Health

 

It's the Calories, Stupid

07/06/03

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Read More: fad diets, weight loss

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Sometimes we hear that fat intake has declined over recent years, yet the population gets more obese, and people conclude that carbs are to blame, and fat isn't a bad guy. There are a few silly diets based on this false claim.

The Journal of the American Dietetic Association published another in what is becoming a long line of studies debunking the central premise of lo-carb diet myth. Proponents of plans like Atkins, Sugar Busters and the Zone have long used the following logic as the lynchpin of their sales strategy:

  1. in the 80's and 90's the government told us to eat less fat to lose weight;
  2. we ate less fat;
  3. we got fatter; so
  4. it's not the fat, it's something else -- the carbs -- that make you fat.

It's a very persuasive pitch -- except that it's false.

Much of the published research on the amount of fat the average American has consumed during the 80's and 90's looked at fat as a percentage of total calories. When studies showed the fat percentage going down from, say, 38% of calories to 34% of calories, researchers reasoned we were "eating less fat." In truth, research now shows that we were eating more.

How is it possible? Because food manufacturers simply added more carbohydrates -- like sugar -- to their food. This means that while the same amount or more fat could be present in a given food, the percentage of fat that comprised total calories went down. So during the past 20 years the average American has actually been eating more grams of fat in their diet, even if the percentage of fat as total calories has gone down.

The bottom line of the new research is that Americans are getting fatter because they are eating more calories, period. During the past two decades Americans have increased the amount of fat they are eating, as well as the amount of carbs and protein. They are eating more, and the "lower fat" strategy -- looking at fat merely as a percentage of calories, and not at overall calories -- has been shown to be a fallacy. Americans never went on a reduced-fat diet; they thought they had due to slick "low fat" marketing and a corporate-influenced USDA which permitted companies to use "percentage of fat" in making "low fat" claims. Americans have been eating more and more fat -- and everything else -- while mistakenly thinking they were eating a lower fat diet.

The lo-carb diets are not only based on a nonsense, they are doomed to fail for at least three reasons: they force you to eat foods which have been shown in hundreds of studies to increase your risk of cancer and heart disease; 2) they deprive you of adequate amounts of foods which contain phytochemicals and macronutrients which can help ward off many degenerative diseases; and 3) like most diets, they have a high longterm failure rate -- people have a hard time changing to a lifelong dietstyle where they don't feel fully satisfied.

Conversely, research has shown repeatedly that actual lowfat (10 - 20% of calories), largely unprocessed plant-based dieters can successfully and happily maintain weightloss over many years. Added to that are the studies by medical doctors like Ornish, McDougall, Esselstyn, Goldhamer and Castelli, demonstrating that a lowfat plant-based diet can reverse heart disease, combat autoimmune diseases and save lives, and it's clear which way nature is pointing humans for health as well as weight control.

To read an abstract of this new study showing that fat consumption increased during the 80's and 90's, rather than decreasing, click here.

 



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