Are low-fat diets the healthiest way to go and does following a low-fat eating plan offer the best chance for weight loss?
Research says a resounding “No!”
Do I hear a collective gasp? I know, I know: it is heresy to assert that “low-fat” is not the baseline of healthy eating!
The low-fat mantra emerged in the 1980s with the publication of a series of reports on diet and cancer by the National Academy of Sciences. Thirty years later it is accepted as gospel.
Only it has been proven wrong, as explained by one of the original co-authors of those reports, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and the real answer to achieving health is found not in low-fat dietary regimens but in a diet rich in plant-based foods and low in animal products and processed foods. In the Huffington Post he writes:
“During the next 10 years when this low fat myth was growing, average percent dietary fat barely changed — maybe decreasing a couple percentage points to about 33 percent, at best. In reality, the amount of fat consumed INCREASED because total calorie consumption also increased. Furthermore, during this same period of low fat mythology (1980s-1990s), obesity incidence increased.
Now, enter Robert Atkins and other writers who argued that obesity was increasing because of our switch to low fat diets. By going low fat — so the mythical story went — we were consuming more carbohydrate, an energy source from plant-based foods. This was a serious misrepresentation of the facts.
By falsely blaming low fat, ‘high carb’ diets for the obesity crisis, these writers were then free to promote the opposite: high fat, low ‘carb’, high cholesterol and high protein diets rich in animal-based foods, a so-called low ‘carb’ diet. During the initial discussions of this ‘low carb’ diet, no distinction was made between the refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour as commonly present in processed foods) and the natural carbohydrates almost exclusively present in plant-based foods.”
Fascinating stuff. I’ve always been against the health implications of the Atkin’s diet and other low-carb weight-loss approaches.
But, to be honest, I bought into the low-fat concept early. In the 80s we thought an optimum meal was a bagel with no butter or cream cheese – a fat-free, guilt free snack, I thought, though not as good for my body or my figure as I had hoped, as it turns out.
And even though I now shy away from anything labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free” due to suspicions about what is added in place of fat to maintain flavor and creaminess (remember those fat-free potato chips that had a side effect of anal leakage?), I still believed that a diet low in overall fat was better.
But now let’s refine this to say: a diet low in saturated fat is better. I now know better and advocate that our diet be high in unsaturated fats as they help rebuild and repair your nervous system, keep your hair and skin shiny and elastic, and help keep everything lubed and in working order.
Mostly, I love it that mainstream science is embracing what Michael Pollan summed up so elequently in his revolutionary manifesto:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”