The low fat diet health debate

But fat is bad for us, isn't it?

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High fat foods like cheeses are now back on the menu

Consuming too much food of any kind will make you fat but the theory is that your appetite is satisfied more easily and for longer with meals that are high in fat and protein. They also don’t boost your blood glucose levels.

Fat has been associated with bad health for decades. The idea that if you eat a lot of fat it will end up clogging your arteries and lead to heart attacks seemed logical, even obvious. It was also easy to believe that eating fat made you fat. Science is now challenging these assumptions.

Studies in the 1960s linked prosperous Americans who ate a lot of meat and dairy products rich in fats to a rise in cardiovascular problems. But these studies failed to recognise the rise of refined sugar in the same diets. Science has moved on and it’s now the sugar that is linked to the health issues originally blamed on fats.

There is no doubt that some fats are bad for you. Trans-fats, mainly artificially hardened hydrogenated vegetable fats that used to be used to make margarines and inexpensive fats for industrial food production have been scientifically proven to be bad for your health. These are now pretty much banned in many countries.

Other fats that are at solid at room temperature, or saturated fats, of all kinds were regarded with suspicion. Now there is now growing scientific evidence that natural saturated fats from meat, dairy and vegetable sources like coconut and palm oil kernels, are not inherently harmful. They also don’t degrade easily to produce toxins while being heated in the cooking process.

All this has proved to be very confusing over time. To add to that confusion there is now some rowing back on more recent recommendations that we consume more vegetable oils of the polyunsaturated fatty acid variety. I can remember the messages as early as the 1980s advising using to use sunflower oil and corn oil and to avoid saturated fats. Today there is plenty of evidence that these same oils are not healthy. They contain too much Omega 6 fatty acids and degrade easily into toxins when heated during cooking.

The Mediterranean diet

Longevity is impressive in some countries bordering the Mediterranean. This has been attributed to typical consumption of a lot of fresh vegetables, fish high in beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids and olive oil, which is low in polyunsaturates. Carbs in the form of pasta and rice are also important but so are meat and dairy products high in saturated fats. The one thing not high on the list is sugar, at least not in the traditional local diet.

The low carb diet

Being a Type 2 diabetic, my body is unable to cope with excess blood sugar. I had two choices; take medication to modify my metabolism or change my diet and physical activity levels to minimise levels of unused blood glucose. I decided I didn’t want medication so opted to restrict my carbohydrate consumption.

In fact I have gone for a fairly radical diet that avoids carbohydrates as much as possible within reason. I no longer routinely eat bread, starchy vegetables, cakes, biscuits, crisps, drinks sweetened with sugar and even fruit. I do eat a lot more green non-starchy vegetables and salads and fish, meat and dairy products. I also take a vitamin and mineral supplement but that’s simply a safety net. Green vegetables actually contain a lot of vitamins, including C, and essential minerals. They also provide dietary fibre.

I have also switched from high Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats like sunflower oil and now use rapeseed (high Omega 3 and low Omega 6) and olive oils as well as butter and coconut oil. I do have a sweet tooth and this was the biggest switch for me. I used to be completely against artificial sweeteners but I now use them every day. My preferred sweetener is sucralose.

My diet is ketogenic. I have minimised, if not totally eliminated, my carbohydrate consumption so that a physiological change kicks in to prioritise the burning of fat to release energy. It’s the basis of the controversial Atkins diet. I used to regard Atkins as extremely unhealthy. Having lived low carb for over a year I am happy to report that I feel better than ever. I have lost 25 pounds (around 10kg) , I feel more alert and I have more energy. This helps me to be more active and I don’t have problems with an overactive appetite.

Despite consuming radically more fat in my diet than before, my blood lipid analysis is virtually the same as before I switched my diet. My total cholesterol, good and bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels are all well inside the normal ranges. In fact my good cholesterol has improved slightly and my bad cholesterol has reduced slightly. My HbA1c figure, an indicator of blood glucose levels  over a three month period, is also well inside the normal range.

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2 Comments on "The low fat diet health debate"

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Mark Greenhill
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Yes indeed, evidenced by my own good health at age eighty I agree that a high protein, low carb diet is the way to go. This has been talked about a lot lately on media by advocates of the Paleo Diet and strenuously refuted by orthodox dieticians and nutritionists whose research, it has been revealed, was funded by commercial cereal manufacturers. As much as possible I avoid food products containing soy derivatives with the exception of naturally brewed, fermented, organic soy sauce that removes its toxicity. It is my belief (and I stress the word, ‘belief’) that the substitution of… Read more »
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