I’ve been trying really hard to stick to a low fat diet. I got on the scale the other day and realized I GAINED two pounds! What’s the deal??
Bummer! That must have been quite a disappointment. To start, I highly recommend reading about the “lipid hypothesis” to understand how the ‘low-fat’ mindset came to be. What I realized relatively recently is that the number of contradictory studies might actually exceed the ones that support it. Mind. Blown.
There’s also research out there that compares the low-fat diet to other (less traditional) diets like the low-carb and Mediterranean diets. The focus of the research spans weight loss, lipid profiles, and a bunch of blood biomarkers. Overall, the low-fat diet proved to be the least effective for almost all health outcomes.
First, we have the weight loss component. Although all diets resulted in weight loss, it was greater with the low-carb and Mediterranean diets. When strictly comparing low-fat and low-carb diets in regards to long-term weight loss, the low-carb diet won hands down. This information suggests that a low-carb (ketogenic) diet can be used as an alternative tool against obesity.
Second, they looked at lipid profiles such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Although the Mediterranean group had the greatest decrease in LDL cholesterol, the low-carb diet owned the show with the highest increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol, greatest decrease in total triglycerides, and most improvement to the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol (decrease of 20% – which means more of your total cholesterol is the “good” stuff). This information is very important for those concerned with heart disease and risk of stroke.
And finally, the BUNCH of blood biomarkers. I think listing them out will make this more easily understood:
- C-reactive protein – High levels indicate inflammation. Although it can be affected by many conditions (infection, cancer, etc.) and is considered a nonspecific test, it is frequently considered when testing for heart health. When the arteries of the heart become inflamed, the risk of heart attack increases. These levels were only affected by the Mediterranean and low-carb diet groups. They decreased by 21% and 29% respectively.
- Diabetes (fasting plasma glucose, glycated hemoglobin, HOMA-IR, etc.) – If you’re diabetic or are closely involved with someone who is, you’re likely familiar with plasma glucose (i.e. “blood sugar”) and insulin levels. The Mediterranean group showed significant decreases with their diabetic participants. And again, the low-fat group came in a disappointing last place. This is definitely great news for anyone who is interested in exploring diet changes to manage type 2 diabetes.
- Alanine aminotransferase – Frequently abbreviated as ‘ALT’, this is an enzyme that is usually found in liver cells and plays a crucial role in the process that turns food into energy (metabolism). If your liver is damaged or inflamed, ALT can be released into the bloodstream and raise these levels. Mediterranean and low-carb groups saw decreases in these levels which, if you remember the C-reactive protein segment, aligns with the inflammation improvements.
When it comes to weight loss, heart health, diabetic concerns, or your overall safety in a zombie apocalypse scenario, the low-fat diet is the least effective way to go. The “lipid hypothesis” I mentioned earlier has made a significant impact to public health and education surrounding diet. They got it wrong folks.
Author: Tony Scartozzi
Tony Scartozzi was born and raised in a small town in Eastern Washington. After moving to Seattle in 2001, he attended Bastyr University and graduated with a degree in Nutrition. Driven by his passion for public health, his career has spanned the nonprofit sector, senior housing resources, food service training, and now works for a nutraceutical company that produces market-leading plant extracts used for supplemental health. Observing the severe disparity between advertisement spin and research-based knowledge, Tony has spent many years trying to identify and reconcile the difference. With Tony’s parents’ age beginning to show, his desire to investigate health-related topics has become a very personal one.