Food

Go Ahead and Enjoy Eating Fat: It's Better than Carbs, Major New Study Says

Seems that saturated fat may even be good for you.

Photo Credit: Sea Wave/Shutterstock.com

Load up on butter, and throw away your calorie counter. A major new study has reversed the commonly accepted, decades-long nutritional wisdom that fat is bad for you—even the dreaded saturated fat. "People who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fatlose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades," the New York Times reported today.

The report is based on a major new study paid for by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It monitored a racially diverse group of 150 men and women who followed different assigned diets for a year. The diets either limited carbs or fats, but placed no limits on calories, which set it apart from other studies of its kind.  “To my knowledge, this is one of the first long-term trials that’s given these diets without calorie restrictions,” Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University told the Times. “It shows that in a free-living setting, cutting your carbs helps you lose weight without focusing on calories. And that’s really important because someone can change what they eat more easily than trying to cut down on their calories.”

Dieters who follow the trends may recognize echoes of the infamous Atkins diet, which featured lots of protein and fat and few carbs as the ticket to weight loss. But critics said it increased heart disease risks by ignoring the supposed dangers of cholesterol.  

“It’s been thought that your saturated fat is, of course, going to increase, and then your cholesterol is going to go up,” the lead author of the new study, Dr. Lydia A. Bazzano of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, told the Times. “And then bad things will happen in general.”

Not so, the new study says. According to the Times:

By the end of the yearlong trial, people in the low-carbohydrate group had lost about eight pounds more on average than those in the low-fat group. They had significantly greater reductions in body fat than the low-fat group, and improvements in lean muscle mass — even though neither group changed their levels of physical activity.

While the low-fat group did lose weight, they appeared to lose more muscle than fat.

“They actually lost lean muscle mass, which is a bad thing,” Dr. Mozaffarian said. “Your balance of lean mass versus fat mass is much more important than weight. And that’s a very important finding that shows why the low-carb, high-fat group did so metabolically well.”

The high-fat group, low carbohydrate group also saw large drops in their markers for inflammation and  triglycerides. Their HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, rose more sharply than it did for people in the low-fat group.

In fact, the Times reports the high-fat group lowered its risk of heart attack in the next 10 years, a huge reversal of common wisdom. The low-fat group's risk was unchanged.

Long story short? Don't worry so much about fat, and avoid processed foods. Kids should drink whole milk, not sugary low-fat chocolate milk. Processed carbohydrates are the worst for you. Avoid them like the plague. (But you already knew that.)

(For more specifics on the diets the two groups followed, click on Times link above.)

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