The low-fat diet craze seems to pop up every now and then in the nutrition world. The biggest craze started in the early 1990’s, and some of its information (or misinformation) still persists in the minds of some individuals. I once, too, followed the advice of these so-called nutrition “experts” by following the low-fat diet, winding up with horrible side effects such as irrational thinking, depression, massive weight loss and low-energy (and I was only 16!).
Low-Fat Diet Shown to Be Disastrous for Health
A new study comparing three ways of eating, low-glycemic, low-carb and low-fat, has shown that low-fat diets can be unhealthy and even life threatening. This new study from the researchers at New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital showed that a low-fat diet, when compared to a low-glycemic and a low-carb diet, increased triglycerides, decreases energy expenditure and decreased HDL.
An increase in triglycerides and a decrease in the “good” cholesterol HDL is a risk for heart disease and stroke. Why would anyone promote this way of eating? Many now believe the “low-fat myth” started when Ancel Keys, a famous scientist known for his knack for getting publicity on his studies, cherry picked data to prove his theory that dietary fat causes heart disease. We now know that the conclusion is misleading and false, yet it still is promoted by many health officials as being a healthy way of eating.
Lowering dietary fat can also increase your risk for depression and mood disorders, especially if you are lowering your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts). Fats provide stability to cell membraned, making them less prone to damage.
Also, when you lower the fat, you have to increase your carbohydrate intake to keep your calories in a “healthy” level. Most high protein foods are also high in fat, therefore low-fat diets are also high-carbohydrate diets. Although I don’t advise a low-carb diet like Atkins, because I believe it to be unbalanced and unhealthy (as detailed in this study), I do not believe we should be receiving the majority of our calories from carbohydrates alone.
Carbohydrates, especially high-glycemic, refined carbohydrates (wheat flour, starches, many grains, sugar, etc.) spike our blood sugar and insulin rather quickly. Doing this every day for years can lead to insulin resistance, also known as type 2 diabetes, as your insulin receptors become less sensitive to the effects of insulin. Low-fat diet = future diabetes, at least in my book.
Low-Glycemic Diet vs. Low-Carb
In the study, although relatively small, there was more benefits to eating a low-glycemic diet rather than an Atkins type diet. I eat a Paleo type diet, with 85% of my food being raw, and about 30% of my calories coming from carbohydrates (not grains – all vegetables and some fruits). An Atkins type of diet receives 10% of their calories from carbohydrates, making it more restrictive.
The low-carb diet showed a boost in calorie burning, which is great for those wishing to lose weight. On average, participants burned an extra 300 calories an hour eating a low-carb diet (10% calories coming from carbs). On the downside, cortisol, a stress hormone, increased rapidly. Inflammation also increased rather significantly, which is associated with many disease such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
The low-glycemic diet showed the most benefits with very little side-effects. On average, participants burned 150 calories per hour (150 less than the low-carb group), without interfering with cholesterol or hormones, or increasing inflammation. In fact, a low-glycemic diet can actually decrease inflammation.
Eat Fat, Stay Slim
Don’t fear fat. Fat does NOT make you fat. I had this type of thinking a few years ago, and it nearly killed me. Now I eat nourishing fats from avocados, nuts and seeds, grass-fed beef (occasionally) and sometimes low-mercury fish. My mood is stable, my thoughts are rational and I’m much, much happier.
Although I believe low-fat diets are dangerous, I am wondering what the participants actually ate during the low-fat phase. Would the results been different if all the participants simply ate a large amount of vegetables and some meat, fish and/or eggs, along with a small portion of nuts, seeds and avocados? I would love to see a study with this type of diet being consumed.
A low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory diet seems to best way for me to be healthy. I can tell you what works for me, and what the science says about the general population, but it is up to you to find out what works for YOU. This may mean regularly checking up on your cholesterol, triglycerides, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and other nutrients, thyroid, etc.
Have you ever tried the low-fat diet? Did it work for you? I would love to hear your experiences, either in the comment section or through an email.
This is The Healthy Advocate