A low-fat diet does not stop obesity and can even damage health, according to a new report.
“Eating fat does not make you fat” or cause heart attacks, claims the damning report by The National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration.
Calling for a major overhaul of dietary guidelines, the report warns people on low-fat, low-cholesterol diets end up snacking between meals.
“It is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history resulting in devastating consequences for public health,” said consultant cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, a senior adviser to the National Obesity Forum.
“We must urgently change the message to the public to reverse obesity and type 2 diabetes. Eat fat to get slim, don’t fear fat, fat is your friend.”
He added that Public Health England’a dietary guidelines promoting low-fat meals have been a disaster that have created “a metabolic timebomb”.
Regular readers will know my feelings about so-called food products labelled “low-fat”, “light” or “diet”. Typically processed foods claiming low-fat are loaded with sugar or chemical additives that are detrimental to health.
The National Obesity Forum say the recent Eatwell Guide from Public Health England, for example, was produced with a large number of people from the food and drink industry.
National Obesity Forum chairman Professor David Haslam said: “Current efforts have failed, the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been. The guidelines suggesting high carbohydrate, low-fat diets are the universal panacea are deeply flawed.”
The authors of the report also claim that the science of food has also been “corrupted by commercial influences”.
Like the tobacco companies, who bought the “loyalty of scientists” when a link was made between smoking and lung cancer, the influence of the food industry represents a “significant threat to public health”, they argue.
“Our populations for almost 40 years, have been subjected to an uncontrolled global experiment that has gone drastically wrong”
Professor Iain Broom, from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.
Professor Broom added: “The continuation of a food policy recommending high carbohydrate, low fat, low calorie intakes as ‘healthy eating’ is fatally flawed.
Dr Alison Tedstone, Public Health England’s chief nutritionist, has called the new report irresponsible and potentially deadly, saying:
“In the face of all the evidence, calling for people to eat more fat, cut out carbs and ignore calories is irresponsible.”
She added: “It’s a risk to the nation’s health when potentially influential voices suggest people should eat a high fat diet, especially saturated fat. Too much saturated fat in the diet increases the risk of raised cholesterol, a route to heart disease and possible death.”
During a tense discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the National Obesity Forum’s Dr Aseem Malhotra alleged that the government’s obesity adviser, Prof Susan Jebb, had previously done work funded by Coca-Cola.
Separately, Prof Simon Capewell of the Faculty of Public Health warned that it was not clear who funded the National Obesity Forum report and said the focus on nutritional guidelines was “a huge distraction from the real causes of obesity” such as advertising cheap junk food to children.
Are dietary guidelines the problem?
Dr Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), doesn’t think so. He believe the problem is about implementation, saying: “This country’s obesity epidemic is not caused by poor dietary guidelines; it is that we are not meeting them.”
How much fat should we be eating?
The World Health Organisation advises that between 30% and 35% of our calories should come from fat arguing there is “no probable or convincing evidence” that the total amount of fat in our diet is altering the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease.
“There is very good evidence that if you cut down on total fat it causes a small reduction in weight, but it’s not big,” said Dr Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia in the UK.
However, Dr Hooper is not convinced the weight-loss is actually down to fat but more a result of people thinking more about what they eat and avoiding burgers, ready meals and other processed foods.
“I suspect they’d do exactly the same thing if they targeted sugar,” Dr Hooper concluded.
Research by Harvard School of Public Health in the United States, published in the Lancet medical journal, showed that both low-carb and low-fat approaches led to weight-loss, with those eating relatively more fat actually losing marginally more weight.
Dr Deirdre Tobias, who led that study, told the BBC: “If you’re trying to reduce your calories and you take out the fat then you get a lot of bang for your buck, but that strategy clearly doesn’t play out.”
“Fat has been villainised because there’s a mentality that ‘fat makes you fat’. I think our evidence pretty much puts a nail in that coffin.”
The skinny on fat
Our bodies need essential fats. These are nutrients that the body can’t make by itself and hence must come from the food we eat. If you don’t consume sufficient essential fats (sometimes referred to as Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs) you will get deficiency symptoms and unless you start to eat essential fats, these will intensify over time and in extreme cases can even lead to death.
Based on the current scientific understating of nutrition, there are 2 known essential fatty acids: omega-6 (linoleic acid) and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid).
Udo Erasmus Ph.D, author of Fats that Kill, Fats that Heal, who has dedicated his working life to understanding the effects of fats and oils on human health, says:
“Omega-3 fats actually turn on the fat burning process and turn off fat production, so they can help you lose weight.”
“It’s impossible to gain weight with omega-3, and very hard with omega-6. It’s possible with saturated fats, although all fats suppress the appetite. Most of the weight gain that people blame on fats is caused by eating more carbohydrates than they can burn.”
The National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration report also says that calorie counting is a damaging red herring when it comes to controlling obesity, as calories from different foods have “entirely different metabolic effects on the human body, rendering that definition useless”.
Why are so many people obsessed with calories? Focusing on the calories in food is a fairly new concept. The human race walked the face of this planet for millions of years without ever thinking about ‘food energy’.
Which is healthier 250 calories of broccoli or 250 calories of cookies?
If the only thing we needed to focus on was calories then surely they would both be the same, but it doesn’t take a genius to know one is better than the other.
The National Obesity Forum report also agrees with my belief that “you cannot outrun a bad diet.” The authors cite the “incorrect” assumption among the public that the solution to obesity is to burn more calories than are consumed.
“Obesity is a hormonal disorder leading to abnormal energy partitioning which cannot be solely fixed by increasing exercise,” the report says.
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