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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Avoid the Melodrama of Food Villains: Boost your health by avoiding the latest trends in healthy eating, guides Dr. Alan Christianson

Jun 30, 2014 10:38AM ● By Dr. Alan Christianson

In the late 1980s, nutritional authorities decided that dietary fat was to blame for obesity, heart disease and many other common maladies. It seemed so obvious that if fat on the body and fat in the blood vessels was the problem, that fat in the diet had to be the cause. Eventually, low fat was not enough, and fat-free became the new grail.

The next belief that emerged was that all carbs must be good. At the peak of this way of thinking, foods that would not normally be thought of as healthy were eaten without restraint: jellybeans and pretzels were prime examples. In the 1080s, typical “healthy” fare was fruit and bagels, with perhaps a spread that was an equal blend of cream cheese and brown sugar.

Nutritional beliefs shift partly because of new information but in no small part because of the very nature of trends, much like clothing fashions. If we decide fat is to blame, eventually, we will binge on jellybeans. It seems our minds can only focus on a finite number of concepts at once.

Thankfully, we moved out of the fat-free craze and came to realize that there was such a thing as good fat. Fish, nuts, avocados and olive oil became okay foods to eat again. If we follow current books and some popular blogs and podcasts, we will see that we have now swung 180 degrees from the low-fat days. Many have gone far beyond saying that some fats are good and are saying that most of our calories should come from saturated fat.

Let’s shorten the learning curve this time. Just as it was such a revolution to learn that some fats could be good for us, it is time we realize that carbs are also not always the villain, and some carbs are good for us. Just as Crisco and margarine are clearly unhealthy fats, high-fructose corn syrup and white flour are clearly unhealthy carbs.

Yet good carbs, rich in fiber, are a critical part of our diet. As important as fiber is, we need different types, such as soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables and insoluble fiber from grains and beans. High-fiber carbs are the body’s best source of energy; they feed protective intestinal flora and allow our immune system to work better.

As omnivores, we can subsist on many different types of diets. But beyond subsisting, we have the greatest chance of thriving when our diets contain nutrients from a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods. The global obesity crisis started in the 1980s, even though we consumed carbohydrates for decades and centuries before then. Some excellent carbs include pinto beans, black beans, buckwheat groats, lentils, quinoa and brown rice.

Dr. Alan Christianson is a naturopathic physician, the founding president of the Endocrine Association of Naturopathic Physicians and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease. Contact him at


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