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February 08, 2006

Low Fat Diets: Waste of Time and Effort.

You know all that advice to have a low fat diet? Reduce your susceptibility to cancer and heart disease?


The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet reduces the risk of getting cancer or heart disease has found that the diet has no effect.

The $415 million federal study involved nearly 49,000 women ages 50 to 79 who were followed for eight years. In the end, those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they pleased, researchers are reporting today.

I remember Bernard Levin making the same point a couple of decades ago about a large Finnish study. The low fat diet followed by half of them did nothing to reduce heart disease but did raise suicide levels.

Back to the boring old one then. Eat well and varied and take some exercise, if you’re gaining weight eat less. And try and fit some veg and fruit in there.

Pity really, don’t think I can spin that out into a diet book best seller (and what wouldwe call it? "The Blogger’s Diet"? "Amateur Economist on Food"? "Blowhard on Beefiness"?).

February 8, 2006 in Health Nazis | Permalink


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"Back to the boring old one then. Eat well and varied and take some exercise, if you’re gaining weight eat less. And try and fit some veg and fruit in there"

Huh? Whaaat? THAT sure won't sell any diet programmes or products!

BTW, where's my glucosamine?

Posted by: John Fembup | Feb 8, 2006 1:47:12 PM

well what this is showing is that "low-fat", like "low carb" or all the other strange fads, doesn't have any special magic, but a low fat diet is likely to also be a low calorie diet and that is good for you.

If you're serious about getting into the fad diet game, the idea I had about a year ago but lack the energy to put into action is to repackage the diet that diabetics used to have to follow before synthetic insulin was available. I'm sure you could package it with all sorts of codswallop about ketones and hypoglycaemia to make it copyrightable and it would have the distinct advantage of being unlikely to actually harm any of your customers.

Posted by: dsquared | Feb 8, 2006 2:34:29 PM

I think a good rule is to eat fresh food too. Processed food ain't so good for you.

I have taken it to the next degree and am trying to eat organically! buying me weekly meat at the local farmers market. It is 10x better than cheap supermarket meat. Eat less of higher quality...

U might think its more expensive, but if you buy fresh food, it works out ok - probably equivalent to the weekly food bill from convenience food.

Posted by: angry economist | Feb 8, 2006 5:30:28 PM

Uh, well I still prefer INorganic food.

A bowl of rocks for breakfast really brings meaning to the word breakfast. Talk about minerals, hoo boy.

Posted by: John Fembup | Feb 8, 2006 6:13:49 PM

From the article:
In the first year, the women on the low-fat diets reduced the percentage of fat in their diet to 24 percent of daily calories, and by the end of the study their diets had 29 percent of their calories as fat. In the first year, the women in the control group were eating 35 percent of their calories as fat, and by the end of the study their dietary fat content was 37 percent. The two groups consumed about the same number of calories.

i.e. a MODEST reduction in fat along with NO reduction in calories has no significant affect on cancer and heart disease. Note that sugar consumption often goes up when fat consumption goes down.

Based just on the article, the study looks interesting -- though leaves many interesting questions unanswered. I hope the blogosphere is smart enough to evaluate it in context. For my part, I suspect that there's not "one true way" and that different people can succeed on different diets (food plans).

(BTW: great blog. I also enjoy your articles on TCS.)

Posted by: Scott Lawton | Feb 8, 2006 7:06:17 PM

There was a big Norwegian study: ditto - don't do it. I harbour a suspicion that if I am to lose weight, I'd better eat less and exercise more. At least I cycle to work. And I've started to eschew the lift and climb the stairs. What else is easy and cheap?

Tim adds: Sex?

Posted by: dearieme | Feb 8, 2006 11:26:10 PM

The fat study? What a waste of time... There are certainly a combination of factors that make a difference to one's health. Why just single out fat? The study would have been much more valuable if the study had information on what combinations of diet exercise, stress reduction, etc. made a difference. I don't care about what DOESN'T work - how about showing us what DOES work...

Posted by: rperrin | Feb 9, 2006 3:26:30 AM

One easy thing to do - when you feel full, stop eating. Don't gorge.

If you start an exercise regime - start slowly, try and do something you enjoy. Keep a routine.

Posted by: angry economist | Feb 9, 2006 9:20:04 AM

As a professional dietitian offering food and nutrition advice all day long, it is important to know that this study was designed 20 years ago, when essential fats(omega-9-6-3), plant ingredients (such as carotenoids, flavonoids, lignins, other dietary fibres) were not emphasized in mainstream nutrition education. Today, a daily menu consisting of foods with a variety of protective ingredients can be tasty and healthful. Perhaps it was the type of fat and not the amount of fat that gave these discouraging results.

Posted by: dietitian | Feb 9, 2006 5:15:55 PM

dietitian: disappointing to whom? And what about the Norwegian study, to which you can doubtless refer us?

Tim: I must decline your kind offer. You're just not my type.

Posted by: dearieme | Feb 10, 2006 5:05:51 AM

"For no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it..." Ephesians 5:29.
One might as well hate his flesh as be ignorant of how the modern foods of commerce affect one's metabolism. The increased use of vegetable oils, sugars, and white flour are largely to blame for the "Modern Nutritional Diseases" (by Fred and Alice Ottoboni) so many suffer and die from these days.
Want to know the truth about heart disease and all the rest? Type "The Oiling of America" into a search engine or visit www.thincs.org. Read a few books: "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" by Weston A Price, DDS, "Sweet and Dangerous" by John Yudkin, MD, "Biochemical Individuality" by Roger J Williams, PhD, "Nutrition Against Disease" by Roger J Williams. In fact, read anything by Dr. Williams and you'll gain a better understanding of how your body responds to your food choices.

Dave Brown
Nutrition Education Project

Posted by: David Brown | Feb 10, 2006 6:32:36 AM

When did dietitians start trying to replace the word "healthy" with "healthful"? And why?

> Why just single out fat? The study would have been much more valuable if the study had information on what combinations of diet exercise, stress reduction, etc. made a difference.

No, it wouldn't. If you study a hundred different things at once, your results are meaningless. The only way to be sure of what your results mean is to do all you can to minimise variation in all but one variable.

The study you're asking for has already been done -- in fact, it's still ongoing, and has been running for many thousands of years. As you may have noticed, no-one's managed to draw consistent conclusions from it yet.

Posted by: Squander Two | Feb 10, 2006 9:11:17 AM