Low-fat diets: most people stick to them religiously, or at least believe that they should. It’s become common “knowledge” in our culture that a low-fat diet is healthiest for us. It’s just not true, though. A low-fat diet actually poses a serious detriment to our health over time! Why?
First, I remember as a teenager, before I knew anything about health — I’d try to stick to a “perfect” diet for awhile. Lots of vegetables and lean meats, low- to no-fat and no sugar or junk food. Within very few days I’d feel weak and sick. I came to the conclusion that my body needed fat. Not that I needed sugar…but fat. Amazing, isn’t it?
Fat’s Role in the Body
It’s important to understand what fat actually does in our bodies. Most people assume it just makes us fat. But it doesn’t. In fact, fat is burned relatively quickly for energy, and is a great source of energy. It’s not stored in the body. It’s the carbs, especially refined carbs, that are burned very slowly and often stored as fat (because our bodies can’t use them all at once).
But fat has a lot of uses in our bodies besides just energy. In fact, fat helps us to absorb many important vitamins, such as: vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K. These are fat-soluble vitamins. If we do not eat adequate fat, we will not absorb them properly. Without these vitamins, our immunity goes down (we don’t use calcium without vit D), our bones get brittle, we can suffer depression, and more.
Fat also helps our bodies to regenerate cells. It helps in regulating our hormones, too. Cholesterol — one type of fat (and supposedly the most “evil”) — helps to build and maintain a healthy brain, as well as repairing damage in our bodies. When we eat poor foods or have environmental toxins in our bodies, cholesterol repairs the damage (that’s why it’s seen sometimes with heart attacks — there was a lot of damage it was trying to repair, and it built up).
We need fat in our diets for many reasons!
Limited fat during the child and teen years can result in thin, long bones: that super-skinny-and-tall-model figure we’re used to seeing. But this is not a healthy bone structure at all, and it’s not something anyone should be striving for. Children and teens especially should not limit fat.
Despite all of these important uses for fat, many people have gotten it into their heads that a low-fat diet will help them to lose weight.
First of all — note that it is the carbs that are burned more slowly and usually stored as fat (especially white flour and sugar). Simply knowing this means that low-fat doesn’t make sense. Why would we want to encourage our bodies to crave more carbs, which would then be stored as fat, making the weight harder to lose? Not to mention that eating a diet high in carbs (the natural result of a low-fat diet) can disturb your gut flora, which is also necessary for proper health.
There’s been research into different types of diets, though. Here’s some of it:
Low Carb Diets are More Effective and People are More Likely to Stick With It
Those on low-fat diets lost the least amount of weight in 2 years (compared with low-carb and Mediterranean)
Basically, people on low-carb diets are more likely to stick with the diet long-term (they don’t feel deprived), they lose more weight (about twice as much in the 2 year study), and they also lower their cholesterol.
People on low-fat diets, or other severely-restricted diets are more likely to become anemic, too. They’re not getting the iron they need from animal sources, so their iron levels plummet. Non-heme iron, the type that is found in plants, is very poorly absorbed and will not prevent anemia.
Our own experience confirms this: on a low-fat diet, we didn’t feel well, gained weight, etc. Switching to a full-fat diet (not really low-carb, but limiting grains and preparing them properly), we easily lost quite a bit of weight and have maintained that for almost 2 years (minus pregnancy, of course!).
A lot of people who are on low-fat diets rely heavily on special “diet products” — foods that are formulated to be low in fat. These include items such as:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Buttery “spreads”
- Vegetable oils
- Low-fat cookies, cakes, and snacks
These foods are highly processed. They are not healthy. Most are not even real food at all! All of these come with dangerous side effects.
Artificial sweeteners are made from chemicals and have been linked to cancer. They should be avoided at all costs.
Buttery “spreads” are usually made with either hydrogenated or intersified fats, both of which are terrible for you (these are trans fats). These artificially saturated fats really do cause heart disease. The spreads which claim not to be made this way are still a strange blend of vegetable oils, especially soybean oil, and are not healthy. Real butter is so much better, for taste and health!
Vegetable oils…where do I even start? Read what Weston A. Price has to say about these, and a post I did previously on good and bad fats.
Low-fat processed foods are awful. All processed foods are bad, of course, but low-fat foods end up replacing the fat with thickeners and starches and sugar. Have you ever read the back of a box of low-fat cookies? Sugar is the #1 ingredient. How about low-fat sour cream? Cream in any form is not meant to be low in fat! It’s most guar gum, skim milk, xanthan gum, and other fake “food” ingredients to create a sour-cream-like texture and flavor. Not even worth eating.
Most of us know exactly why we should skip these foods — after all, many are here because we’re committed to eating real, whole foods, and these are clearly not that. But it’s an important reminder!
The Bottom Line
We’ve been lied to about fat. It’s not evil, it won’t cause heart disease, and it won’t make us fat. It will, however, help our bodies to self-regulate weight, hormones, vitamin use, immune function, and lots more.
Skip the low-fat dogma and eat a balanced diet of healthy real foods!
Have you ever tried a low-fat diet? How did it go? How did you feel?
Low-fat diets leave me shaky within 3 hours after eating. Cereal for breakfast with low-fat milk? Shaky by noon. Low fat sandwich with Miracle Whip? Starving (and feeling a bit shaky) by 3 or 4.
Limiting grains (not carbs, just grains), I managed to lose 10 pounds in a month (seriously…and I'm not the type you'd look at as needing to lose weight, or even size but it melted some of my extra padding on my hips instead of losing the weight in places I might not want to like my chest) and am never truly 100% hungry. This is coming from someone who is 5'10.5" and 150 pounds. Grains are the bad guy, not butter!
We drink full-fat milk, use butter, and I would never dream of touching a low-fat 'cheese'. Why? Because food isn't meant to be transformed and mutated! I don't understand how drastically altering the molecular formula of is 'better' or 'healthier'. And margarine just tastes nasty. My husband J. and I eat plenty of full fat dairy, along with other yummy fats that come from avocados and nuts. Our parents think we are crazy for it, but too bad!
All I can say is that whole foods are healthy foods! We love our raw whole milk, butter, eggs, etc. and not one of my seven children is overweight. We use soaked grains and limit sugar intake as well. For some reason conventional wisdom likes to turn real wisdom upside down.
So true! At my local mom's group meeting yesterday, we were talking about helping our kids eat healthy foods. Unfortunately, most of the recipes had low-fat ingredients, ideas for butter-substitutes, or suggestions for getting kids to eat steamed veggies without butter. When I mentioned that we eat butter like crazy, I got quite a few "Well, we won't judge you, but what are you thinking?" looks. And then the ladies would launch into discussions about how healthy it is to replace half of their AP flour with whole wheat flour to make kids' snacks "healthier."
Forget the flour – give us eggs, full-fat yogurt, fruits, and veggies cooked in plenty of butter for snacks!
I'm with you on a lot of this but citing Weston A Price is harming the credibility of your recommendations. Weston A Price was a fraud who taught that children should limit their intake of fresh food and instead drink meat broth. The woman who works to continue his research promotes a diet very high in saturated fats, the very thing you mention to avoid. Her claims are based on research that is extremely out of date, and she gives little consideration (if any!) to current studies.
Price himself was a DENTIST in the 1930s. His advice includes eating animal brains for "increased nutrition" and to feed infants MEAT BROTH instead of formula when breastmilk is unavailable. The advice is SO out of date and absurd, and the continued interest in this dentist and his cult following who begs for an excuse to eat butter and steak is laughable.
I don't think you've ever read Dr. Price's research, nor are you very familiar with the foundation (or this blog). No, saturated fat is NOT bad for you. The fact that the research on saturated fat was done in the 1930s – 1950s is irrelevant — people aren't magically different today. The lipid hypothesis (the idea that saturated fat causes heart disease) was actually disproven by the very man who originally came up with it. It's trans fats, NOT naturally saturated fats, that cause heart disease. In no way did or would I ever suggest that people avoid saturated fats — we eat quite a lot of it ourselves.
Sally Fallon works closely with Dr. Mary Enig, who has done extensive research for over 30 years on diet and health. Every article I've read from their site is heavily cited with peer-reviewed research.
As far as the "meat broth" comment — that's only if baby was allergic to or unable to have dairy. Price suggests that babies get homemade formula from raw cow's milk (something we drink); failing that, and goat's milk, then meat broth (with many additives; NOT plain) is the acceptable choice.
I'm sorry that you feel this is a "cult" and "laughable" without doing any actual research. Please look into the foundation further and note all of their extensive (and relatively current) research explaining their stances. I guarantee if you search around their website for any length of time, you will find it.