Low Fat Diets: Are They Effective?

There has been a lot of excitement over the past decade over high fat and low carb diets that promise weight loss while filling up on fatty favourites like bacon and eggs or steak and cheese. It seemed so simple – eat the burger but leave the bun. Although it’s been top of the weight loss agenda for a while though, many experts remain unconvinced of the long term health implications of a high fat diet and still prefer the old mantra of low fat to lose weight.

How long has the Low Fat Diet been Around?

Low fat diets might seem to be rather quaint and out of date but as far as weight loss methods go, low fat has only really been hitting the health headlines for about thirty years. The National Advisory Committee on Nutrition Education (NACNE) published a report in the early 1980s that found links between overconsumption of fat and some diseases, which resulted in a drive to reduce the nation’s fat intake, as well as increase fibre, and reduce salt and sugar. It seems to have formed the basis of most of our beliefs about food ever since, and cutting fat has become ingrained in the public psyche as the way to lose weight above all other.

Why Does Low Fat Dieting Make Sense?

A lot of research in the eighties and nineties seemed to link fat and salt in the diet with heart and general health. But as the reports were coming out and scaring us all into eating low-fat everything in order to stave off heart and cardiovascular disease, big business latched on to the idea that it wasn’t just our health that would benefit from a fat reduction – our waistlines would, too.

In the nineties it was extremely fashionable to advocate low fat eating, and there were shelves full of books dedicated to extreme low fat diets as well as more realistic versions that evolved into weight loss empires, slimming clubs and food ranges. They do seem to be effective, and a low fat diet can be palatable, even enjoyable to most people.

How Does Eating Low Fat help You Lose Weight?

Well, it’s generally accepted that you have to reduce your calorie intake if you want lose weight. Fat is the most energy dense of all nutrients. Whereas protein and carbohydrate have four calories per gram, and alcohol has seven, fat contains nine. It makes complete sense that cutting down on fat will reduce your overall calorie intake and should result in weight loss.

How Much Fat Should We Eat?

In the UK, most of people tend to get about 35 to 40 per cent of calories from fat, although experts say that to improve our health we should try and cut this down to about 30 per cent. When we’re trying to lose weight, though, reducing fat intake a bit more seems to be a way to go. Evidence does seem to show that cutting down to around 20 to 30 percent of calories from fat is better than no fat at all, as we all need fat in our diets. Cutting down too drastically can also lead to a restrictive diet which can stop us getting some of the ‘good’ fats from oily fish, nuts and seeds.

The Benefits of Fat

Fat isn’t all bad, and that’s why low fat diets do tend to attract criticism, especially very low fat diets.

To start with, we need fat for vitamin absorption. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble and that’s why you tend find them in foods with a high fat content, such as full fat cheese, nuts or oily fish. If you restrict your fat too much you could be vitamin deficient.

There are also two fatty acids called linoleic acid (otherwise known as omega-6) and linolenic acid (sometimes called omega-3) – which can’t be manufactured inside the body so we have to get our supply from food.. These essential fatty acids are vital for our growth, and to keep our skin in good condition. They help to protect us against some diseases. Oils from nuts, seed and vegetables are good sources of omega-6 fats, and oily fish is the best known source of omega-3 fats. Fat is one of the essential nutrients in the human diet, so we shouldn’t attempt to cut it out. It’s also worth noting that manufactured low fat foods are often high in sugar which can set us up for even more health problems. The best way to incorporate a low fat plan into your diet is to opt for naturally low fat foods, like lean meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, with a little of what you fancy occasionally!

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