New year. New resolutions. Each year, nearly 50 percent of Americans vow to improve their diet after January 1st. A glance at those shopping at your local grocery store will give you an idea of how well these resolutions stick. Americans are as unhealthy as ever. Perhaps one of the reasons people are unsuccessful in reaching their goals is the rise of trendy diets. From keto to intermittent fasting to Mediterranean, the choices are endless. The truth is: most diets don’t work. In fact, some are downright dangerous. It may surprise you to hear that the low-fat diet ranks very high on that list.
A big fat lie
If you are old enough to remember the late 1980s, you might recall a jug of skim milk sitting on the dinner table. You may have found your mom or grandmother eating low-fat yogurt for breakfast. Low-fat granola bars and fat-free Snackwell cookies likely filled your lunch box.
Heart disease was uncommon at the beginning of the 20th century. However, by the 1940s, it was the leading cause of death in the United States. Later that decade, scientist Ancel Keys suggested a link between fat intake and cholesterol in the blood. Key’s theory began the diet-heart hypothesis.
Then, the federal government got involved. As is often the case, the unproven theory took hold of society. The American Heart Association, doctors, and popular health media began touting the benefits of eating a low-fat diet. Subsequently, in 1977, the government published dietary guidelines suggesting that individuals reduce their fat intake. The rest is history.
To this day, no substantial evidence exists demonstrating that a diet high in saturated fat or cholesterol leads to heart disease. On the contrary, science has clearly shown that low-fat diets are unhealthy.
In fact, several studies have since found that diets higher in fat are protective against heart disease and death. Though the tides are beginning to shift, forty years of indoctrination are hard to wipe away overnight.
What is cholesterol?
Most of us associate cholesterol and fat with things we’d like to avoid. After all, we’ve spent most of our lives hearing that cholesterol causes heart disease. Therefore, you might be surprised to learn that cholesterol is essential for robust health.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance present in every cell that, just like fat, is a type of lipid. However, unlike fat, it can’t be burned for energy. Produced in the liver, cholesterol is vital to life, and without it, you would die.
Found in animal products such as eggs and red meat, cholesterol is such an essential nutrient that the body produces the vast majority of what is needed. The body does a fantastic job of maintaining cholesterol at optimal levels for the most part.
For example, if you consume a bacon and egg breakfast, liver production of cholesterol will slow. Conversely, if you do not consume enough dietary cholesterol, the liver will speed up output. Perhaps this is why decreasing the amount of cholesterol in the diet does little to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is the actual hero
Elevated cholesterol is not caused by overeating fat. Instead, sugar and processed carbohydrates lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol travels through the blood wrapped in proteins, and together, they make a lipoprotein. Unfortunately, high sugar diets cause the liver to produce excessive triglycerides, packaged in very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL). When these molecules reach the end of their lifespan, they become small, dense LDLs, the dangerous kind of cholesterol carriers that lead to heart attacks and strokes.
So, while many people think that high blood cholesterol levels cause inflammation, it’s the other way around. Rather, high cholesterol is a symptom of inflammation. It’s the body’s way of alerting us to impending danger. This way, cholesterol acts as a warning system, making it a true hero.
5 reasons a low-fat diet destroys health
Hopefully, what you’ve learned thus far is enough to convince you that a low-fat diet is unhelpful and even dangerous for your health. But, just in case you need more proof, here are five science-backed reasons to ditch low fat forever.
Leads to hunger and weight gain
Have you ever eaten a high-carb meal, only to be hungry again a short time later? Carbohydrates, especially simple ones, are digested quickly. Studies have found that diets high in refined carbs make people hungrier than those who consume diets richer in protein or fats.
Most individuals find that eating fat leaves them feeling more satiated. Well-balanced meals with complex carbohydrates and healthy fat help turn off hunger signals.
Hunger is regulated by two main hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Diets high in sugar trigger the release of ghrelin, which promotes appetite. Leptin, on the other hand, turns off our desire for food. Produced by fat cells, leptin signals our brain when it’s time to stop eating.
Those who have difficulty regulating hunger hormones are prone to weight gain. In addition, numerous studies have found that high carbohydrate diets contribute to the obesity epidemic.
Depletes important hormones
Most people are surprised to learn that fat and cholesterol are the building blocks of hormones. Without fat in our diet, our bodies could not produce essential steroid hormones like testosterone, progesterone, and vitamin D.
Limited fat intake may be particularly dangerous for women. Essential for reproductive health, studies have linked low-fat diets to menstrual difficulties, menopausal problems, infertility, and health problems.
Limits vitamin and mineral absorption
Certain vitamins can only be utilized when paired with fats. These fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Found most abundantly in high-fat foods, each of the four vitamins serves an essential function in the body. Therefore, bringing enough fat into the diet ensures proper absorption and prevents vitamin deficiencies.
Adopting poor eating habits, such as unhealthy snacking, crowds out other healthy alternatives. For example, by filling up on a bowl of potato chips, you miss out on the vital nutrients that a wholesome meal could provide.
Increases anxiety and depression
Fats play an important role in brain function. Interestingly, approximately 60 percent of the brain is composed of fat. Many essential neurotransmitters are made from fatty acids that come through our diet. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon or sardines can dampen the release of stress hormones.
Science has demonstrated the critical role that dietary fat has on mental health. For example, several studies have linked diets low in cholesterol with anxiety, depression, anger, and even suicide. In fact, research has linked the use of cholesterol-lowering statins with psychiatric changes in some people.
While the reasons why low-fat diets impact mood are not entirely clear, scientists suspect that cholesterol impacts the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that promotes a feeling of happiness.
Increases insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease
The popularity of low-fat diets contributed to a drastic increase in obesity. Why is that? When fat is removed from a food, it needs to be replaced with something else to make it more palatable. Often, that food is sugar or processed grains. So, as individuals’ fat consumption decreased, their sugar intake skyrocketed.
Science is beginning to show that diets rich in fat improve insulin resistance and cholesterol levels. For example, a recent study concluded that a low-carbohydrate diet high in saturated fat stabilizes blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, and decreases blood pressure.
An all-or-nothing mindset is prevalent in today’s society. It seems that someone or something always has to be the enemy, especially in the world of health. First, fat was terrible; then, carbs became the enemy. Meat has been attacked. Eating fish became toxic. What’s next?
Unfortunately, diets often don’t differentiate between whole foods and processed foods, organic and non-organic, and healthy and unhealthy fat. This is why we ascribe to the organic, 100 Year Heart lifestyle at the Natural Heart Doctor. Rather than following a diet, we aim to nurture our bodies with real food, precisely as nature intended. For more information on the 100 Year Heart Diet, download our free guide today!
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD