Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Why Women Need Fat: How "Healthy" Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight and the Surprising Solution to Losing It Forever (Mom's Bookshelf)
A few months ago, I received a preview copy of Why Women Need Fat: How "Healthy" Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight and the Surprising Solution to Losing It Forever. Last week I finally finished it. The title and description caught my attention, since I'm firmly convinced that the insane amount of vegetable oil in the standard American diet (and dearth of healthy saturated fats) is one of the main causes of myriad health issues, not the least of which is obesity. The book was fascinating, but I have mixed feelings.
Why Women Need Fat is divided into three parts. The first part "Why and How We Got Fatter" documents how health has declined and heart disease and obesity have increased since we reduced saturated fat and increased vegetable oils in our diet. The explanation of how the low-fat and cholesterol myths came to be were great, and the statistics and information were super thorough. I enjoyed the contrast of American women with European women and also American women now versus several decades ago.
Why is it that European women who consume so much more fat than us are slimmer and healthier than us? Why do heart disease and obesity rates continue to skyrocket despite reduced saturated fat intake? There's a pretty convincing explanation offered, and a great discussion of the hugely out of proportion omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in the modern American diet. I think the book is probably worth reading for this section alone.
The book takes it's title from part two, "Why Women Need Fat". After the stage has been set in part one with documentation of the detrimental effects of vegetable oils and the positive effects of saturated fats, an explanation of why women physiologically need more fat is given. I found some of this fascinating too, although I'm not sure I buy everything they say.
The basic premise is that women tend to store fat around their hips, rear, and thighs because this is where the body stores DHA fatty acid (the good omega-3!), which we will need to nourish our babies during pregnancy and nursing. Our body intuitively knows to store DHA for childbearing, and women who eat higher levels of saturated fat and less vegetable oil have higher stores of DHA and don't store as much excess fat. Also, fat low in DHA tends to be stored more around the waist area instead of in the lower body. And statistically, women who carry more weight around the waist rather than in the lower body have a much higher risk of health issues. As women age, the weight tends to shift more toward the waist as our DHA stores are used up. That's a very basic, just-skimming-the-surface, summation of the argument made here. There's a parallel line of reasoning also taken involving the need for wider hips to accommodate big heads/brains that I found much less convincing. Still, I think there is some merit to much of what is said in this section.
The final section, "How To Achieve Your Healthy Natural Weight" attempts to put it all together and give practical steps to achieving your ideal weight. This, I felt, was the weakest part of the book.
I appreciated the emphasis on the fact that everyone's ideal weight is different, and thin is not necessarily better. Many of the tips were pretty typical, like eating slower, avoiding snacks after dinner, and so on. Meh. Some of the advice didn't seem to follow the premise of the book! For example: snack on fruits and nuts? Nuts are high in omega 6, which the authors have spent the first two sections telling us we need to decrease! Other tips were good, like the advice to avoid processed foods and vegetable oils and seek out grassfed meat and dairy due to it's healthier omega 6/omega 3 ratios.
But the dealbreaker for me is their repeated recommendation of canola oil as a healthy oil. Ugh! Manmade canola oil is far from a healthy replacement for polyunsaturated vegetable oils!
Overall, there was a lot of great information in this book. The documentation of the problem was thorough and convincing. The theories about how and why women store fat were thought provoking too. The practical steps offered, though, were for the most part pretty generic; although as I said, I appreciated the emphasis on health over a number on the scale. For the most part, I'd say the book is a worthwhile read, although it's necessary to "eat the meat and spit out the bones" (and, in my humble opinion, the canola recommendation is a pretty big bone!).
So, my final verdict? Strong on the why and how, weak on the practical. Worth reading, but be aware of the limitations.
Linked with Monday Mania, Real Food Wednesday and Fight Back Friday.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and I wasn't required to give a positive review. Thank you to Hudson Street Press for providing the book.