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, and the American
Dietetic Association 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.
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 tryglycerides, 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.
What do I need to avoid?
Saturated fats: Found in red meat and
dairy products, saturated fats raise blood
cholesterol levels and increase the risk of
heart disease. Avoid them by staying away from meats, whole milk products, butter,
cream, and other dairy products that are not labeled “nonfat” or
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs): These are
found in vegetable oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. Although PUFAs lower cholesterol levels
in most studies, the relationship between PUFAs and cardiovascular disease and cancer remains
unclear. The same is not true with regard to fish
oil and olive oil, both of which are
associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and may be associated with reduced risk
of certain cancers. A more healthful alternative to PUFAs are monounsaturated fats, which are
found in abundance in olive oil.
Trans fatty acids (TFAs): TFAs are
found in processed foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, including many commercial snack foods, “vegetable shortenings,”
and margarines. Partially hydrogenated oils
are also used in deep-frying, so many fast foods, such as French fries, contain large amounts
of TFAs. TFA consumption greatly increases the risk of heart attack. Avoid TFAs by eating as many whole,
unrefined foods as possible.
Highly processed foods: Be aware that highly processed low-fat or fat-free products often
have as many or more calories as the full-fat versions and should be avoided. Simply because a
food is low-fat or fat-free, doesn’t mean that unlimited quantities can be consumed. An
excess of calories—whether from fat-free or high-fat foods—will be converted to
body fat, regardless of whether those calories come from fat or from sugar (carbohydrate).
rice, and pasta to avoid:
- Biscuits and muffins
- Doughnuts, pastries, and croissants
- Taco shells
- Popcorn with oil
Dairy products to
Fats, oils, and sweets to avoid:
- Mayonnaise and salad dressings that aren’t low in fat
- All oils (however, olive oil and fish oil are healthful)
- Most cakes and pies
- Candy bars
- Granola bars
- Ice cream
Note: Be aware that many “fat-free” or “reduced fat” foods
contain high amounts of sugar (such as high fructose corn syrup) which is converted by the body into
Protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and
beans) to avoid:
Vegetables and Fruits to avoid:
rice, and pasta:
- Nonfat milk
- Nonfat yogurt
- Other nonfat dairy products
Fats, oils, and sweets:
- Oil-free and some “lite” salad dressings
- Fat-free mayonnaise
- Nonfat frozen yogurt
- Sorbet and fruit ices
- Fruit rolls and fig bars
Protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and
Vegetables and fruits:
- Raw, steamed, or boiled vegetables
- Raw fruits
- Vegetable and fruit juices diluted with purified water
Are there any groups or books associated with this diet?
American Heart Association
1615 Stemmons Freeway
Dallas, TX 75207–8806
American Dietetic Association
216 West Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60606–6995
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Cancer Information Service
9000 Rockville Pike
Building 31, Room 10 A-24
Bethesda, MD 20892
Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish’s Advantage Ten
Program for Losing Weight Safely While Eating Abundantly by Dean Ornish, MD, New York:
Secrets of Fat-Free Greek Cooking by Elaine Gavalas, Garden
City Park, NY: Avery Publ., 1999.
The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health
Action Guide for Healthy Eating: Action List for Fat
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