You’ve probably heard about the “low-fat diet craze” that swept through social media in early 2019. Thanks to people like celebrity trainer and diet guru Tracy Anderson and wellness blogger Emily Bartlett, who advocate for a low-fat diet and lifestyle, more and more people are starting to believe that a diet rich in vegetables and lean protein is the key to weight loss. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A low-fat diet can only take you so far, and, for some, it could potentially do more harm than good.
As a nutritionist and dietitian, I’ve been perplexed by the overwhelming popularity of low-fat diets. While it is true that a low-fat diet can be effective for some, it’s vital to understand why this diet worked for them and to recognize the potential risks associated with a low-fat approach.
The Misunderstanding Of Calories
In order to lose weight, people will tell you that you need to cut calories. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The secret to weight loss isn’t about calories; it’s about the relationship between calories and health.
For most adults, the number of calories they need to maintain their current weight depends on their body-mass index (BMI). A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal; 25 or more is considered overweight. For individuals with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, calories are simply a matter of math. Based on your age, weight, and activity level, you can calculate how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. If you want to lose weight and get healthy, simply follow these guidelines and you’ll be on your way to a slimmer and healthier you.
When people tell you that calories are what matter, it is likely because the calories in the foods they eat impact their weight. However, what people often don’t tell you is that calories aren’t the same as food. Food is fuel, and it provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function. When you eat food, it gets broken down into its constituent parts and then reassembled in the same or different form in your body. This process is called digestion.
Let’s say you eat a donut. When that donut enters your digestive system, it gets broken down into sugar and fat. Your body then absorbs the sugar and stores the fat. Now, some people who eat a lot of sugary foods can become obese, but that doesn’t mean that all sugar leads to obesity. It simply means that your body doesn’t process it the same as other foods.
The Dangers Of A Low-Fat Diets
While low-fat diets offer some advantages, there are also several disadvantages that come attached to them. One of the major risks associated with a low-fat diet is nutrient deficiency. Because these diets are typically low in fat and fiber, they are also low in nutrients. This puts people at a higher risk for vitamin A deficiency, which causes poor eyesight and immune suppression.
Another risk associated with low-fat diets is that it can increase your risk of certain diseases. Several studies have shown that a diet rich in fat can help prevent heart disease and Type-2 diabetes. If you have these diseases, you should avoid a low-fat diet and focus on eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Low-fat diets can also increase your risk for certain types of cancer. There’s a growing body of evidence that links high dietary fiber intake and high fruit intake to lower cancer risk. If you want to decrease your risk of cancer, you should focus on eating lots of vegetables and avoiding processed food.
A 2018 study by the American Association for Cancer Research also showed that high-fat diets increase the risk for some forms of cancer. The study authors concluded that eating a healthy diet that is high in vegetables and low in processed food could help prevent some types of cancer.
A More Balanced Approach
While calories aren’t everything, they do play an important role in weight loss. The emphasis on cutting calories in order to lose weight can sometimes lead to people overlooking the other factors that impact weight gain and loss. For instance, not all fats are created equal. There are actually good fats and there are bad fats. The type of fat you consume can have an effect on your health, weight, and how your body functions.
The same goes for sugar. While sugar in moderation can have some positive health benefits, when consumed in excess it has been shown to increase appetite, cause insulin resistance, and even cause tissue damage.
In contrast to the low-fat diet craze, a more balanced approach sees sugar and fat as two different nutritional elements that provide your body with different nutrients and benefits. A diet rich in sugar can help you stay alert and awake, while diets rich in fat can help you stay healthy and vibrant as you age.
What Is The Alternative?
For most people, a low-fat diet isn’t the answer to weight loss. Instead, a nutrient-dense, whole foods approach is preferred. When you consume foods high in nutrients, your body will be able to utilize the nutrients more efficiently and prevent nutrient deficiencies. In addition, people who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables have lower cancer rates than people who don’t eat as many vegetables and fruits.
As we’ve established, a low-fat diet can have its advantages as well as disadvantages. However, it’s important to remember that the key to weight loss isn’t about cutting calories or following a certain diet plan. It’s about making healthier food choices and being active.
This is something that Tracy Anderson and others with similar views don’t seem to get. In order to understand why a low-fat diet fell out of favor and how you can get back on track with a healthy eating plan, you have to understand how our bodies need nourishment and what makes for a healthy diet.