Disturbing Data Demonstrating That Low-Fat Made Us Fat

 

“Saying we become fat by eating fat is like saying we become green by eating green vegetables.” — Paraphrase of Uffe Ravnskov, MD, Ph.D.

We are told that sugar-laden muffins, nutritionally neutered toast, and insulin-exploding juice are part of a balanced, nutritious breakfast because they are low in fat. After decades of this many of us now look at food and ask ourselves, “Is this low in fat?” If the answer is yes, we think it is healthy. Yet foods that contain fat are not necessarily unhealthy. Researcher M. Leosdottir from Lund University stated:

“Most researchers today agree on total fat intake not being a risk factor for cardiovascular disease or cancer.”

In addition to not killing us, foods containing fat do not make us fat. We’ve been told they do because a gram of fat contains more calories than a gram of carbohydrate or protein. Fat has nine calories per gram while protein and carbohydrate only have four. The problem is that fat’s higher quantity of calories does not mean eating it causes us to store body fat. That thinking is rooted in the Calories In – Calories Out theory of fat loss, which we now know is wrong.

According to the National Academy of Sciences:

“Obesity itself has not been found to be associated with dietary fat in either inter- or intra- population studies.”

Harvard researcher W.C. Willett adds

“There is no good evidence linking dietary fat with excess weight. In fact, there is plenty of evidence showing that the percentage of calories from fat is not the culprit leading to excess weight…In country-to-country surveys across Europe, women with the lowest fat intake are the most likely to be obese, while those with the highest fat intake are the least likely.”

A fellow researcher at Harvard, F.B. Hu, makes a similar point:

“Although reduction in percentage of calories from dietary fat intake is commonly recommended for weight loss, long-term clinical trials have provided no good evidence that reducing dietary fat per se can lead to weight loss.”

This data seems counterintuitive because we’ve been led to believe that eating fat encourages overeating. We’ve been misinformed.

Think back to Satiety. Water, fiber, and protein play the biggest role in the Satiety of food, and Satiety determines how many calories we eat. Notice how there is no mention of fat there. Many water-, fiber-, and protein-packed foods contain fat. For example, seafood, meat, nuts, and flax seeds all contain fat. But when we focus on eating less fat, we replace these high-Satiety foods with low-Satiety starches and sweets. Since low-Satiety foods require more calories to fill us up, this swap causes us to eat more—not less—calories. So, far from discouraging overeating, avoiding SANE foods that contain fat encourages overeating.

The last four decades of data tell the same story. We were told to avoid eating fat, so we reduced our relative intake of fat, increased our intake of starches and sweets, increased our total caloric intake, and ended up heavier and diabetic as a result.

 

Less Natural Foods Containing Fat, More Overeating

 

 

 

Less Natural Foods Containing Fat, More Body Fat

 

 

 

How We Eat vs. Our Incidence of Weight Gain

 

 

 

How We Eat vs. Our Incidence of Diabetes

 

 

 

The government knows this too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported:

“During 1971-2000, a statistically significant increase in average energy intake occurred…The increase in energy intake is attributable primarily to an increase in carbohydrate intake.”

Even the authors of the government’s guidelines—the U.S. Department of Agriculture—have gone on record stating that since the 1970s the major dietary trend has been a:

“greatly increased consumption of carbohydrates.”

They found that starch consumption had increased by nearly sixty pounds per person per year, and sweetener consumption had increased by nearly thirty pounds. That is ninety additional pounds of low-quality low-Satiety food—every year.

The emphasis on low fat leads to inSANEity and misses an important point. Long-term health and fat loss does not result from diets low in fat, carbohydrate, or protein. Fat is not evil. Carbohydrates are not bad. And protein is not dangerous. The best way to burn body fat is to be balanced and SANE.

However, when you look at the government’s pyramid and plate, balance is nowhere to be found:

 

The Food Guide Pyramid/MyPyramid

 

 

 

MyPlate

 

 

 

How are these balanced diets? They are high in carbohydrates and low in everything else. Consider the high-fat Atkins diet. It is called “high-fat” because it advises individuals to get 65% of their calories from fat. Look at the USDA’s pyramid and plate diets that advise us to get 65% of our calories from carbohydrate. Doesn’t that make them high-carbohydrate diets? This could be why the January 13, 2011, edition of USA Today poked fun at the 72% of Americans who claimed to eat a balanced diet. The implication: “How could 70% of you be overweight if you ate a balanced diet?” We could easily be overweight if the “balanced” diet we are told to eat by the government is actually out of balance.

This imbalance exists in other guidelines as well. The American Heart Association Nutrition Committee calls a 40% carbohydrate, 30% fat, and 30% protein diet a “low-carbohydrate/very-high-protein diet.” Since when does 40:30:30 indicate that anything is very high?

 

Balanced

 

 

 

Typical

 

 

 

Government Recommended

 

 

What could be the reason for this confusion? The answer lies in another myth that has been proven false: eating foods that contain fat leads to unhealthy cholesterol levels. We’ll dig into this cholesterol confusion in the next post.

 

 

What do you think? Share. Get support. Learn simple science. Join us in the free Smarter Science of Slim Community today!

 


  1. 2000 U.S.DA DietaryGuidelines: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2000/2000DGProfessionalBooklet.pdf
  2. 2005 U.S.DA Dietary Guidelines: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2005/2005DGPolicyDocument.pdf
  3. 2010 U.S.DA Dietary Guidelines: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm
  4. Based on NHANES data. Int J Obes 1998;22:39-47.  JAMA 2002;288:1723.  MMWR 2004;53:80-82.
  5. Based on NHANES data. MMWR 2004;53:80-82.   Diabetes Care 2004;27:2806.
  6. Bell EA, Rolls BJ. Energy density of foods affects energy intake across multiple levels of fat content in lean and obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Jun;73(6):1010-8. PubMed PMID: 11382653.
  7. Carey, Anne R., and Paul Trap. “Stretching the Truth.” USA Today 13 Jan. 2011, sec. USA Today Snapshots: 1. Print.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Trends in intake of energy and macronutrients–United States, 1971-2000. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004 Feb 6;53(4):80-2. PubMed PMID: 14762332.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Health Interview Statistics, data from the National Health Interview Survey. U.S. Bureau of the Census, census of the population and population estimates. Data computed by the Division of Diabetes Translation, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/prev/national/tnumage.htm. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/pdf/ndfs_2007.pdf. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/slides/long_term_trends.pdf
  10. Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat. New Ed ed. New York, NY: Wiley, 2002. Print.
  11. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, 1989. Print.     &     P.J. Skerrett, and W.C. Willett. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. Free Press Trade Pbk. Ed ed. New York City: Free Press, 2005. Print.
  12. Drewnowski A. The role of energy density. Lipids. 2003 Feb;38(2):109-15. Review. PubMed PMID: 12733741.
  13. Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodConsumption.
  14. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Ogden CL, Curtin LR. Prevalence and trends in obesity among U.S. adults, 1999-2008. JAMA. 2010 Jan 20;303(3):235-41. Epub 2010 Jan 13. PubMed PMID: 20071471.
  15. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Ogden CL, Johnson CL. Prevalence and trends in obesity among U.S. adults, 1999-2000. JAMA 2002;288:1723-7.
  16. GaryTaubes. Good Calories, Bad Calories ,Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, &Disease 2007 publication. New York: Alfred A Knopf,2007, 2007. Print.
  17. Hedley AA, Ogden CL, Johnson CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, Flegal KM. Prevalence of overweight and obesity among U.S. children, adolescents, and adults, 1999-2002. JAMA 2004;291:2847-2850.
  18. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/pdf/ndfs_2007.pdf. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/slides/long_term_trends.pdf
  19. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/overweight/overweight_adult.htm
  20. Hu FB, Willett WC. Optimal diets for prevention of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 2002 Nov 27;288(20):2569-78. Review. PubMed PMID: 12444864.
  21. Leosdottir M, Nilsson PM, Nilsson JA, Månsson H, Berglund G. Dietary fat intake and early mortality patterns–data from the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study. J Intern Med. 2005 Aug;258(2):153-65. PubMed PMID: 16018792.
  22. Levine AS, Billington CJ. Dietary fiber: does it affect food intake and body weight? In: Fernstrom JD, Miller GD, eds. Appetite and body weight regulation: sugar, fat, and macronutrient substitutes. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994:191–200.
  23. Ludwig DS, Pereira MA, Kroenke CH, Hilner JE, Van Horn L, Slattery ML, Jacobs DR Jr. Dietary fiber, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease risk factors in young adults. JAMA. 1999 Oct 27;282(16):1539-46. PubMed PMID: 10546693.
  24. Macaulay V, Richards M, Hickey E, et al. The emerging tree of West Eurasian mtDNAs: a synthesis of control-region sequences and RFLPs. Am J Hum Genet. 1999;64:232-249.
  25. National Institutes of Health. Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults–the evidence report. Obes Res 1998;6(Suppl 2):51S-209S.
  26. Obesity and leanness. Basic aspects. Stock, M., Rothwell, N., Author Affiliation: Dep. Physiology, St. George’s Hospital Medical School, London Univ., London, UK.
  27. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, McDowell MA, Tabak CJ, Flegal KM. Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004. JAMA 2006;295:1549-1555.
  28. Parks EJ, Hellerstein MK. Carbohydrate-induced hypertriacylglycerolemia: historical perspective and review of biological mechanisms. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Feb;71(2):412-33. Review. PubMed PMID: 10648253.
  29. Ravnskov, Uffe. Fat and Cholesterol Are Good for You. S.l.: GP, 2009. Print.
  30. Rolls BJ, Bell EA, Castellanos VH, Chow M, Pelkman CL, Thorwart ML. Energy density but not fat content of foods affected energy intake in lean and obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 May;69(5):863-71. PubMed PMID: 10232624.
  31. St Jeor ST, Howard BV, Prewitt TE, Bovee V, Bazzarre T, Eckel RH; Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Dietary protein and weight reduction: a statement for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2001 Oct 9;104(15):1869-74. PubMed PMID: 11591629.
  32. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2007. Nutrient Intakes from Food: Mean Amounts and Percentages of Calories from Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, and Alcohol, One Day, 2003-2004. Available: www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/fsrg.
  33. What if It is All Been a Big Fat Lie? Gary Taubes.http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html
9 replies
  1. thriveful
    thriveful says:

    Hey there

    Good post, good references.

    I am a personal trainer, annd use low carb/high fat with most of my clients, whether they are obese or not, or whether thaey seem to be able to tolerate carbs. I think it is a healthier way of eating, ‘makes’ you eat real food a lot more, and reduces all the imflamatory risks associated with hight blood sugar and PUFA Omega 6 oils for seed oils etc.

    I am shocked and astounded that the health service here in the UK are creating family websites saying “we all know that fat is bad for you” and that sort of jargon, how long until the tides turn??

    Keep up the fight, lot’s of individuals doing their own small thing will eventually overcome!

  2. thriveful
    thriveful says:

    Hey there

    Good post, good references.

    I am a personal trainer, and use low carb/high fat with most of my clients, whether they are obese or not, or whether they seem to be able to tolerate carbs. I think it is a healthier way of eating, ‘makes’ you eat real food a lot more, and reduces all the imflamatory risks associated with hight blood sugar and PUFA Omega 6 oils for seed oils etc.

    I am shocked and astounded that the health service here in the UK are creating family websites saying “we all know that fat is bad for you” and that sort of jargon, how long until the tides turn??

    Keep up the fight, lot’s of individuals doing their own small thing will eventually overcome!

  3. Johnathan G
    Johnathan G says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    I like the research portions of this article, and I respect the simplicity of your graphs on low fat vs. slim & healthy. However, I feel the graphs are simplified to the point of only correlation. The 50+ years so many factors have changed. I could say the population of earth vs obesity and show that as populations increase more become fat.

    I like your work, I just feel this takes away from your message because of how flawed it could possibly be. Please discuss with me if you think I’m wrong.

    • Jonathan
      Jonathan says:

      Hi Johnathan – Thanks for your kind words, and you are spot on…these graphs show only correlation. The point is that they show the opposite correlations many would expect.

      – Jonathan

  4. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I agree with the scope of the article, but I will point out that a large part of it is based on logical fallacy: that “balance” equates to “health.” For instance, a 65% fat diet that you claim is out of balance can still be extremely healthy.

    You also have the issue of daily balance versus weekly balance verses yearly balance. What if I eat balanced today and go on a protein fast tomorrow? Am I out of balance and thus unhealthy? I think it’s important to note that while the science is important, eating should be more personal and have very little to do with a pie chart.

    Macronutrient ratios are far less important to total health than source quality, low toxicity, and micronutrient density. I think if we’re going to hammer home the message of health, it has to be on those three things. People get too hung up on macronutrient ratios.

    • Jonathan
      Jonathan says:

      Wonderful point Kevin. I de-emphasize macronutrient ratios in my next book for many of the excellent reasons you mention.

      – Jonathan Bailor

Comments are closed.