Why Do People Follow This Diet?
What Do the Advocates Say?
The American diet provides an average of 34% of total calories from fat, with 12% of total calories coming from saturated fat. The diet of many other countries is lower in fat content and this lower intake of fat appears to be associated with the lower rates of obesity and lower risks of several diseases seen in those countries. The American Heart Association, The National Cancer Institute, the American Dietetic Association, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans of 2005 recommend that only 20 to 30% of our daily caloric intake should come from fat, with 10% or less coming from saturated fat. The American Heart Association also recommends that we consume 300 mg or less of cholesterol per day; this is a little more than the amount of cholesterol in one large egg, which is 213 to 220 mg. The average daily intake of dietary cholesterol is 220 to 260 mg for women and 360 mg for men.
Extremely low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian diets—such as those developed by Max Warmbrand, ND, Nathan Pritikin, and Dean Ornish, MD—have been clinically proven to reverse coronary artery disease when combined with exercise and stress reduction; however, the effect of such a diet alone on coronary artery disease has not been systematically studied. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States.
What Do the Critics Say?
Not all fats are bad. Diets high in monounsaturated fats or omega-3 fatty acids are associated with lower risks of heart disease and other health problems. The body needs certain types of fat to function. An ultra-low-fat diet (providing less than 10% of calories from fat) may cause a deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are essential for the structure and function of the body’s cell membranes and many other other important functions. Low-fat diets, especially when most animal products are avoided, may lack good sources of vitamins E and B12 and zinc. With too little fat in the diet, the body may not properly absorb fat-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K, and carotenoids, which are essential for the health of the eyes, skin, immune system, bones and teeth. In addition, some low-fat diets are also extremely low in calories, which could lead to further nutrient deficiencies and other problems if followed for a long time.
A low-fat diet is usually high in carbohydrates. Some critics contend that the high amount of carbohydrates in typical low-fat diets is unnatural for humans, who evolved for hundreds of thousands of years while eating a low-carbohydrate diet. They say that the current overconsumption of carbohydrates has led to increasing problems with obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. The consumption of high-carbohydrate diets is presumed to result in insulin resistance and related metabolic disorders such as high triglycerides, low HDL-cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. However, not all carbohydrate sources contribute equally to these problems, especially those from whole unprocessed foods and/or those with a low glycemic index.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.