Is a super low fat diet the healthiest?

Low fat diets have been advocated for several decades now in the United States. Despite lowering fat in their diets, Americans do not seem to be getting any healthier. In fact, obesity rates are now at an all time high. The main reason for the failure of low fat diets is that Americans have replaced fat with processed, simple carbohydrates. (Remember Snackwell cookies. People felt they could eat unlimited amounts because they were fat free!) Increasing the amounts of sugar and simple carbs in the diet leads to increased insulin levels. As discussed in previous articles, increased insulin leads to obesity and increased inflammation levels. Increased inflammation leads to an increased risk of heart attacks, stroke and cancer. The goal should be to reduce inflammation levels. Just as there are good and bad carbs, there are good and bad fats. Omega 3 fats are the healthiest. Omega 3 fats, which are found in fish such as salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts reduce inflammation, keep your blood from clotting excessively, maintain the fluidity of cell membranes, lower the amount of lipids circulating in the bloodstream, prevent excessive blood clotting, inhibit thickening of the arteries, and cause arteries to relax and dilate.  Any diet shown to promote good health, including the Mediterranean diet and the Okinawan diet, are loaded with Omega 3’s. Monounsaturated fats are also healthy. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Research also shows that MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.  Olive oil and avocados are major sources of monounsaturated fat. The majority of fat in your diet should be omega 3 and monounsaturated fats. On the other hand, Omega 6 fats (corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil) should be avoided, as they are pro-inflammatory.  Saturated fat (found in meat and dairy products) also tends to be pro-inflammatory – especially if the animals were grain fed. (Pasture raised or wild animal products tend to be healthier).  Finally, trans fat is the deadliest. It is imperative to avoid any food product that contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Overall, any diet that excludes one the major macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) just doesn’t work.  A healthy diet should be loaded with a variety of fresh and unprocessed foods. This type of diet will ultimately include all 3 macronutrients.


Author: drjeffgreenberg

Dr Greenberg is a clinical cardiologist who specializes in preventive cardiology, nutrition, exercise, and longevity. He favors using natural methods to improving one's health.

4 thoughts on “Is a super low fat diet the healthiest?”

  1. For most of my adult life (I’m 66) I’ve deliberately consumed large amounts of saturated fats. Unfortunately, until about 4 years ago I was also inadvertently consuming excessive amounts of omega-6s, mostly from peanut butter. When I quit eating peanut butter in late 2009 my leg pains subsided, my gingivitis cleared up, my blood pressure normalized (113/58) my LDL cholesterol dropped substantially, and I slowly regained considerable strength and stamina.

    The only saturated fatty acid associated with inflammation is palmitic acid. In susceptible humans, excessive carbohydrate intake can drive serum palmitate up to dangerously high levels.

  2. “Saturated fat (found in meat and dairy products) also tends to be pro-inflammatory – especially if the animals were grain fed.”

    In truth, saturated fats cannot promote inflammation. Grain-fed animals accumulate high levels of omega-6s in their fat stores. That’s what causes the problem. Ever hear of distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS)? It’s a by product of ethanol production. Excerpt:

    “A recent paper published in the Journal of Animal Science suggests producers may want to adjust pig diets when including distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS). Some producers believe that feeding pigs saturated fats will undo the fat-softening effects of DDGS. Firmer fat means longer-lasting pork…According to the researchers, pork produced from pigs fed DDGS have reduced shelf life and increased susceptibility to oxidative damage. Oxidative damage affects texture, colour, juiciness and the overall flavour of pork products. ‘Distillers dried grains contain unsaturated fatty acids and those fatty acids are deposited into the fat of the animal,’ said Hans-Henrik Stein, study co-author and department of animal science professor at the University of Illinois. ‘From a health standpoint, that’s a good thing, but it can be a problem when producing pork products like bacon.'”

    Note: the researchers did not seem aware of the fact that saturated fats are more readily utilized to meet energy requirements than polyunsaturated fatty acids. For example, muscle cells burn 60 to 70 percent fat at rest and up to 80 percent saturated fat during aerobic exercise. In general, the chemical bonds in fatty acids supply nearly half of the body’s total energy needs. Here’s what they learned:

    “For this study, corn germ, beef tallow, palm kernel oil and glycerol were each added to a diet containing DDGS. The researchers compared the performance of pigs fed each of these diets to the performance of pigs fed a diet containing DDGS with no saturated fats added and a control diet containing corn-soybean meal but no DDGS. Firmness of fat was tested by measuring the distance of “belly flop.” This was done by draping the belly of the carcasses over a metal rod with the skin facing down. Ten centimetres below the rod, distance was measured between the two sides. The larger the distance was, the firmer the fat. The researchers found that pigs fed the control diet containing no DDGS had greater belly flop distances than the pigs fed the other diets. There was no difference among the pigs fed the five diets containing DDGS. This led researchers to conclude that adding saturated fats to diets containing DDGS has no effect on the fat quality of pigs.”

    See also this earlier research on carcass fat in swine:

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