Low Fat Diets - forget this one! revised 5/2/2016
Around 1990, a new diet trend was afoot. Having discovered
"bloodwork" which we thought could predict a person's health (actually
now, they have found the ordinary bloodwork doesn't really predict all
that much), we noticed that lots of folks had high cholesterol. And
somewhere it was decided that drastically cutting the fat in our diet
would help lower cholesterol (and it did for some folks but never worked
for me) and thus
alleviate atherosclerosis, a common problem especially in the aging
There was a lot of research happening at the same time, all of which seemed to favor cutting the fats in the diet. Dr Pritikin came out with his results from some 10,000 people who had visited his institute in California - he reported that when they ate what they wanted from a restricted group of foods which had a lot of fruits and veggies and very little fat, they always showed a rather impressive weight loss during the 6 week program. Eating healthier and avoiding things like MacDonald's and exercising, people felt better. We did not distinguish between types of fat and saturated fat became the villain. (Dr Pritikin had a sad end. At the age of 69 years old, he was found to have stage 3 leukemia and he committed suicide around his 70th birthday. His son carried out his lifelong work).
Dr Ornish, a cardiologist, found that some 10,000 patients of his on a very low fat diet (10 percent fat) could actually improve a bad heart condition (as he claimed in his book, REVERSING HEART DISEASE). His program also included frequent exercise but somehow most of the credit was given to the low fat diet rather than the exercise.
And then, came the very charming Susan Powter. Susan was a chatty, down to earth gal with a blond crew cut, who had lost 150 lbs and paraded around with her before photo. She was very into the low fat diet (although her recommendations were more conservative than Dr Ornish - she suggested 20 percent fat in the diet). She also was into frequent exercise.
By 1994, it seemed that with the body of scientists backing it, the low fat diet was here to stay and many of us enthusiastically embraced it, expecting not only great health but also significant weight loss.
"You don't need to eat fat" stated Powter in her book, STOP THE INSANITY, "because you can get all the fat you need from your bodyfat".
As time marched on, many began to question how healthy it was to cut most of the fat from one's diet. Saturated fat in reasonable quantities was found to NOT be injurious (however, transfat is bad) and actually something we need as well as Omega III and VI fats (as found in olives, avocado and salmon).
Scientists found we could NOT obtain anything from bodyfat, other than simple sugar and long term folks on the low fat program didn't keep off the weight they originally lost and also got very dry skin (my skin was dry to the point of cracking open - and no amount of lotion helped that - what stopped that was when I added fats back to my diet). Arthritis also gets worse on a low fat diet because cartilage is primarily MADE of fat so you can imagine how much harder it is for our body to replace it when we don't eat any fat. Finally, the latest studies have found a high incidence of osteoporosis in vegans. And there is some evidence that people do not digest the calcium well in non fat milk (vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin) as well as some evidence that there are things in dairy fat which are good for you. Maybe our grandparents who drank whole milk and ate butter weren't so dumb after all.
Speaking of butter, the oleo we all believed was protecting our arteries from clog was like the fox watching the henhouse - it actually CONTRIBUTED to the clog since it's primarily made of transfat. So back to butter, we went.
Low fat eating was something many people couldn't stick to but of the few who DID stick to it, many of us experienced a significant weight gain instead of the promised loss! Turns out caloric intake counts more than the type of food we consume. In retrospect, my tending to stay low fat in my food choices seem to have contributed to my healthy heart although I also exercise and mildly calorie restrict as well as staying away from fast foods, junk foods and transfat.
By 2002, only a small group of folks stuck by the low fat diet and most of us moved on. Some jumped on the swinging pendulum from low fat to high fat in the low carb programs, but I, for one, jumped off the pendulum, joined Weight Watchers and now on maintenance, I tend to take my diet advice from My Fitness Pal.