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The Low Fat Diet: A Big Fat Lie?

Posted Nov 11 2009 10:01pm

For more than three decades we have been subjected to dietary propaganda that a low-fat diet is the key to losing weight and preventing disease. Public officials and the medical profession continue to broadcast the message. And the food industry – eager to sell their low-fat, high-margin, fake foods – is happy to reinforce the belief that a low-fat diet is the key to plaque-free arteries and a slim figure.

The problem is that this is exactly the wrong advice for weight loss and your health. In fact, the “solution” has actually made our problems with obesity, heart disease and diabetes much worse.

The misplaced vilification of fat began in the 50’s and 60’s. But it was not until the late 1970s that the message was broadcast to the public. It began with a 1976 Senate report, titled Dietary Goals for the United States. It was written by a journalist with no background in health, who was advised by a Harvard nutritionist who viewed dietary fat as the nutritional equivalent of smoking cigarettes. Shortly after, countless health organizations (including the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association) and mobilized to spread the word that “eating fat makes you fat” and that a low-fat diet is the best way to prevent disease.

The food industry quickly joined the cause, but without the tasty fat, the food was bland. To compensate, they replaced the fat with sugar, producing thousands of new “low-fat” products. Americans had soon replaced a portion of the fat in our diet with refined carbohydrates.

And did we ever believe the propaganda. Millions of Americans came to associate “low-fat” on food label with “good for you.” This led people to overeat foods that were “low fat,” even though they had the same number of calories as the regular brand and often far more carbohydrates. Journalists even came up with a name for it – the Snackwell Effect – named after a brand of low-fat, high-sugar Nabisco cookies aimed at health-conscious consumers.

The problem is that while our percentage of calories from fat did go down, our collective weight began to go up… up… up.

According to National Health Examination surveys, the rate of obesity in the U.S. during the 60’s and 70’s was relatively stable – around 12 to 14% of the population. Starting around 1980, this number began to rise. By the end of the 80’s, over 20% of the population was obese. Today, more than 25% of the population is considered obese.

And not only has there been an explosion of obesity, but also of related diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

Thankfully, it seems people are finally starting to wake up. However, it is not because the public health authorities or the medical profession have changed their tune. If you are overweight in the United States, and you go to see a hospital dietician, you will almost certainly be put on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

No, people are starting to wake up because the studies are screaming that we have been going down the wrong path. And thankfully, the proliferation of new media has put this vital intelligence in people’s hands.

For example, the Women’s Health Initiative – a $450 million study involving 50,000 women – showed that an extremely low fat diet had no measurable impact on obesity. Neither did the diet show any measurable risk reduction (incidence or mortality) for cardiovascular disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, or breast cancer.

And as Gary Taubes pointed out in a New York Times article, at least four large trials between 1980 and 1984 comparing disease rates and diet “showed no evidence that men who ate less fat lived longer or had fewer heart attacks.”

These results of these studies led Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard – considered by many to be the dean of nutrition and health studies – to state that “the percentage of calories from fat in a diet has not been related to any important health outcome.”

The problems is that the low-fat message is far too simple. What is crucial is not necessarily how much fat you eat, but the type of fat.

Fat is a major component of your cell membranes. Your brain is mostly made of fat. Fat is also critical to help your body absorb certain vitamins and nutrients – such as CoQ10 and vitamins A, D, E, and K. These and other nutrients cannot be properly absorbed without dietary fat.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that low-fat diets were associated with 20% less calcium absorption than higher-fat diets. In addition, the State University of New York at Buffalo found that people who eat low-fat diets develop weaker immune systems.

The message is clear. The conventional “low-fat” diet advice is counterproductive to your weight- loss efforts and to your health. If you want to reduce your risk of degenerative disease and maintain a healthy weight, it is far more important to limit your consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates.  And you should pay more attention to the type of fats you eat, rather than the amounts.

Here is a simple plan for healthy eating and natural weight loss:

  1. Eliminate bad fats from your diet, including vegetable and seed oils and hydrogenated oils. DO consume plenty of good fats, including avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, fish oil, nuts, eggs, wild salmon, sardines and naturally-raised meats.
  1. Avoid processed carbohydrates, grains and sugars. DO consume a wide variety of herbs, leafy greens, and vegetables every day, and a moderate amount of fruit.
  1. Engage in resistance exercise to build strength and muscle, and interval training to quickly shed fat.

Mimic the diet of your ancestors. Eat unprocessed, natural foods and you will have better health, better control over your weight and greater satisfaction from the foods you eat.

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