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Do Low-fat Diets Prevent Disease?

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Does eating a low-fat diet reduce the risk of getting common diseases like heart disease, stokes, breast and colon cancer? The media boldly answered this question by stating there is no benefit to women eating a low fat diet. This made headlines in newspapers across the country – most concluding, even beyond this study, that dietary changes have no benefit in disease prevention! This media frenzy was one of the worst I’ve seen. And could not be more irresponsible considering the growing numbers of diet-related incidence of disease in the United States.

This study was flawed on multiple levels.

First, the researchers did not differentiate between health-promoting fats like olive oil and fish oil, and unhealthy fats like trans fats, or excessive consumption of saturated fats. The significant difference in these kinds of fat has to be fully established.

Secondly, the researchers were unable to rigorously determine whether or not participants actually followed the diets. They used unreliable indicators of what participants were actually eating.

Thirdly, only 1 in 7 of the women actually achieved the low-fat guidelines of the study. Specifically, less than 15% of the “low-fat” study group actually followed a low- fat diet! And, the goals of the study (a 20% or less calories from fat diet) were not reached by any of the women. By the end of 8 years the women only reduced to 29% fat, and in the early part of the study only to 22%. In addition, the study group increased total carbohydrate intake by about 10%.

These flaws did not deter major newspapers from reporting the results and drawing their own conclusions about diet and disease prevention. Again, be careful getting health advice from traditional newspapers.

As many of you know, instead of focusing on just fat, I am a proponent of an anti-inflammatory diet which addresses the types and amounts of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to create a balanced, disease-preventing and health- promoting nutritional program.