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Dietitians corner with Iona

Posted on January 13, 2013 in Blog, Eating Plans, Nutrition Blogs | by

Low fat diets – what is the actual science?

By Iona Taylor (RD)9

The 80s were big on low fat diets. And then it went out of vogue, and the likes of Dr Atkins showed that it was in fact possible to lose weight eating a high proportion of fat. Then the craze was South Beach, macrobiotic, and everything inbetween. But the one question remains: can a low fat diet help with your weight?

The BMJ recently published a review[i], summarising the findings of several studies looking at low fat diets in both adults and children. Studies looked at groups of people who were following lower fat diet for more than 6 months, and some studies compared these groups with people who were not following a low fat diet. The reviewers chose only studies where participants were not aiming to lose weight, or who were making any other changes to their diet (eating more fruit and vegetables, for example), as this may have had an effect on the results.

The review concluded that lowering fat intake was linked with having a lower weight, BMI, or body fat as a long-term (6 months or longer) effect. On average this was 1.6kg, although this effect varied from study to study.

It’s worth bearing in mind that all the studies involved in the review looked at slightly different things. Some included only women, some observed differences in ethnicities, some were months and others years long. Some looked at reducing BMI, some at waist circumference, and some at weight loss. The studies also had slightly different definitions of ‘low fat’. These differences mean that the studies are not exactly comparable, but as so many of them indicate the same conclusion it provides more substantial evidence.

Iona comments: Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient, a gram of fat contains 9 calories, whereas a gram of carbohydrate or protein each contain 4 calories. So it makes sense that if you make a conscious effort to reduce your fat intake, your overall calorie intake might drop too. We are all wise to limit our saturated fat intake for the benefit of our heart health, to prevent fatty deposits in our artery walls building up. Having said that we need some fat in our diets, as monounsaturated fats can be actually beneficial to our heart health, and some of our necessary nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are found in fat-rich foods such as dairy products and oily fish. And, of course, fat tastes good!

Reducing your fat intake can be one step in the right direction for losing weight, without feeling like you’re “on a diet”. For more help losing weight, Iona can provide advice, support and ideas to promote safe, sustainable weight loss to individuals and families. She holds clinics at the Cottons and the White Rooms. To book an appointment, or for more information, please contact Iona.

[i] Hooper, Abdelhamid, Moore, Douthwaite, Murray and Summerbell (2012).BMJ;345:e7666 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e7666