Could Low-Fat Diets be Contributing to Obesity?

Scientific studies dating as far back as the 1940’s showed that there may be some connection to high fat diets and high-cholesterol levels. In the 1960’s we see for the first time that a low-fat diet may be a good idea for everyone not just high risk heart patients. In the 1980’s physicians, federal government agencies and the food industry began overwhelmingly to promote low fat diets as healthy even though there still was now clear evidence that it did prevent heart disease or weight loss. What is really interesting is in the same time period that we as a nation embraced low-fat diets we have seen obesity reach epidemic levels and we have see no change in cardiovascular events.

In fact to the contrary to the medical establishment’s warnings, we saw that those people that embraced the Atkins diet, which promotes high protein and higher fats actually saw a reduction in triglyceride levels and an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.

In 1961 the AHA published a report on prevention of coronary heart disease that singled out reducing certain kinds of dietary fat intake as a way to lower the level of risk. The report was cautious, however, stating: “It must be emphasized that there is as yet no final proof that heart attacks or strokes will be prevented by such measures.” The report recommended that Americans eat less fat and substitute “a substantial part” of liquid vegetable oils for solid animal fats, such as butter and fatty meat.

Hmmm “No Final Proof” yet do it anyway?!?

In an article, “Critics Doubt Benefit of Low-Fat Diet.” One critical cardiologist pointed out that the 30% fat Step 1 AHA diet, recommended by the NCEP for all Americans, had no effect on cholesterol levels or heart disease rates. Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, concurred, noting that public health officials had been “very dogmatic” about the diet’s efficacy and applicability. He explained that because the scientific community had recommended the diet, people assumed there was proof that the diet worked, even though there was none. One researcher confessed, “The evidence isn’t as good as we’d like it to be.” But the overall strategy, to get Americans to eat less fat, was “generally thought to be a laudatory goal.

Isn’t it funny, during the past 50 years that they have been pushing the low fat diet the obesity rates have skyrocketed? 

Dr. Jules Hirsch, physician-in-chief at Rockefeller University, raised a different challenge. His studies suggested that when the fat content of the diet fell below 20%, the body started producing saturated fat from carbohydrates. Willett noted that substituting carbohydrates for fats could reduce high-density lipoproteins (HDL) levels while raising triglyceride levels.

So low-fat diets cause increased triglycerides and cause the body to make saturated fats, and they wonder why we’re getting fatter?

In spite of the low-fat campaign, Americans are fatter than ever, obesity having risen by 50% since the 1970s. Jane Brody admitted: “The very tactic viewed as the key to weight control—stripping the diet of fat—seems to have backfired.”

The headline on the front page of The New York Times for 8 February 2006 announced: “Low-Fat Diet Does Not Cut Health Risks, Study Finds.” Kolata summed up the results of the study: “The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet reduces the risk of getting cancer or heart disease has found that the diet has no effect.” Gina Kolata, “Low-Fat Diet Does Not Cut Health Risks, Study Finds,” N. Y. Times, 8 February 2006, A1, A17.

That’s not the entire story, stay tuned and I will reveal the results of my research on why diets fail.



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Published by Keith Abell, RPh cWHC

"Helping folks build a life they don't need a vacation from."

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