Low fat = low weight loss

August 15, 2008

I was delighted to read last week about some research done at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel that shows that if you want to lose weight, forget eating a low-fat diet. I have never been an advocate of low-fat diets as they interfere with some of the body’s most essential functions: we need a certain amount of oils and fats to help us absorb vitamins and nutrients, for energy, as well as keeping our skin moisturised and supple.

Low-fat foods are believed by many to be helpful in lowering cholesterol, but this is simply not the case. Nor will they help you lose weight in a substantial way, compared to other diets.

According to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers put 322 people who were moderately obese on one of three weight-losing methods, and monitored their progress for two years. The clear winner was the Atkins low-carb diet as being the most effective way to lose weight, and it is followed closely by a balanced Mediterranean diet. A low-fat diet came in a poor third, and people who used it lost around 40 per cent less weight than those who were on the Atkins regime. The Atkins diet was also the most effective for lowering the ‘bad’ HDL cholesterol, which fell by 20 per cent over the two years.

BUT, and it’s a big one, if you are thinking of undertaking the Atkins diet please be aware that although it can generate good weight loss quite quickly, it is not recommended for long term use, and there are very good reasons for this. It is based on a high intake of fat and protein with virtually no carbohydrate intake or dairy. It’s almost impossible to follow the Atkin’s plan if you’re a vegetarian as nuts, seeds, beans and many vegetables are banned in the early stages.

Unpleasant side effects can also occur, as burning fat results in the production of substances called ketones as your body enters a state called ketosis. This can result in bad breath, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, insomnia and nausea. Constipation may also occur as a consequence of avoiding typically high-fibre foods such as fruit, veg, beans, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals and jacket potatoes. When it comes to long-term side effects, many health professionals are concerned that the Atkins diet may have serious dangers. While the high intake of fat, particularly saturates, may increase the risk of heart disease, there are also concerns that the unbalanced nature of the Atkins diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies, which cause health problems in later life. For example, poor intakes of bone-building calcium (found in dairy products) may increase the risk of osteoporosis, while poor intakes of antioxidant nutrients (found in fruit and veg) have been linked with a host of health problems ranging from heart disease and cancer to premature ageing and cataracts. Some experts are also worried that high intakes of protein may cause kidney problems or weaken bones.

WHY DO IT? The main advantage is that people can lose considerable amounts of weight, really quite quickly and this can be very motivating. The diet also encourages people to cut out most processed carbs and alcohol, and thanks to it allowing plenty of red meat and high-fat butter, cream, cheese and mayonnaise, it’s also the one diet that seems to be attractive to men.

The concern over fats and heart disease made Atkins, himself a cardiologist, revise the guidelines for fat intakes to recommending that no more than 20 percent of calories should come from saturates. However, this is still twice as much the recommended amount for a healthy heart.

As ever, read the facts and make up your own mind.


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