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Low-Fat Diets


Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet vs. Low-Fat Diet — Why High-Fat, Low-Carb Is Better

Why is it that a high-fat diet seemed to offer better protection against cardiovascular disease and mortality than a low-fat diet? Experts believe (and common sense tells us) that a major contributing factor is that low-fat diets are often higher in added sugar and refined grains, including products made with flour. When someone eats less fat they are likely to replace those calories with carbohydrates, often which are found in convenient, cheap and highly processed foods.

Replacing a percentage of calories from fat with healthy, whole-food sources of carbs, like starchy root vegetables for example, might not be unhealthy or a risk factor for disease, but this is rarely what happens in real life.

Here are some of the ways that a high-fat diet can be beneficial:

1. Fat May Fight Disease and Boost Longevity

Some studies looking at the effects of eating a low-carbohydrate diet, which usually includes higher levels of saturated fats, suggest that higher-fat diets don’t necessarily raise blood cholesterol levels and can even be beneficial for cardiovascular disease risk markers, such as triglyceride levels. High-fat diets can also be beneficial for lowering obesity risk, regulating insulin sensitivity, decreasing risk for diabetes and might even offering protection against cancer. (2)

2. Helps with Sustainable Weight Loss

Many people find that diets higher in fat are more satiating and turn off hunger signals and appetite much more so than lower-fat diets do. A high-fat diet may help regulate ghrelin levels, a hormone that controls appetite, and cut down on the desire to snack or overeat.

3. Helpful for Cognitive/Neurological Health

The brain requires a high amount of energy, including cholesterol, as a source of fuel. Certain kinds of fats, especially cholesterol, act like antioxidants and precursors to some important brain-supporting molecules and neurotransmitters. Some studies have found links between higher-fat intake and protection against conditions like dementia and depression.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found that elderly people who added more healthy fats to their diets were better able to maintain cognitive function compared to elderly adults who ate lower-fat diets. (3)

4. Important for Hormonal Balance & Reproduction

Cholesterol and other fats play a fundamental part in building cellular membranes and producing hormones. Some studies have found that low-fat diets raise the risk of menstrual problems and difficulty getting pregnant. For example, it’s been found that high intake of low-fat dairy foods may increase the risk of anovulatory infertility (when ovulation does not occur), but higher intake of high-fat dairy foods may decrease this risk. (4)

5. Needed for Proper Absorption of Vitamins

Dietary fats provide the body with lipid molecules, which have many roles in the body and are essential for life. We all need a certain amount of fats including cholesterol for our health not to suffer, and different lipids support various bodily functions including: providing energy storage, signal transduction, building cellular structures, production of hormones and steroids, activating enzymes, supporting brain function, and absorbing other dietary lipids and fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K.

Is Your Diet High Enough In Healthy Fats?

The Lancet study showed that low fat diets were associated with higher risk for mortality, and you may be wondering why that is. What specific types of health problems might low-fat diets contribute to, according to other research studies?

Low-fat diets have been shown to be associated with some of following symptoms and conditions:

  • Weight gain, due to increased hunger and cravings
  • Changes in heart health markers, including blood lipid profiles, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and glucose levels
  • Low energy levels, reduced recovery from exercise and muscular weakness
  • Neurological problems, including stroke and dementia, memory loss, brain fog, and poor performance on cognitive measures including abstract reasoning, attention/concentration, word fluency and executive functioning
  • Infertility, low sex drive or hormone imbalances (including of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen)
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Gut-related issues
  • Nutrient deficiencies, especially in vitamin A, E D and K

Precautions If You’re Following a Low-Carb Diet

When it comes to drastically limiting your carb intake, one thing to be aware of is that the transition to eating a low-carb, high-fat diet isn’t always so smooth; some temporary side effects are common during the first several weeks of transitioning your diet, including symptoms like fatigue, cravings, constipation or weakness. But once your body adjusts these symptoms tend to go away, leaving you feeling clear-headed, more satisfied from your meals and more energized over all.

Final Thoughts on Low-Carb, High-Fat vs. Low-Fat Diets

A recent study published The Lancet found that high carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality.

Higher consumption of fat, especially from saturated fats, was even shown to offer increased protection against stroke.

To decrease your risk for problems like weight gain due to hunger and cravings, depression, insulin resistance and dementia, experts recommend getting around 35 percent of daily calories from healthy sources of fat (like coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed beef or poultry, nuts, seeds, eggs and wild-caught fish), while limiting intake of processed foods, refined carbohydrates and added sugar.