Do Low Fat Diets Work?
The idea of just staying away from fats at all cost in order to lose weight never worked. A new, smarter approach to low fat diets can help you lose weight and keep you healthy.
During the 80’s and 90’s, we were all told that fat was evil and caused disease. Consequently, food manufacturers began producing low-fat and no-fat versions of many food products. However, since fat adds flavor and consistency to food, it had to be replaced. Often with added sugar and artificial ingredients.
Along with that, we were encouraged to eat more bread, pasta and rice – usually all white. This new high-carbohydrate food supply just made Americans (including myself) even fatter. Along with the additional pounds came additional health problems.
An old idea is that “if you don’t eat fat, you won’t store fat”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Carbohydrates that aren’t used by the body right away are converted and stored as fat. It’s true that fat has a higher amount of calories in a smaller amount of food, so cutting down on fat consumption can lower your daily calorie intake, which in turn can help you lose weight.
But cutting out fat completely is a bad idea. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat in order to function and certain fats are actually good for you.
Are They Healthier?
More recent research shows that a low-fat diet isn’t a cure-all for disease prevention. This study shows that an overall reduction in fat intake doesn’t help prevent cardiovascular disease in women but reducing certain fats can help.
The Good and The Bad
We now know that all fat is not created equal. There are bad fats and good fats. The fats you do want to stay away from as much as possible are trans fats. These are artificially produced fats by means of hydrogenation.
Whenever you see the words hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated on an ingredients label, don’t eat it! Trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. These fats are usually found in fast-food and prepackaged, processed foods.
Saturated fats are another type of fat that we’ve all been told to stay away from. But they’re not all the same. Saturated fats are generally associated with animal products. Foods such as bacon, other fatty meats and full-fat dairy products have a lot of saturated fats in them. If you consume factory-farm produced foods of this type, it’s a good idea to cut back on them because they are often full of hormones, antibiotics and lacking in good nutrition. On the other hand, grass-fed meats and dairy products are actually good for you.
Many sources of saturated fats are definitely good for you. You will still find advice in books or even on the web that is a little behind-the-times.
If you drink milk, you can reduce your calorie intake by switching to non-fat milk but it can be difficult to do it all at once. I recommend doing it in stages. Start with a container of 2%, then go to 1% and finally non-fat milk. Your taste-buds will adjust over time. In any case, try to use organic milk from grass-fed cows if at all possible. Organic Valley is a good brand to look for.
Whole eggs were once demonized as a bad source of saturated fat and cholesterol. More recent studies show that eating cholesterol doesn’t raise your overall cholesterol level (but that’s a discussion beyond the scope of this article.) The fact is that egg yolks from free-range chickens contain a mountain of nutrition and can even help you lose weight. Eating a couple of eggs for breakfast gives your body a good start on it’s nutritional needs for the day, so you’re less likely to over-eat later.
Coconut oil is another source of saturated fat that often gets a bad rap. New research has shown that it’s actually very healthy. Coconut oil contains a type of saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCT’s help your body burn the fat calories instead of storing them as fat. It also contains lauric acid, which actually raises your good (HDL) cholesterol.
Real butter from grass-fed cows is actually a healthy fat. It contains a type of fat called CLAs, which help burn fat and build muscle. One study also found that CLAs are good for your heart. The trick is, it has to be grass-fed and only use a small amount if you’re trying to lose weight. Kerrygold is a brand imported from Ireland that I use a little of every day. You can find it in most supermarkets.
Other good fats are pretty well known. Olive oil, avocados, nuts and salmon are all fatty foods that are actually good for you.
As you can see, you don’t want to eliminate all fats from your diet. Eliminate the trans fats from fast-food and processed foods. Just getting these types of foods out of your diet can go a long way towards weight loss. The good fats you can consume in moderation. They do pack in a lot of calories, so go lightly on them to lose weight.
Low Fat Diet Programs
Modern low fat diet programs have adjusted to some of this new information, but not completely. I still don’t think a low fat diet is the best way to lose weight, but it can be done. One low-fat diet program I’ve studied is the DASH Diet. I had some success with it but it wasn’t easy. Check it out for yourself here.
Is a low fat diet right for you? You may want to give it a try, but as always, check with your doctor first. And remember that low-fat doesn’t mean no fat.