12 May 2022

Is a low fat diet healthy?

author Ashley Owen
Low-fat diets were once believed to be the solution for weight loss and heart health. But science has progressed and nowadays the status quo is up for debate. The question we ask: is a low-fat diet healthy?

Back to when it all started…

Interest in the low-fat diet began in the 19th century. In fact, low-fat diets were originally praised for their benefits in heart disease prevention and weight loss. In addition, in the 1940s, studies appeared showing a relationship between high fat intakes and high cholesterol levels. 

These findings suggested that low fat diets could prevent heart disease in those at risk. After the war and later in the 1960s, low-fat diets became popular with the population in general, not just high-risk heart patients. 

From the 1980s onwards, low-fat diets dominated the western diet industry and were promoted by physicians, the government and the media. In the United States, a majority of the population followed the low fat ideology, despite the lack of evidence supporting its role in preventing heart disease or assisting with weight loss. 

Interestingly, throughout the same time period during which low-fat diets were gaining traction, the obesity epidemic was born. Nonetheless, the general public and authority figures continued to prescribe to the low-fat diet.(1) 

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A shift in ideology

In recent years however, there has been a change in the public opinion. Firstly, there has been a surge of low-carbohydrate and keto diets and secondly, more focus has been placed on the differences between types of fats and the awareness that not all fats are equal. 

In fact, whilst reputable health authorities, governments and doctors used to recommend reducing fat intake in the diet for heart health, these days the focus has shifted. Instead, the focus is on an overarching healthy and sustainable eating pattern. In other words, people should be emphasising vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and legumes, with smaller amounts of meat, dairy and sweet foods. 

Moreover, focusing on eating more wholefoods and plant-based foods whilst cutting back on processed foods may automatically lower our fat intake, particularly the saturated kind. In fact, saturated fats are typically found in meat and dairy products and can increase our bad cholesterol levels, ultimately leading to heart disease. 

However, it’s important to highlight that reducing total fat intake is not a guarantee of improved heart health. Indeed, from the 1980s onwards, the food industry and the population in general began removing fat from their goods and diets respectively. The question is, what did they replace the fat with? The answer: refined carbohydrates and sugars. 

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