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Your Health & Wellness, Iss #73 -- Low Fat Diets and Low Fat Foods Make You Fat
June 04, 2011
(Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle)
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Low Fat Diets and Low Fat Foods Make You Fat
America's low fat diet has a history dating back to the late 1980s. “The depth of the science base underlying its findings is even more impressive than that for tobacco and health in 1964.” This statement was made by then Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in 1988.
C. Everett Koop was referring to high-fat foods. He believed that these foods were driving America's coronary heart disease. Koop likened the danger of a high-fat diet to smoking cigarettes.
The Surgeon General's conclusion is based on Ansel Keys' belief that dietary fat led to coronary heart disease. Keys was a diet researcher after whom K-rations are named. Naturally he believed that a low fat diet was the answer.
In the 1950s Keys published an analysis in which he claimed a connection between dietary fat and heart disease. What no one realized however is that Keys based his conclusion on select information from only six countries even though he had data from 22 countries available to him.
Two of the countries for which data was available, Mexico and Finland, had almost equal fat consumption. Yet the death rate from heart disease in Finland was 24 times that of Mexico! When all 22 countries data was analyzed, the apparent link between saturated fat and heart disease disappeared.
Ancel Keys was on a committee which issued a new report recommending a low fat diet for Americans at risk for heart disease. In 1957 the American Heart Association (AHA) came to the conclusion that, “the evidence that dietary fat correlates with heart disease does not stand up to critical examination.”
Because of Keys' committee report, the AHA changed its official position in 1960. Since then the 'fat is bad for you' idea snow-balled, and became accepted dogma. America's low fat diet was on its way to becoming the standard for all.
I entered my first bodybuilding competition in 1982. By then the 'fat-is-bad-for-you' concept was firmly entrenched in American culture. I bought into to it because it seemed so logical. After all, when fat is metabolized it yields 9 calories. Protein and carbohydrates yield only 4 calories each.
It was a no-brainer that in order for me to get as lean as possible for the show, I would have to cut back on my fat intake. I prepared for each bodybuilding show I entered by going on a low fat diet.
Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, doesn't accept the low fat diet premise. He is spokesman for the longest-running and most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed.
These studies cost over $100 million and include data on approximately 300,000 participants. Says Willett, "those data clearly contradict the low-fat-is-good-health message and the idea that all fat is bad for you. The exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic."
Not only do clinical studies contradict the premise that all fat is bad, but so does real world experience. While America's fat intake has declined, cholesterol levels have fallen, and smoking has decreased, heart disease has grown. It is now the leading cause of death in America. ''That is very disconcerting,'' Willett says. ''It suggests that something else bad is happening."
According to Walter Willett, little to no health benefit will be gained by giving up the saturated fat in milk, butter and cheese and eating bagels instead. In other words, a low fat diet is of little consequence health-wise.
Many sceptics of the low-fat diet point out that America's obesity rates started to climb sharply in the early 1980s, and that it paralleled the introduction of the fat is bad conclusion. Not only were low-fat and reduced-fat products introduced to the consumer, but vegetable oils replaced the saturated fat in butter, lard, and animal flesh.
The percentage of obese Americans stayed relatively constant at 13 to 14 percent through the '60s and '70s. In the '80s the percentage of obese Americans skyrocketed by 8 percent. Beyond the '80s, almost 1 out of every 4 Americans (a whopping 25%) were obese! The American obesity epidemic began in the early 1980s! These statistics are according to Katherine Flegal, epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics.
In January, 1977 a Senate committee chaired by George McGovern published Dietary Goals for the United States. It advised that Americans significantly cut their intake of fat in order to abate an epidemic of the 'killer disease' supposedly sweeping the country. The government officially endorsed the low fat diet based on recommendations by health experts who favored Keys' findings--also known as the diet-heart hypothesis.
The scientific community and the American Medical Association heartily criticized the government decision.
In late 1984 the National Institute of Health (NIH) officially recommended that all Americans over the age of 2 eat less fat (go on a low fat diet.) NIH spent several hundred million dollars in an attempt to prove a connection between eating fat and developing heart disease.
The link was never found even though 5 studies had been performed. However a sixth study costing more than $100 million concluded that reducing cholesterol levels by drug therapy could prevent heart disease.
"They had failed to demonstrate at great expense that eating less fat had any health benefits. But if a cholesterol-lowering drug could prevent heart attacks, then a low fat, cholesterol-lowering diet should do the same."
The above quote was by Basil Rifkind who oversaw the relevant trials for NIH. He termed NIH's decision as a leap of faith. Some of America's best scientists disagreed with this low fat diet logic.
Thousands of reduced and low-fat products were placed on the market by the food companies on the strength of the National Institutes of Health recommedation.
Fat is the substance which gives taste and mouth feel to food. Since fat was deemed 'evil' and removed from food products, it had to be replaced by something. That 'something' was sugar. And more often than not it was high-fructose corn syrup.
Enter Dr. Robert Atkins (See photo below. Seen with wife.) In rebellion against the government sanctioned 'low fat' diet sweeping the country, Atkins published his famous Diet Revolution in 1972. In it Atkins advocated a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet regimen.
Atkins believed that the upswing in heart disease and obesity in America was caused by refined carbohydrates. As a remedy he recommended, "...lobster with butter sauce, steak with beamaise sauce--bacon, cheeseburgers..." He didn't allow any starches or refined carbohydrates.
Though his was not the first high-fat eating plan, Atkins' was the most successful--and probably most controversial. It was criticuzed by the American Medical Association (AMA) as being "a bizarre regimen."
Not only have people like Atkins and Barry Sears, the author of The Zone, rebelled against the low fat diet, but they have embraced an alternate theory. It is called Endocrinology 101. This term was coined by David Ludwig, a Harvard Medical School researcher who runs the pediatric obesity clinic at Children's Hospital Boston.
Endocrinology 101 explains how carbohydrates affect insulin and blood sugar, and as a consequence, fat metabolism and appetite. Ludwig states that this is basic endocrinology (the study of hormones.) Insulin is a hormone which is secreted by the pancreas.
There was nothing malicious in the government's sanction and subsequent declaration of the low-fat diet. Unfortunately the high-carbohydrate foods it recommended not only made Americans fatter, but resulted in higher rates of heart disease too. We got fatter because the refined carbohydrates made us hungrier.
''For a large percentage of the population, perhaps 30 to 40 percent, low-fat diets are counterproductive,'' says Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, director of obesity research at Harvard's prestigious Joslin Diabetes Center. ''They have the paradoxical effect of making people gain weight.''
Up to the late 1970s, medical experts were teaching that diets high in protein and fat filled you up and satisfied you. Carbohydrates were fattening.
The common thinking at that time, wrote a former director of the Nutrition Division of the United Nations, was that the ideal diet, one that prevented obesity, snacking and excessive sugar consumption, was a diet ''with plenty of eggs, beef, mutton, chicken, butter and well-cooked vegetables.''
Clinical studies have shown that low-fat diets raise triglyceride levels. By the late 1960s, research revealed that high triglyceride levels were at the very least as common in heart disease patients as was high LDL (bad) cholesterol, and that by eating a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet would raise, for many, triglyceride levels, lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and boost syndrome X markers.
Studies have also shown that low-fat diets will increase the risk of heart disease for at least one-third of the American population.
America's low-fat and high refined carbohydrate diet directly affects insulin. Insulin is a hormone which is secreted by the pancreas. It's job is to lower blood sugar (glucose) levels after a meal. Insulin transports the glucose into your body's cells. Any excess is stored as fat.
Insulin regulates fat metabolism. Body fat cannot be stored without it. Imagine insulin as a switch. When the switch is on, in the few hours after you have consumed a meal, you burn carbohydrates for energy, and store any excess calories as fat.
When the insulin switch is off, after insulin has been depleted, your body burns fat as fuel. When insulin levels are low, you burn fat. This doesn't happen when insulin levels are high. The fatter you are, the more insulin your pancreas will inject into the body.
Joseph Elijah Barrett, Webmaster
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