Low Fat Bites the Dust, Again.

Certainly, you’ve heard the news by now – a longitudinal study of 49,000 women followed over the course of eight years found no protective benefit in a low-fat vs. “normal” diet. In other words, a low-fat diet does not protect against diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

As far as the claims that a low-fat diet can reverse cancer and heart disease – well, according to the results of the study (and to be fair, it is only one study), “fat chance.”

My favorite part was Dean Ornish’s comment that eight years wasn’t enough time to see a beneficial effect. As if, say, a cancer patient had all the time in the world. As Joe Lucin would say, “Holy Mo-Le.”

Some interesting findings:

1) No increase in the incidence of diabetes and insulin problems in low-fat (high carb) vs. other groups. Very surprising considering that a difference in fat intake of ~13% (see point #2) creates a significant calorie gap, which would have to be made up with other macronutrients, probably carbs. In plain English, since the study group consumed less fat but the same number of calories, the number of calories they did not consume from fat had to have been either protein or carbs. And since protein and carbs contain roughly half the caloric value of fat (4 calories per gram vs. 9 calories per gram), they ate twice as much carbs/protein!

2) The women in the study were not able to maintain the level of fat required for the study (20%). They instead kept fat intake to about 24% – in contrast, Ornish, Pritikin, et. al. recommend diets with total calories from fat of 10% and under! Perhaps if the groups had been able to maintain a “true” low-fat diet, the results might have been very different – IF.

And perhaps the most compelling point…

3) Is there really a significant difference between a diet that’s 29% fat and 35 fat%?

One of the reasons I like Gina Kolata’s reporting is that she does her homework and really tries to take a neutral, impartial tone – most of the time (her book Ultimate Fitness is mostly awesome, BTW). She’s a little too keen on Spinning for me, but at least she fairly reports on subjects near and dear to my cold little heart.

You know, one wonders: Is it really that hard to design and implement a good, useful study?

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