Fat does not make you fat? The dangers of misunderstood diet advice

Our dietary guidelines are not to blame for the obesity epidemic; the problem is that we aren’t meeting them

Racha Adib
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Fat, fat, fat! Wouldn’t all of our weight loss problems be solved if we just removed fat from our diets? According to the “National Obesity Forum” in association with the “Public Health Collaboration”, encouraging people to eat a low-fat diet is making Britain’s weight problem worse not better.

In their report titled “Eat Fat, Cut the Carbs and Avoid Snacking to Reverse Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes”, the two anti-obesity campaign groups made a series of recommendations contradicting official Government guidance. The report said “eating fat does not make you fat”. The report called for a "major overhaul" of the guidelines and said that the “low fat” and “lower cholesterol” message have had disastrous health consequences. The report blames the so called “flawed science” that has influenced the dietary guidelines in the UK and the US and which they claim have caused an increase in consumption of “low fat junk food, refined carbohydrates and polyunsaturated vegetable oils”.

Experts disagree

The Center for Evidence Based Medicine has responded to the report and said that it “appears to be highly unsystematic in its approach to the recommendations it makes and will likely add to the confusion and misinformation provided to practitioners, patients and members of the general public.”

According to them, the report had “cherry-picked” citing of evidence which lead to bias in their ideas and opinions. For example, the report promotes a low carbohydrate, high fat diet and fails to mention a recent systematic review that compared low fat diets to low carbohydrate diets. The report found that following a low carbohydrate diet versus a low fat diet only lead to an additional 1.15kg loss in weight after at least 1 year, which is relatively small and does not justify some of the blatant statements made in this report.

What are the current guidelines?

UK dietary guidelines advise people to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, plenty of carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy foods and choose whole grains when possible, alongside some meat, fish, eggs, and beans. They also encourage using low-fat milk and dairy products, and warn that foods and drinks that are high in salt, fat and sugar should be consumed in small amounts.

Healthy fusion food
Healthy fusion food

The US Dietary Guidelines’ calls for consuming a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level. This includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, seeds, soy products, and oils. The US guidelines also limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Why are we still obese?

Our dietary guidelines are not to blame for the obesity epidemic; the problem is that we aren’t meeting them. The guidelines are right in promoting a balanced lower fat diet. Although fats are an important part of our diet, the typical US and UK exceeds our fat and saturated fat needs. It’s easy to overeat fats because they’re found in so many foods we loves: French fries, cakes, cookies, chocolate, donuts, and steaks. Because fat is calories dense, eating too much fat does expand our waistline. At 9 calories per gram, fat exceeds the calories in carbohydrates and protein that have 4 calories per gram, and alcohol that has 7 calories per gram.

obesity shutterstock
obesity shutterstock

Dietary and nutritional advice is one of the most misunderstood and misreported areas of public health. People claiming to give “expert” opinions and so called “science-based” reports further inflates this problem. These misleading claims often delay progress in the general public’s eating habits.

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