From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
“I can’t believe how off base we all were in regards to fat consumption. I
remember dieting for the 1990 Mr. Louisville and being so fearful of fat I
switched from oatmeal to cream of rice to knock off a few grams. My HDLs were 21
at the time and my total cholesterol was in the 130s. My doctor didn’t know what
to tell me. My skin looked terrible from lack of EFAs. My diet is now about 35%
fat and my desire to overeat is almost nonexistent. I am averaging about 200
fewer calories a day even with my higher fat intake. I'm down to 184 pounds, my
lowest non-competition weight in years and I am the leanest I have ever been off
season. After 48 years of skim milk, organic whole milk tastes like ice cream to
me. Hopefully with my increase in fats my HDLs will go up accordingly.”
New Study Reveals Benefits of Dietary Fat for Weight Loss and Heart Health
A new study from Tulane University starts out to compare the effects of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets—and ends up showcasing the many under-appreciated benefits of dietary fat. Dr. Atkins would not recognize the low-carb diet, which could better be termed high-fat. The low-carb group also ate 2 or 3 times the recommended amount of carbs. This worked out to about 60% of the carbohydrates eaten by the low-fat group. Lead researcher Lydia A. Bazzano, MD, PhD, MS, said in a Tulane University news release: “It’s not a license to go back to the butter, but it does show that even high-fat diets—if they are in the right fats—can be healthy and help you lose weight.” Dietary fat can also significantly lower heart disease risk. (The study was reported September 2, 2014, in Annals of Internal Medicine.)
Do I have your attention? Want to know more? I hope so.
Bazzano and her colleagues randomly assigned 148 obese participants (without cardiovascular disease or diabetes) to either a low-carb diet—target less than 40 grams of carbohydrate per day—or a low-fat diet, where they were told to consume less than 30 percent of daily calories from fat (<7% saturated fat). Data on body composition, cardiovascular risk factors, and dietary composition were collected at baseline, 3, 6, and 12 months.
Calories were not restricted and participants were told not exercise any more or less than they were already doing. Participants were allowed to eat all they wanted of the prescribed diet. “That’s really important because someone can change what they eat more easily than trying to cut down on their calories,” Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, who was not involved in the new study, told The New York Times.
For the low-carb group, the average calorie consumption per day went from 1,998 calories to 1,448 calories, while the low-fat group went from 2,034 calories to 1,527 calories. So calorie reduction was essentially the same in both groups, at about 26%. That’s important because it suggests that something is at work besides calorie reduction.
Dietary counseling was given at regular intervals throughout the trial. Advice given each group went well beyond counting carbs and fat.
The behavioral modification curriculum included advice on how to plan meals, order healthy food from restaurants, avoid overeating triggers, and control portion sizes. Participants also learned about mindful eating, a technique that emphasizes the ability to feel when you’re full, slow down the eating process, and pay attention to the sensation of eating.
Both groups were given instructions on dietary fats. These common instructions included education on saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats (found in processed food), with emphasis on the benefits of monounsaturated fats and recommendations to limit trans fats.
Fat consumption in the low-carb group averaged 40.7%, with saturated fat 13.4%, monounsaturated 15.5%, and polyunsaturated 8.6%. Carbohydrates averaged 30% of daily calories.
The low-fat group succeeded in keeping carbohydrates under 55%; that’s important because low-fat dieters are notorious for replacing fat intake with refined carbohydrates. Fat consumption averaged about 28%, with saturated fat about 8.5%.
To better understand the two diets, let’s look at menu recommendations which were reported in The New York Times.
The low-carb/high-fat group was told to eat mostly protein and fat, and to choose foods with primarily unsaturated fats, like fish, olive oil and nuts. But it was also permissible to eat foods higher in saturated fat, including cheese and red meat. The low-fat group was told to include more grains, cereals and starches in their diet. Both groups were encouraged to eat vegetables, and the low-carbohydrate group was told that eating some beans and fresh fruit was fine as well.
The low-carb/high fat group showed greater improvements in body composition, HDL cholesterol level, ratio of total-HDL cholesterol, triglyceride level, and CRP level. They did so well that they lowered their Framingham risk scores, which calculate the likelihood of a heart attack within the next 10 years. The low-fat group, however, showed no improvement in Framingham scores.
Blood Pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) were unchanged in both groups.
The low-carb/high fat group lost nearly 12 pounds on average, while the low-fat group lost only 4 pounds. And while the low-fat group did lose weight, they appeared to lose more muscle than fat. Looking at the fat to lean numbers, the low-carb/high fat group lost an average of 1.5% more fat mass than the low-fat group, and gained 1.7% more lean mass—both without exercise and the same calorie reduction.
“[The low-fat group] actually lost lean muscle mass, which is a bad thing,” Dr. Mozaffarian said. “Your balance of lean mass versus fat mass is much more important than weight. And that’s a very important finding that shows why the low-carb, high-fat group did so metabolically well.”
Dr. Bazzano told the Huffington Post: “If you are an obese person with high cholesterol, I think you’d be highly unlikely to hear from your health practitioner that you should go on a low-carbohydrate diet…The public perception is that a diet high in fat could not possibly be healthy, but in fact it is healthy and is doing an even better job of lowering cardiovascular risk, according to my study.” Indeed, the low-carb dieters in her study went from consuming an average of 32.5 percent of calories from fat at the beginning of the study to 40.7 percent by the end of the year, with substantially more unsaturated than saturated fat. On the other hand, the low-fat group lowered their fat intake, going from 34.7% at the beginning of the study to 29.8 at the end.
Dr. Mozaffarian said the research suggested that health authorities should pivot away from fat restrictions and encourage people to eat fewer processed foods, particularly those with refined carbohydrates.
The average person may not pay much attention to the federal dietary guidelines, but their influence can be seen, for example, in school lunch programs, which is why many schools forbid whole milk but serve their students fat-free chocolate milk loaded with sugar, Dr. Mozaffarian told The New York Times.
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Davidson at his competitive best.
John Davidson, quoted at the top of this piece, is an example of what happens when you switch from a low-fat to a healthy high-fat diet. He’s eating less and enjoying it more. Organic whole milk tastes like ice cream. And he’s getting leaner.
His total-HDL cholesterol ratio was an alarming 6.2 (130/21) while eating a very low-fat diet; anything over 4 is high risk. He was doing everything right based on the dietary guidelines of the time. His doctor didn’t know what to tell him. Hopefully, his ratio will improve significantly in his next checkup—as mine did as I gradually added good fat to my diet over a period of years; see About HDL “Good” Cholesterol: http://www.cbass.com/HDLCholesterol.htm
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