Like any approach to dieting, the benefits of a low fat diet can be overstated. One of the largest studies on the subject, following over 50,000 women for eight years, found no evidence to support the view that a low fat diet lowered the odds for heart attack or stroke. Nor did it help reduce the chances of getting breast or colon cancer.
But there is nevertheless ample evidence that a low fat diet can be a great boon to those seeking weight loss and good health in general.
Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, certain fats are essential to good health. Fat is necessary for proper nerve function, hormone production and other vital processes. About 30-35% of the diet should consist of fats. But not just any fats, only those of a certain type.
Trans-fats raise the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol – LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins). At the same time they lower the ‘good’ type of cholesterol, HDL (High Density Lipoproteins). The good type is essential for proper brain function, just as one example. By contrast, a high ratio of LDL to HDL is a contributor to the risk of heart disease. LDL builds up in the arteries, hardening them and making them more narrow. Trans fat calories should be no more than 1%.
Saturated fats have similar effects. They raise the level of LDL, which leads to the same problems for arteries and blood pressure. They should be limited to no more than 7% of calories.
Monounsaturated fats, by contrast, are those that actually help the body perform those needed functions without contributing to the problems caused by the other two types.
It’s still true, though, that a high fat diet, even the ‘good’ kind, can have a number of drawbacks.
A gram of fat produces 9 calories during digestion. By comparison, carbohydrates and proteins produce only 4 calories per gram. That makes fat ‘energy dense’. And the basic calorie equation remains true: more calories consumed than used leads to weight gain. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to reduce calorie intake is to consume less fat.
Choosing meats that are low in fat and reducing regular milk consumption are two good ways to implement the plan. Certain nuts, like cashews and peanuts, are also high in fat and should be consumed sparingly. But at the same time walnuts and almonds have good fat and should be consumed, in small amounts.
That will help achieve a goal of no more than 65 grams of fat per day based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. That is equivalent to getting no more than 30% of total calories per day from fats. Those on a very restricted calorie diet (say, 1200-1500 for women and 1600-1800 for men) will want to reduce the amount accordingly.
Keep in mind that every person has individual nutritional requirements. Guidelines appropriate for a middle aged adult seeking to shed a few pounds may not be right for a teen. Any time you consider substantial changes to diet, consulting with your physician first is wise.
Remember that “dieting” alone does not work long term. Any diet that does not include a program to change behavior or lifestyle is destined to fail. By finding a combination of healthy eating, exercise and lifestyle change you can lose the weight and keep it off.