Low Fat Diet Plans are a strange animal in that they’re very much misunderstood by the majority of people. Not just in terms of what to eat and what not to eat, but also in terms of exactly what they are. Of course it doesn’t help that different individuals and organizations often have different definitions of what constitutes a Low Fat Diet Plan.
So the first thing we need to do is define exactly what we mean by Low Fat and High Fat, so that we’re all on the same page. Makes sense?
What Do We Mean By Low Fat?
US guidelines recommend that 20% to 30% of your daily calories should come from fat, and that no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. The majority of credible weight loss experts agree that a fat intake of 20% to 30% of your daily calorie intake is ideal, with a bias toward the low end, especially for fat loss.
The table below shows the amount of fat you should be consuming to comply with these recommendations, based upon your daily calorie intake:
Because in the average American diet, more like 35% to 37% of calories normally come from fat however, some people like to label diets with anything less than 30% fat as being Low Fat Diet Plans. I disagree. I consider 20-30% fat as being normal, not Low Fat. The average diet is High Fat, and unhealthy.
So for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll define Low Fat Diet Plans as being those where less than 20% of your calorie intake comes from fat (in other words, where your fat intake is lower than the values shown for Recommended Fat Intake in the table above).
Some people label these as Very Low Fat Diet Plans, but we won’t be doing that.
Fair enough? OK then, let’s move on . . .
Why Use Low Fat Diet Plans?
When your body digests dietary fat, it’s provided with 9 calories of energy for each gram of fat. This is quite a bit more than the energy you get from proteins and carbohydrates – just 4 calories per gram. We therefore refer to fat as being very calorie dense.
Because of this feature, fat has become a favorite target over the years for reduction as part of weight loss diet plans. This is why so many different Low Fat Diet Plans have surfaced for weight loss.
The other concern with fat is that some types have been linked to serious health issues – most commonly coronary heart disease. This factor had added even more weight to the popularity of Low Fat Diet Plans.
Over-eating fat will certainly greatly increase your chances of gaining weight, and will also put you at a higher risk of suffering health-related problems, especially if you eat the wrong kinds of fat. This means that the average person does in fact need to reduce the amount of fat they eat, and improve the quality.
Having said that, it’s really not necessary to reduce your fat intake to below 20% – to lose weight or to maintain good health. In fact, reducing your fat intake to such levels can actually work against both of these objectives, just as too high a fat intake can.
What this means is that not only are Low Fat Diet Plans unnecessary, they’re not good for you in any way.
Fats and Health
When it comes to dietary fat and health-related issues, the first thing to focus on is the quality of the fats you consume. This is important regardless of your fat intake, but of course, the higher your fat intake, then the more important it becomes.
It’s useful then to be familiar with the different types of fats and how they each affect your health.
Unsaturated fats are good, healthy fats, and should make up as much of your fat intake as possible. Monounsaturated fats are the better of the two families of unsaturated fats.
Studies have shown that they lower the bad cholesterol in your blood (LDL, or low-density lipoprotein) without lowering the good cholesterol (HDL, or high-density lipoprotein).
Some common oils and nuts that are particularly high in monounsaturated fats are sunflower oil, hazelnut oil, safflower oil, olive oil, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecan nuts.
Polyunsaturated fats are the second family of unsaturated fats and so are also good, healthy fats – though not quite as healthy as monounsaturated fats. Studies have shown that they also lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood, but can lower the HDL (good) cholesterol as well.
Polyunsaturated fats are still an important part of your diet however. Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids, which your body needs for good health, are both polyunsaturated fats.
Some common oils and nuts that are particularly high in monounsaturated fats are safflower oil, grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, walnuts and butternuts.
Saturated fats are mostly from animal sources, the only notable exceptions being coconut oil and palm oil, which are of course plant sources. They’re also normally solid or waxy at room temperature.
These fats are bad, unhealthy fats so you should try to replace them with unsaturated fats in your diet as much as possible. The recommended 10% maximum is quite liberal really, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or if you have heart or blood pressure problems. The less saturated fats you can consume, the better.
Saturated fats increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood – in fact they’re the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol, and they also lead to clogging of your arteries. They’ve been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke – among other conditions, and also lead to weight-gain, since they decrease insulin sensitivity and increase fat-storage within your body.
Fatty red meats, chicken, pork and sausages are high in saturated fat, as is coconut oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter.
Trans fats are processed fats – the unhealthiest of all fats, and should be avoided like the plague. They increase your risk of heart disease by increasing the bad cholesterol in your blood (LDL) and decreasing the good cholesterol (HDL), and can lead to diabetes and stroke. They’ve even been linked to cancer, liver dysfunction and infertility.
Trans fats are also damaging to the fat-loss process – they’ve been shown to decrease your insulin sensitivity as well as increase your insulin response to blood sugar.
They’re generally found in fried fast foods such as fried chicken, fried fish and French fries; and in commercially baked goods such as cakes, pastries, doughnuts, cookies, pies, potato chips, corn chips and crackers. Some margarines are also high in trans fats.
Health and Weight Loss Implications of Low Fat Diet Plans
OK so you should now have an understanding of why fats seem to cause so much havoc in the average diet. They’re generally over-consumed – not a good thing for a calorie-dense food, and the most popular and readily-available foods all tend to have the worst types of fats.
But what about Low Fat Diet Plans? Obviously, even on a Low Fat Diet Plan you need to pay close attention to the types of fats you’re eating. But what are the implications on your health and weight loss of consuming too little fat as part of your diet?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, regularly consuming fewer than 20% of your daily calories from fat by following a Low Fat Diet Plan will put your health at risk and hurt your weight loss in several ways.
Some of the major ones are:
1. It leads to an imbalance of major nutrients.
Low Fat Diet Plans contain too little fat, which means that your intake of carbohydrates, or protein, or both, must necessarily be higher than normal. This affects the overall balance of your diet, which can potentially lead to health problems and also harm your weight loss.
Carbohydrate-rich diets have been found to be especially bad for your health and weight gain. Research has shown that they can increase the level of dangerous fats in your blood called triglycerides and reduce your good (HDL) cholesterol.
They also cause your meals to have a higher GI, and can lead to insulin resistance, otherwise known as Syndrome X. This is a condition where your body becomes less sensitive to insulin, whose job it is to remove the blood sugar that’s produced when you consume carbohydrates from your blood. This leads to high blood sugar and insulin levels in your blood, which enhances fat storage and increases your risk of heart disease.
In more serious cases, high carbohydrate diets can even lead you to develop type 2 diabetes.
If, on the other hand, your diet is too protein-rich, you can also run into health issues. High protein diets can place a greater strain on your kidneys and liver, and can also lead to osteoporosis in the longer-term.
The key is to good health and rapid but lasting weight loss is to balance all three macronutrients — fat, carbohydrates and protein in your diet. Focusing on any one to boost or cut from your diet is both unhealthy and counterproductive.
2. It increases your risk of cancer.
Low intakes of essential fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 have been associated with colon, breast, and prostate cancers. Research has shown that a high intake of Omega-3 slows the cell growth in prostate tumors and cancer as well. By cutting your intake of fat, Low Fat Diet Plans cause your body to lack these healthy fats, and they can therefore increase your risk of cancer.
3. It starves your body of important nutrients by decreasing your body’s vitamin absorption.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble vitamins, which means that your body needs dietary fat to be able to use them. They’re are mostly stored mostly in your liver and fat tissue, and are important in many bodily functions such as growth, immunity, cell repair and blood clotting.
On Low Fat Diet Plans the chances are that you’re not eating enough fat to bring these vitamins into your body. They therefore pass right through your digestive system and are excreted as waste products. This can then potentially leave you at risk of suffering from a vitamin deficiency.
4. It can lead you to suffer various mental side effects.
Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids play important roles in your mood and behavior. That’s because they’re involved with the production of many hormones and chemicals in your brain.
One study which was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders linked low and abnormal intake of essential fatty acids (fats) to depressive symptoms. Other research has also shown that people who don’t get enough Omega-3 in their diet can potentially suffer from conditions such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders and ADHD.
Low Fat Diet Plans in a Nutshell
One of the primary rules of fitness and weight loss that I like to pass on to women is to always avoid extremes. They’ll always cost you in the end. Unfortunately we’re so constantly targets of false and misleading information that we often start to believe mantras like low fat is best.
As you can hopefully see, high-fat is bad and low-fat is also bad – only right-fat is good.
The same applies to all parts of your weight loss program. Like a finely-tuned engine, it works best when all the settings are right where they should be.
Low Fat Diet Plans have enjoyed a lot of popularity since the 1970s, mainly because the concept always sounded like it made sense. But as we’ve learned more and more over the years about fats and how they affect our body, we’re once again reminded that too much or too little of anything is never beneficial.
The fact is your body needs fat to function properly. It’s a source of energy, and it’s used in the production of cell membranes and several hormones and other chemicals in your body. These help to regulate your blood pressure, heart rate, blood clotting, and your nervous system. It also helps in maintaining healthy hair and skin, it protects vital organs, keeps your body insulated, it provides a feeling of fullness after your meals, and the list goes on.
It’s also important to note that fat plays a very important role in your body’s fat-burning process.
This is supported through my own experience in helping women to lose weight, as well as the experience of other trainers – too low a fat intake in women’s diet tends to noticeably slow down the rate of weight loss.