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What are the advantages and disadvantages of a low-fat diet?

By definition, a low-fat diet is one in which less than 30% of total calories come from fat, while in some very low-fat diets, less than 15% of total calories come from fat; But the science behind low-fat diets is complex.

Expert advice has changed over the years. Low-fat diets were heavily promoted for decades, and many people were told to avoid fat from foods like butter, eggs, meat, and cheese to avoid cardiovascular disease, weight gain, and high cholesterol. However, recent scientific studies suggest that the link between dietary fat and health may not be simple.

In fact, our body may need different types of fats to function properly. To help clear up the confusion, Live Science He reviewed the available evidence on low-fat diets and spoke with several nutritionists.

When properly designed, low-fat diets may improve the nutritional value of your foods. Ulrike Koel“These diets give people more opportunity to include fiber-rich complex carbohydrates in their diet,” says Dr.

Kristen SmithA spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agrees. He says:

Usually, when people follow a low-fat diet, they simultaneously increase their intake of fruits, vegetables, and food sources containing whole grains, and this reduces the risk of certain cancers, slows the development of diabetes, or prevents heart disease. In particular, these diets can be helpful if you are at risk for heart disease or have a family history of heart disease.

According to an article published in the journal BMJ, low-fat diets can also benefit people who have had their gallbladders removed. Without a properly functioning gallbladder, these people do not produce enough of the lipase enzyme needed to break down fats. In this situation, reducing the consumption of foods rich in fat may improve their digestion.

On the other hand, many experts do not recommend reducing fat intake, citing the potential risk of malnutrition and related health problems. Meanwhile, many researchers are debating whether reducing some types of fat can be a better approach than reducing total fat.

But what does science say about dietary fat?

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are mainly found in coconut oil and animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy products. Despite decades of research, scientists still aren’t sure what role these nutrients play in health and disease. Saturated fats are commonly blamed for increasing the risk of heart disease and other chronic health problems. “Some research suggests that saturated fat may cause inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease because it can raise bad LDL cholesterol,” says Smith. “The American Heart Association consistently recommends reducing saturated fat intake and instead consuming more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.”

However, recent studies have shown that the issue may not be that simple, and scientists are far from reaching an agreement on saturated fat. According to an article published in the British Medical Journal, replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat can lower cholesterol levels, but it doesn’t mean more heart health.

Trans fats

According to a review published in the journal Atherosclerosis, the type of dietary fat to avoid completely is trans fat.

Trans fats are usually the result of industrial hydrogenation processes that aim to change the consistency of vegetable oils in highly processed foods. But you can also produce trans fats while cooking at home; Especially when you fry food with polyunsaturated oils like sunflower oil and corn oil. High temperature can change the structure of these oils and produce trans fats. They can be harmful to your health and increase your risk of coronary heart disease.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fat compound found in eggs, meat, and dairy products. Low-fat diets are naturally low in this nutrient. Our body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to protect nerves and generate new cells. Smith says:

While experts once believed that dietary cholesterol increased the risk of heart disease, more recent studies have shown that eating foods high in cholesterol has little effect on cholesterol levels in most people. This means that there is no significant relationship between the consumption of high-cholesterol foods and the risk of heart disease.

However, researchers still do not agree on this issue. Some studies have shown that cholesterol in food, while it may not always raise your blood cholesterol levels, can still affect cardiovascular health. According to a meta-analysis published in the journal Circulation, consumption of eggs and dietary cholesterol may be associated with an increased risk of death from heart problems. Additionally, scientists in the journal Nutrients suggest that consuming too much cholesterol can cause inflammation in the immune system, which can put you at risk for infections and autoimmune diseases.

cancer

A low-fat diet may be potentially beneficial for cancer prevention. According to a review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, high fat intake can significantly affect gut health and increase levels of inflammation, both of which are risk factors for many cancers. However, fat intake may be more important for tumor growth than total fat content. Also, it should be emphasized that there is no strong evidence that low-fat diets can effectively treat cancers.

Low-fat diet: implications and risks

Malnutrition

Fat is vital for our health and its main role is to provide the body with the energy it needs. Reducing fat intake may lead to fatigue, and some people may compensate by consuming more carbohydrates. “When you’re on a low-fat diet, it can increase your carbohydrate intake and give people more opportunities to eat carb-rich foods that aren’t very healthy,” Cowell explains. “They may also eat more highly processed, low-fat foods.”

Smith also emphasizes that not all fats are created equal. He says:

Some fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, can have many health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease. Foods like salmon, avocados, and nuts are examples of foods that contain a significant amount of fat, yet are heart-healthy.

For example, low-fat diets may be deficient in omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are essential for the proper functioning of our cardiovascular system, immune system and nervous system.

Low-fat diets may also lead to specific deficiencies. Caroline Hind“Following a low-fat diet can put a person at risk of low intake of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K,” says Nutritional Therapist at Vitaminology. These vitamins are often found in foods that contain fat, and in order to be absorbed well in the body, they must be consumed with fat.”

Long-term weight loss

Low-fat diets are commonly used for weight loss, but research suggests they may not be the best way to lose weight. Several studies have shown that despite good initial results, low-fat diets may not be appropriate in the long term; Because they may lead to problems in the field of hunger management. Low-fat diets are not satiating and may lead to excessive consumption of carbohydrates.

mental health

There is evidence that low-fat diets may have a negative effect on our mental health. According to a review published in the Global Health Journal, polyunsaturated fatty acids play an essential role in brain development, function, and aging. Not consuming enough omega-3 can lead to an increased risk of various psychiatric disorders such as depression, dementia, autism, and ADHD.

Skin

Fat is one of the vital components of the skin cell membrane. Fat helps to protect the skin, retain moisture and protect the skin from damage. Omega-3 and other essential fatty acids may also protect us against sunburn and skin cancer, according to a review published in the International Journal of Cancer.

Since we lose thousands of skin cells every day, our bodies need an adequate amount of fat to keep our largest organ in optimal condition. Therefore, low-fat diets can lead to dry and scaly skin, making it more sensitive to UV radiation and inflammation.

Reproductive health

Fat is an essential component of many steroid hormones in the body. Low-fat diets can affect the production of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Low levels of reproductive hormones may lead to fertility problems, irregular menstrual cycles, low libido, and mood swings.

How much fat should be consumed?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines, there is no limit to the amount of total fat you can consume. Many high-fat, low-carb diets, such as the keto diet and the paleo diet, are considered healthy for most adults.

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According to the Daily Reference Values ​​(DRI), between 20 and 35% of the total calories consumed by adults should come from fats. Assuming you need about 2,000 calories per day, this equates to about 44 to 77 grams of fat per day.

Most calories (fat portion) should come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: 15-20% and 5-10%, respectively. No more than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fat, while trans fats should be avoided altogether.

Different foods are labeled as low-fat or fat-free foods. Some naturally contain low amounts of this macronutrient, such as chicken breast, white fish, egg whites, or whole grain bread. However, most low-fat foods have been modified to contain less fat. These foods include low-fat dairy products, breakfast cereals, salad dressings, peanut butter, and cakes.

Since they are marketed as healthier alternatives, you may be tempted to include these foods in your low-fat diet. But make sure you check the label first. Usually, low-fat and fat-free products contain a range of unhealthy ingredients such as hidden sugars and artificial sweeteners. Sugar is one of the common fillers in low-fat products. Starchy carbohydrates are another common substitute.

According to the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day, while men should limit their intake to 36 grams (9 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. Therefore, if you regularly eat low-fat foods, you may end up consuming an excess amount of simple carbohydrates. Hind says:

When meals and snacks mainly consist of starchy and sugary foods, we are exposed to an increased risk of developing metabolic disorders such as overweight and type 2 diabetes. My advice is to cut back on processed fats like those found in fried foods, but don’t worry about the fats found in whole foods like avocados, eggs, and olives.

If you are not sure if you are following the right diet, it is better to consult a specialist. “A consultation with a nutritionist can be helpful,” says Smith. “They can help you eat a balanced diet that supports your health and fits your lifestyle.”


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