Is a low fat diet good for you? Official government dietary guidelines have advised people to follow a low fat diet for decades now.
Scientific studies have been examining the relationship between diets high in fat and high levels of cholesterol since the 1940’s. The findings have resulted in the mainstream adopting an opinion that fat in your diet is bad and following a low fat diet may prevent certain chronic illnesses such as heart disease. But does new evidence suggest otherwise?
Low fat diet
By the 1980’s health care workers, the government and the food industry all promoted low fat diets. Looking back on this, it is clear that the fat guidelines set out then lacked evidence. Dietary guidelines regarding fat intake were published in 1977 and 1983 in the USA and the UK, which recommended a reduction in dietary fat intake. Since then, studies which supported these recommendations have been criticized for lacking an evidence base.
With that being said, these studies were not entirely wrong as it’s been shown that saturated fat (butter, cream) does increase blood cholesterol levels, however polyunsaturated fat (salmon, avocado) decreases it. The largest studies in this field have showed no effects on reducing the risk of developing heart disease or cancer.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is one of the major causes of death worldwide. According to a study by University of Oxford, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the biggest cause of death in Europe, amounting to around 45% of deaths each year. The major cause of CHD is the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries, with high cholesterol being one of the major causes of this.
An unhealthy diet is touted as the main factor in having high cholesterol levels, mainly from eating foods with high levels of saturated fat. Reducing the risk of heart disease can be achieved by reducing the overall fat consumption. You should also swap the saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Sources of ‘good’ unsaturated fat include avocado, various types of nuts, olive oil, salmon.
Benefits of a low fat diet
Low fat diets have been extensively studied for decades and do show potential for being beneficial for improving various conditions including diabetes and obesity.
Type 2 Diabetes
Following a strict low fat diet has been shown to lead to improvements in the health conditions of people who suffer from Type 2 Diabetes. For example, this study found that a low fat diet reduced or completely stopped the dependence of insulin therapy in 58% of the individuals. The same study also demonstrated that 63 out of 100 people had decreased blood sugar levels when following a low fat diet.
Although it is well known that high fat diets are ‘unhealthy’, the levels of obesity around the world have been increasing for decades. Current dietary recommendations regarding fat intake equate to a moderate fat diet rather than low fat diet. Fat as a macronutrient is the most energy dense nutrient, yielding 9 calories per gram. In comparison, carbohydrates and protein, both yield 4 calories per gram.
Due to this, lowering your fat intake will improve weight loss as long as it is consistent with the overall calorie consumption. It is not uncommon for healthcare practitioners to include this recommendation in weight loss plans. Low fat diet has been effectively used to treat obesity in individuals with amazing results. A study of 106 obese individuals found that following a low fat diet resulted in losing 140 lbs (63.5 kg) of weight on average.
The bottom line
Cleaning up your diet and cutting out the processed fats will certainly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, a diet high in saturated fat is not the only cause of developing coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD can develop due to multiple risk factors, meaning that you may need to improve more than one aspect of your lifestyle. For example, smoking tobacco is a major contributor to heart disease and has been shown to damage to blood vessels by narrowing them.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure are also associated with lack of physical activity. Exercising regularly will help to reduce these conditions and assist with maintaining a healthy weight.
This article first appeared on GYMNASIUMPOST.com on May 14th, 2020,