintain healthy bones as well as the nervous and cardiovascular systems.

The key to staying healthy is being able to differentiate between ‘bad’ fat and ‘good’ fat, and the general rule of thumb is that saturated fat, which is present in dairy products such as margarine, ghee and red meat is harmful because it increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and arthritis. Meanwhile, fats in vegetables and fish are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which are antioxidants, resist fat deposition in arteries, lower blood pressure, and are necessary for good health.

Therefore, the answer to staying healthy is not cutting out fat – it’s learning to eat ‘good fats’!

– Professor Rashida Ali
The writer is an Adjunct Professor & Consultant at the Department of Food Science and Technology and ICCBS, University of Karachi.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on February 23, 2014.