Dietary fat has been the subject of much negative publicity over the past half century. Ever since an American researcher by the name of Ancel Keys published his Seven Countries Study in 1958. The study looked at data from seven countries that showed a correlation between rising incidences of heart disease AND increased consumption of saturated fat amongst the population, and assumed there was a connection between the two. However, data from a further 16 countries which showed no correlation whatsoever, was significantly omitted.
And so began decades of almost fear mongering by health authorities like the USDA and the American Heart Association about the negative effects of dietary fat, particularly saturated fat. Even when subsequent studies failed to conclusively support the ‘findings’ of the Seven Countries Study we’d become so used to believing that fat was bad we took no notice.
Fat Fear Mongering – Justified Or Not?
More recent studies though have produced evidence that is pretty much unable to be ignored. One such study conducted by the National Institute of Health has turned out results that turn everything we’ve been brought up to believe about fat on its head. It seems we’ve been consigning poor old dietary fat to the naughty corner quite unjustly and often to the detriment of good health.
The most significant finding of the NIH study was that test subjects who ate a high fat, low carbohydrate diet showed improvements across almost every measurement that is used to monitor health levels. From trimmer waistlines to cleaner arteries and everything in between, those on this diet had results that were consistently better than those in the same study who’d been on a low-fat diet. Exactly the type of low fat diet that health authorities have been drilling into our heads as desirable for decades in fact.
The High Fat Low Carbs vs Low Fat Diet Experiment
For the study, researchers at the NIH arranged for one group of testers to embark on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet whilst a second group went on a National Cholesterol Education Program prescribed low-fat diet. Both groups were told to eat plenty of leafy green vegetables for carbohydrates, nutrients and dietary fibre, and to stay clear of trans fat. Apart from that, they could eat as much as they wanted; there was no calorie counting or going hungry involved.
The group on the NCEP diet ate additional carbohydrates like cereals and breads but kept their dietary intake of saturated fats at less than 7% of their total calorie intake. The other group ate fat rich foods like dairy and meat but cut their carbohydrate intake by half.
The experiment was run over 12 months and at the end of that time vital statistics for both groups were reviewed and compared. Unbelievably it was found that members of the high-fat, low carbohydrate group had lost on average 3 times as much weight as those on the NCEP prescribed diet. Also significant was the fact that their weight loss was due to losing body fat whilst the NCEP group had lost muscle.
Blood test results further revealed that the high-fat/low carbohydrate dieters had far better improvements across the indicators for diabetes and heart disease. Their HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides had all improved far more than the NCEP group. This was despite their consumption of almost twice as much saturated fat as the NCEP group! The improvements were enough to lift the scores of this group on the Framingham Risk Calculator, which predicts a 10-year risk of heart attacks. The NCEP group on the other hand did not improve their Framingham scores at all.
One explanation cited for these results was that the NCEP group filled themselves up on carbohydrates to compensate for not eating as much fat.
Filling Up On Carbohydrates Foods Not A Good Idea
Not if you’re not doing enough exercise to warrant all those carbs at any rate.
The body processes carbohydrates foods by breaking them down into glucose, which then gets absorbed by the bloodstream. This increases blood sugar levels, which triggers the release of insulin. Insulin tells the body cells to start taking in glucose from the blood to use for energy and prevents them from burning fatty acids. This reduces our blood sugars, as intended, and once blood sugar levels are back to normal, insulin levels fall away too. Glucose uptake by cells then stops and they use stored fatty acids for fuel instead. And so long as blood sugar levels remain within normal range, the body will continue to utilise fat for fuel. Until our next meal or intake of carbs.
The take home message from all of this, apart from the fact that almost everything we’ve ever been told about saturated fat can be tossed out, is that if you’re constantly shovelling carbohydrates into yourself without also doing adequate amounts of exercise, you are going to get fat. Regardless of whatever else you’re eating. It’s a simple equation – constant excess carbs equals constant excess blood sugar equals constant excess insulin. The result – less fat being burnt as fuel whilst at the same time more fat is created from that excess glucose. And that adds up to getting fat. Whichever way you look at it. The article The Truth About Dietary Fat was written by David Cross.
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