The growing number of health benefits gained from diets that are rich in healthy fats (such as the Mediterranean diet) continue to be reported. Unfortunately, many people still find it hard to move past fear of dietary fat, unable to let go of old nutrition theories that pin dietary fat as the sole cause of weight gain.
No doubt about it, the fear of fat seems to make perfect sense. While protein and carbohydrates are said to contain about 4 calories per gram, fat contains about twice that amount of calories. Therefore, the common rationale behind low-fat diets has been that “reducing fat intake will naturally lead to weight loss,” says Harvard Medical School lead researcher, Diedre Tobias. However, a recent comprehensive review of the latest health and nutrition research has clearly shown that, in reality, this is not the way it’s worked out.
Research out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School has shown that low-fat diets don’t lead to more weight loss after all. The results of 53 different studies involving 68,128 adults were analyzed, and researchers saw no difference between average weight loss from low-fat diets and higher fat diets. In fact, they concluded that low-fat diets were only successful at weight loss when compared to no diet at all, while they showed equal or less weight loss when compared to low-carb diets and diets that emphasize the intake of healthy fats, such as the Mediterranean diet.
Why Are Fat-Free Nations Getting Fatter?
These research results echo general observations that have been made of the U.S. population over the past 30 years. While the percentage of calories from fat in people’s diets has significantly gone down, obesity rates have skyrocketed at the same time.
Part of the problem may be arising from the fact that low-fat diets often lead to more simple carbohydrates in the diet, such as white bread and other refined grain products. Diets high in these sorts of foods increase the risks of weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. And while diets high in unhealthy processed fats (like trans-fat) have been strongly linked to weight gain, Harvard research has shown that diets balanced with healthy fats (like cold-pressed mono-unsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats) have a positive effect on weight control.
Beyond weight loss, another study conducted in 1993 – when low-fat diets were at the height of popularity – recruited almost 50,000 women to participate, assigning 19,541 of them to a low-fat diet to follow for 8 years. The researchers published their results in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reporting that low-fat dieters did not show lower rates of breast cancer, colorectal cancer or cardiovascular disease. Their recorded weights were also generally the same as the other women in the study who had continued to follow their usual diets.
Getting to the Fat of the Matter – Quality over Quantity
Review of the current research suggests that simply cutting down your total fat intake doesn’t necessarily bring about any major weight loss or health benefits (and often, the opposite is true). This is why major health boards, such as the U.S. Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee, have moved away from advocating low-fat diets to the public.
However, this doesn’t mean we can settle back in to our old bacon-sausage-‘n-egg eating ways. While the amount of fat people eat doesn’t seem to be the game changer for weight loss and good health, what does seem to turn the tide is the TYPE of fat people eat. Many lines of research are showing that nixing trans-fats from the diet completely, while emphasizing natural, cold-extracted, unprocessed plant-based oils over saturated fat can have a significant impact in helping to reduce weight, as well as the risks of various cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
Reserve about 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories for healthy dietary fat sources such as extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado, nuts and seeds, unrefined flax and seed oils. Balance this out with lean sources of high-quality protein and a majority of high-fiber, unprocessed and colorful vegetables for a healthy diet that promotes weight loss, energy, good health and a long life.