Are low fat diets making you fat?
The diet industry myth - the sugar conspiracy
In the last three decades, dietary guidelines have instructed us to eat “low-fat” diets. Media and the diet industry have been continuously associating “low-fat” products to lower body fat. We have been told that in order to improve our health and especially heart health we need to reduce the amount of saturated fats in our diets. This means cutting down the amount of full-fat dairy food and red meat. However, have you ever heard that “low-fat” equals “higher-carb”? When fat is removed from a product, for example, a yoghurt dessert, sugar is added in order for customers to continue enjoying the taste and texture. Not to mention the processing procedure.
Higher carbohydrate content, and especially processed and refined carbohydrates means that food is digested quicker, what results in rapid increase in blood sugar, and hence insulin - the hormone that transports and stores energy in the cells, and inhibits the breakdown of fats in the adipocytes (fat cells).
In the UK, 1 billion is spent yearly on low fat products including “diet drinks” and “low fat”, “low calorie” products. You need to be cynical because the last thing the diet industry wants you is to succeed. They want you to jump from one program to another and from one “diet” product to the next one. Not only these products do not help towards weight loss, but they can do harm. Think about all these processed sugars and trans-fats that are artificially added in order to be able to call a product “light”.
Good fats vs bad fats
We now know that this fat fable isn’t true. Low fat or low calorie does not equal fat loss. Our bodies are much more complex than this. Fat metabolism, storage and utilization depend on a complex system of hormones. We actually do need fats in order to create those hormones. We also need it in order to maintain healthy cell membranes, have cognitive health and optimal neurological function, as well as stable emotional health. Did you know that your brain is made up of at least 60% fat? Fat is actually needed for every single process in your body.
However, we should distinguish between beneficial and harmful fats. For example, essential-fatty acids (essential: not manufactured in our body, hence need to be obtained through diet), have multiple health benefits: lower total cholesterol and LDL, increase HDL, protect against cardiovascular disease, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, promote brain health and protect against Alzheimer’s, decrease insulin resistance and protect against diabetes, improve mood and protect against depression, aid in weight loss and protect against obesity, to name just a few. Fats also help us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), which means that following a low fat diet can have dramatic effects on your immunity and bone density.
Omega-3 fats (essential fats) can be found in oily fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring), flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts, chia seeds, green leafy vegetables and grass-fed animal produce. Nuts and seeds, avocado, olives, olive oil are some other excellent sources of good fats.
According to multiple studies, the commonly blamed saturated fats, do provide certain health benefits when consumed in moderation. There is now a satisfying amount of evidence that saturated fats are not the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease, rather is inflammation and oxidation of fat in arteries. No need to mention that oxidative and inflammatory stress is caused, among others, by excessive sugars, refined and processed carbohydrates, modified and trans fats, including vegetable oils, very commonly added in products advertised as “light” or “low sugar”. Replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates has an adverse effect on blood lipids (cholesterol T, LDL, HDL, apoA1 and apoB), as has been shown by multiple studies.
Some good sources of saturated fats are organic eggs from grass-fed chicken, grass-fed meat, coconut and coconut oil, organic grass-fed butter, ghee (clarified butter) and dark chocolate (aim for 100% cacao!).
So the next time you come across a product labelled as “low fat” in the supermarket, take a second to consider whether you really need that product!
Eraky SM, e. (2017). Modulating effects of omega-3 fatty acids and pioglitazone combination on insulin resistance through toll-like receptor 4 in type 2 diabetes mellitus. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28716464
Liu, A., Ford, N., Hu, F., Zelman, K., Mozaffarian, D. and Kris-Etherton, P. (2017). A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion.
Liu HQ, e. (2017). A high ratio of dietary n-3/n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids improves obesity-linked inflammation and insulin resistance through suppressing activat... - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24074743
Niazi ZR, e. (2017). EPA:DHA 6:1 prevents angiotensin II-induced hypertension and endothelial dysfunction in rats: role of NADPH oxidase- and COX-derived oxidative stress. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28878301
Sacks FM, e. (2017). Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28620111
Schainfeld, RM. (2017). Peripheral Arterial Disease – Diagnosis and Treatment: A Systematic Review - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28876730
Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.
About Olianna Gourli
Olianna Gourli is a qualified naturopath/nutritional therapist, with a background in science and research (BSc hons.), mBANT, rCNHC). She has great expertise in gastrointestinal issues, such as IBS, hormonal imbalances and women's health, stress and chronic fatigue. She sees clients in her clinics in London, Athens and through Skype.