Diet Review: Low Fat Diets

Low fat diets are as much part of the dieting landscape as bad behaviour is to premiership footballers. That is that there is a perception that fat is bad and consuming a diet low in fat is good. But is that true?

Low fat diets really are a product of the 1980’s- a bit like bad hair and electronic music, it doesn’t make it right. This came from the want to quantify nutritional intakes which in effect resulted in judgments being placed on consumption of everything from protein to vitamins and even salt. This was followed up by a number of other reports focusing upon saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular disease. Further to this recommendations where then given for the consumption of different types of fats from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats through to trans fats.

As always the diet industry jumped on the band wagon with low fat diets with many products you will recognize from today including Rosemary Conley and the Pritkin diet. As weight loss requires the body to utilize body fat as an energy source then reducing fat is the quickest and easiest way to reduce total energy consumption. Also, the negative links with coronary heart disease and arterial blockages as well as links with cholesterol (a type of fat) explain why the general consensus is that fat is a negative and consumption of fat equals storage.

What do we need for adequate health- well we can reduce fat heavily and I will talk about the negative implications of this. As a general recomendation fat consumption is widely recommended to be between at least 20 to 30% of total daily calorific consumption. Most low fat diets result in this being reduced to 10% though research highlights moderately low-fat diet with varied fat consumption, where 20 to 30 percent of calories come from fat, is more likely to keep the weight off in the long term.

Most foods contain some form of fat and for good reason. We need it to survive. Our body needs fat to make cell walls as well as the production of hormones. Without which we cannot maintain our metabolism. Vitamins are also absorbed and stored in body fat meaning long term restriction of fat can severely damage your nutritional status. We also need certain fats for the upkeep of our body- omega 6 and omega 3 are probably recognizable to most people. It is not surprising that the health message has become confused as on one hand fat is bad for your health but science simply refutes that you need a consistent fat consumption for the maintenance of your body and health.

Even the negative argument about saturated fat consumption is being challenged- as I have stated before correlation does not denote cause. Finding arterial fat does not mean that saturated fat is solely responsible for heart disease. Indeed we can process it and we do not a certain amount for the maintenance of the body these studies also interestingly correlated increased obesity with increased fat consumption, discounting an increase in sugar and carbohydrate consumption which occurred as well during this time frame.

The one negative for fat consumption is trans fats which are made made through the hydrogenation of oils to improve shelf life- most processed foods will contain these fats. Our body cannot use these and they should be avoided.

But the 100 million dollar question…. They work…. don’t they? Well yes because a lot of the time you are reducing net food consumption so it can help with weight and fat loss. However the negative implications may be reductions in your hormonal health and therefore your long term ability to maintain your metabolic rate, immune system etc.

So what happens if I overeat fat? The same things as protein and carbohydrates. It will be stored as body fat. The key is to work out what you need and balance your intake so it is consistent  Metabolically it is easier to convert consumed fat in to body fat but as we need it for so many vital purposes it is important to maintain a sensible level of consumption as opposed to reducing it heavily.





Published by ianmellis

Ian Mellis MSc. CSCS is the co-founder of Results FAST ( in Ware, Hertfordshire. Specialising in athletic development, physique improvement and injury rehabilitation he provides personal training, strength and conditioning and nutrition coaching for motivated exercisers and those looking to make a long term change to their health, fitness and performance.

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