Do Low Fat Diets Work?

Do Low-fat Diets Work?

By Raquel Haggard

            A few years ago, when she was 52, Donna Paddock thought she was getting the flu, but what she actually had was a heart attack.  Before that she ate what she wanted, did not exercise and was 35 pounds overweight.  This heart attack was a warning and after recovering Donna began walking daily and following a low fat diet, but she had a hard time continuing the healthy eating program.  One year later Donna’s intestines became twisted and she had colon surgery.  “My diet was killing me. Because of no protein and no fiber, my body couldn’t function properly and went haywire,” Donna said.  After this she was desperate for a healthy eating plan she could maintain.  Donna began following a plan that focused on healthy oils, low fat proteins and vegetables and high fiber carbohydrates.  “It is more about the balance of what I eat and never eating a carb without a protein,” she said.  “I also eat six times a day–3 meals, and 3 protein/carb snacks.”  Donna lost 35 pounds and has maintained the loss for over one year by continuing the diet and walking her dog each day for 30 minutes.  Her cardiologist is amazed by her progress.  “This summer, when I had all the routine heart check-ups, such as running the treadmill, I did fantastic and the nurses and doctor could not believe the improvement — majorly due to this diet.” 

            The low-fat diet craze began in the 1980s and in 1990s, the federal government hopped on the band wagon and began recommending low-fat diets and canola oil to reduce the risk for heart disease, but 18 years later the problems still exist.  According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.  In addition, about two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese.  Researchers and physicians are now considering the idea that fat is not what makes us fat and causes heart disease. 

            What is a low-fat diet?  Many low fat diets seem to decrease fat and protein and replace them with processed carbohydrates.  The American Heart Association says 30 percent of daily calories should come from healthy fats.  AHA also indicates that we need fat, but not as much as most people eat each day.   In her book, Ten Years Thinner, Christine Lydon, M.D. states, “…eliminating dietary fat from your meal plan is absolutely, positively, one hundred percent counterproductive to eliminating stored fat…when your diet lacks sufficient amounts of the right kinds of fat, stored fat becomes largely inaccessible as an energy source…if you don’t eat fat, you won’t burn fat.”  Lydon also recommends certain exercises to build muscle as muscle burns more calories.  In addition, she says, “Active people have increased protein requirements.”  Lydon also says to have a firm, youthful body you should eat three fists’ worth of protein per day because lean animal protein sources promote simultaneous muscle toning and fat burning. 

            According to Naturopathic Doctor Bruce Fife, a diet lacking in fat can reduce the efficiency of the immune system, making us more susceptible to disease.  Fat is necessary for the absorption of essential nutrients and vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as calcium.

            In their book Eat, Drink & Weigh Less, Mollie Katzen and Walter Willett, M.D. state “A calorie is a calorie, so making the healthiest possible choices about where you get your calories is everything.”  They also explain that the fats we eat do not increase weight any more than carbohydrates or protein.  Every food has calories and can cause you to gain weight if you eat too much and don’t burn the calories you eat.  Eating the right kinds of foods is key, rather than indiscriminately cutting fat, carbohydrates or protein.  Katzen and Willett say, “Keep your total caloric intake and your activity level constant and shift the ratio of the kinds of fat you eat to include more unsaturated fats and less saturated ones, you won’t gain weight.  Add to this a small reduction in carbohydrates and you’ll lose weight.”  Unsaturated fats are important to a healthy diet.  They not only reduce risk for heart disease, they make food taste good. 

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