By now everybody knows that fat is bad for the heart and causes clogged arteries and heart attacks.  Right?  Not really.

Since the 80’s the government has actively promoted low fat as heart healthy.  Most of us have learned to identify a platter of steak and eggs as “heart attack on a platter”.  Women in particular have been most likely to embrace increasing fruits, vegetables and grains in place of animal products.  Yet they now suffer from higher obesity rates than men, and they have also achieved equality with men in their death rates from heart attacks (not exactly what the feminists in the 70’s had in mind ;-))   In fact since the 1980’s when the government started pushing low fat, we have all become sicker and fatter, as obesity and diabetes rates HAVE MORE THAN DOUBLED.  Clearly theofficial US dietary guidelines have had a number of unintended consequences.

Nutritional researchers in the last decade have begun to publicize the following facts:

  • The original research done on low fat diets in men was flawed – based in part on men in Crete directly after the hardships of WW2 during LENT (when meat and cheese is not eaten)
  •  Fat is what turns off the appetite center in the brain.  Low fat diets perpetuate hunger, which leads to eating more “healthy” carbohydrates, about 25 percent more, which packs on weight.
  • The large increase in carbohydrates, which is quickly broken down to sugar, has contributed to the increased secretion of insulin and the resulting rise of insulin resistant diabetes Type 2.
  • The consumption of vegetable oils has increased from almost nothing in 1900 to almost 8 percent of the current diet.  Multiple clinical trials in the seventies using vegetable oils showed an increased rate of gallstones, cancer and violent accidents and suicides.  In retrospect why anyone thought this was acceptable is hard to understand, but by then the animal fat causes heart attacks advice had taken off, and and canola and corn oil were heavily promoted as “heart healthy”. Now we understand that the brain is that fattest organ in the body.  It needs cholesterol and fat to function properly. More studies since then have confirmed  that lowering cholesterol is linked to increased depression, suicides and violent deaths. ( None of this research, of course, is ever mentioned to patients having cholesterol lowering statins pushed on them).
  • Vegetable oils oxide quickly in high heat leading to dramatically increased oxidation and inflammatory effects
  • The original famous Framingham study showed that high cholesterol levels in woman over 50 were actually linked to longer life. This fact was ignored in heart health recommendations
  • In March a very large meta analysis  of 70 studies was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found no evidence to support the dietary guidelines   that restricting saturated fat will prevent cardiac disease.

Please understand that as of yet there is no perfect diet that works for everyone.  Anyone coming off of a standard American diet and choosing their foods more carefully to avoid highly processed sugary chemicals treats designed to addict the brain will show improvements in health.  It doesn’t matter if the diet is vegan, plant based or paleo.  I have seen estimates as much as  as 90 percent of the improvements seen when someone steps off the SAD (Standard American Diet) onto any whole food nutritious diet are due to the removal of inflammatory vegetable fats and pharmacological doses of sugar.  The test of a diet is its sustainability over the years and how well it works for the individual at their current life stage.  My focus as a psychiatrist is the brain and neuroinflammation, and it is clear that low fat for many is synonymous with low mood.  I always suggest “trying to stay flexible” and working in concert with a health practitioner in fine tuning what your body and brain find healthiest.   

If you want to read more about the unintended health consequences of a low fat diet with 5 servings of complex carbohydrates  – i.e. tofu and brown rice with lightly steamed broccoli –  I highly suggest the following: