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Eating A High-Fat Diet to Lose Weight and Reduce Heart Disease Risk
September 9, 2014
By Dr. Maiko Ochi, N.D., L. Ac.
What’s the best diet for losing weight and improving heart health? After decades of promoting low-fat diets, the so-called experts may have had it all wrong. After years and years of eating low-fat and non-fat products, rates of heart disease have not changed, while diabetes has increased. The best thing to do may actually be to eat more fat!
The low-carbohydrate craze for weight loss was popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins of the Atkins Diet in the 1970s. From the very beginning, critics hypothesized that people lost weight on these types of diets due to water loss instead of fat loss, and that cholesterol and other heart disease risk factors would increase because of increased intake of saturated fat from meat and dairy.
However, a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, people who avoided carbohydrates and ate more fat, even saturated fat, lost more body fat and had better heart health than those who ate a low-fat diet. This study followed a racially diverse group of 150 men and women who ate either a diet limiting carbohydrates or fat, but not total calories, for a year.
At the end of the year, the low-carbohydrate group lost about 8 more pounds on average than the low-fat group. This weight loss was not due to water loss – they had significantly greater reductions in body fat and improvements in lean muscle mass compared to the low-fat group, who actually lost lean muscle mass.
The low-fat group ate more grains and starches and reduced their total fat intake to less than 30% of daily calories, which follows the federal government’s dietary guidelines. Both groups were encouraged to eat vegetables, and the low-fat group was encouraged to eat beans and fruit. The low-carbohydrate group ate a modified Atkins diet – they were told to eat mostly protein and fat, and to eat primarily unsaturated fats like fish, olive oil and nuts. But they were allowed to eat foods higher in saturated fat like cheese and red meat. Total fat intake was more than 40% of daily calories. Saturated fat was about 13% of their daily calories, which is more than double the 5-6% limit recommended by the American Heart Association.
Blood pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) stayed the same for both groups. However, people in the low-carbohydrate group saw markers of inflammation and triglycerides fall dramatically. HDL, or the “good” type of cholesterol, also rose more dramatically than it did for the low-fat group. People in the low-carbohydrate group did so well that they lowered their Framingham risk scores, which calculate the likelihood of a heart attack occurring in the next 10 years. The low-fat group didn’t reduce their risk at all.
What the study did not measure was the size and number of LDL particles. Two people can have the same number for LDL, but very different heart disease risk depending on whether they have a lot of small dense particles or a small number of large fluffy ones. Eating refined carbohydrates tends to raise small dense LDLs, which are more likely to clog arteries and promote atherosclerosis. Saturated fats make LDL particles fluffier and larger, and therefore less likely to clog arteries. Small dense LDL is the kind typically found in those with heart disease and in people with high triglycerides, central obesity, and metabolic syndrome.
So if you’re trying to lose weight or improve your cholesterol profile to reduce heart disease risk, try ditching the bun and putting an extra piece of cheese on your burger.