Low fat or low carbs – part 2

  • Clive
  • 12/11/2013 6:17 pm
  • Diet

Article by Clive Reader

In the first part of this article we saw that it is not “eating fat” that makes you fat, it is “eating carbs”.  The body cannot survive without fats, but it can without carbs, as it can synthesize the carbs that it needs from fats and proteins.  However, if you take in a lot of carbs, then they prevent the body from burning up fat, and also your body will convert the carbs that you don’t burn straight away into fat, and store it on your body.Wellnecessities

As always, however, the story is not completely straight forward.  Here, our qualified nutrition expert, Sam Marshall (PgDip, BSc, DipHNP, DipAIT Member FNTP), who has her own healthy-eating website at: http://www.wellnecessities.co.uk/, explains that there are good fats to consume which can actually help you to lose body fat, such as Omega 3 fatty acids, (whereas bad fats do not, such as Omega 6).  Also, Sam takes a brief look at some popular low carb diets.

A qualified nutritionist takes up the story (here’s the science)

Fats to help us lose weight:

  • Omega 3s – most of us know that we need omega 3 fatty acids for good brain function, but researchers believe it also plays a role in signalling a hormone called leptin, causing the brain to reduce appetite and turn up fat burning in the body.  Omega 3s are best taken in their animal forms as they can be directly used by our bodies in the form of DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) or EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid).  We also find them in oily fish, seafood, meat from grass fed animals (and their dairy products), meat from wild animals/game and pastured poultry (including their eggs).  Foods like nuts and seeds have the precursor to EPA/DHA called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), but they rely on our body converting them before we can use them so are less efficient.   Omega 3s also improve mood and self esteem, so increasing your consumption whilst on a diet will do wonders for your body image2.
  • CLAConjugated Linoleic Acid is found in the meat and dairy produce from grass fed animals (not grain fed as it is synthesised from an interaction with stomach bacteria in the animals and chlorophyll from plants).  CLA chiefly encourages the body to use fat as a fuel source5.
  • Saturated Fat – Medium and Short chain fatty acids as found in butter and coconut oil are utilised easily by the body as a direct energy source, giving you more balanced energy for workouts with less of a load on your insulin levels.  Saturated fats also play a vital role in protecting omega 3s from damage within the body and ensuring the absorption of Fat Soluble Vitamins.
  • Fat Soluble Vitamins – Vitamins A, D, E and K are absolutely essential for overall health.  Good sources of these vitamins include; Liver and Fermented Cod Liver Oil for vitamins A and D, Butter from grass fed animals for vitamin K and avocados for vitamin E, however these vitamins are found to a greater or lesser extent in all the healthy fats mentioned above.  Vitamin D in particular has been found to be key in maintaining a healthy weight.  It is believed that vitamin D plays a role in leptin signalling (the hormone that controls appetite) and also it helps reduce the likelihood of our bodies storing sugar as fat, by increasing our cellular sensitivity to insulin.  One of the highest sources of vitamin D is organic lard.  We can synthesise vitamin D in our own bodies, with the right expose to sunlight and suitable amounts of cholesterol, but in colder climates we need to make up the deficit through diet2.
  • MUFAs - Monounsaturated Fatty Acids found in olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados, according to one Danish Study, are believed to improve calorie burning and in particular can help reduce belly fat5.

Butter curlsHigh Fat Diets to try

The Atkins Diet received lots of bad press for being unhealthy, however followers of the diet did see positive impact on many health conditions, especially their weight.  Possibly where this diet goes wrong is the lack of emphasis on the quality of fat and protein you should consume, possibly leading to even further increased levels of omega 6 adding to inflammation in the body and ultimately encouraging conditions like heart disease.

Primal or Paleo5 diets do emphasise the quality of meats consumed and also promote little grain consumption.  They do encourage consumption of vegetables and fruits as part of a balanced approach to gain some carbohydrates from the diet as well as a range of vitamins and minerals.  Both diets are criticised for putting the body into Ketosis – a fat burning state – which has also received bad press.  However, this is actually a natural state for the body; and the brain especially prefers to run on ketones as opposed to glucose for optimum function.   Both diets encourage you to eat real food rather than supplements, as nature provided combinations of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids in these foods, to work together to give us optimal health and ideal absorption/utilisation of the nutrients.

As with all diets, it is about finding the right solution for your own body and what works for you.  However, I would stress that low fat diets may work for some people in the short term to help them lose weight (possibly as they inadvertently reduce their intake of inflammatory foods replacing them with anti-inflammatory fruit and vegetables, as low calorie options), but it will not make them healthy in the long term.

References for part 1 and part 2:

1. Sean Croxton (2011) The Dark Side of Fat Loss ebook available http://darksideoffatloss.com/

2. Nora T Gedgaudas (2011) Primal Body, Primal Mind; Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life, Healing Arts Press.

3. Dr Natasha Campbell McBride MD (2007) Put Your Heart in Your Mouth, Medinform Publishing.

4. Paul Chek (2004) How to Eat, Move and be Healthy, C.H.E.K Institute LLC.

5. Loren Cordain (2010) The Paleo Diet; Lose Weight and Get Healthy Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat, John Wiley and Sons Ltd.  

And what does Peter Attia have to say?Peter Attia

You may remember Peter Attia from Part 1 of these articles.   Here he describes Ketosis:

“Ketosis (or keto-adaptation) – Ketosis is a state, achieved through significant reduction of carbohydrate intake (typically to less than 50 grams per day), at which point the body makes a fundamental change from relying on glycogen as its main source of energy to relying on fat as the primary source of energy.  In particular, the brain shifts from being entirely dependent on glucose, to being primarily dependent on beta-hydroxybutyrate – a so-called “ketone body.”  Ketone bodies are chemical structures made by the liver (also somewhat in the kidney) out of fatty acids, primarily.

Whenever one has a discussion about nutritional ketosis, it’s always important to distinguish it from a pathological state referred to as diabetic keto-acidosis (DKA), which I describe in more detail in an in-depth FAQ post.”

Peter has put his body into a permanent state of ketosis.  This has required a very careful and concerted effort on his part, with experimentation along the way, and a gradual reduction in carbohydrates from 600g per day down to less than 50g per day (he aims for 30g) over the course of 20 months.

The information on Peter’s website is extensive, and quite technical in places, but if you want to do a thorough investigation of the science around low carb, high fat diets, then spending a lot of time looking around his website would be a good place to start.  You will see that his diet is very radical, and is one which a lot of people would struggle to stick to.   It is probably not the kind of diet that YOU FOODIES, as lovers of a broad range of foods, would ever want to be on, but it is nonetheless very interesting to read about, and might be something you would consider for a shorter term weight loss plan, over a few months, rather than a lifetime change.  I’ll leave you now to explore his website on your own, if you want to.  Just one last piece of additional info.  Peter set up NuSI – the Nutrition Science Initiative with a friend, Gary Taubes, a scientific journalist and author, who has written a book called Why we Get Fat, which covers the same subject as this article.     Now, on to someone else….

Dr Aseem MalhotraDr Aseem Malhotra

Dr Aseem Malhotra is a cardiology specialist registrar, who is leading a personal crusade in the UK to improve our diets.  A key element of his arguments are for the reduction of carbohydrates intake.   You can find out about him, and get access to many of the articles he has written for the Guardian on-line through his Guardian on-line profile.   One of the many articles he has written talks about the harmful effect of sugar (carbohydrates) in our diets, and another contains a link to a 90-minute lecture on YouTube on the same subject.  He recently appeared on the BBC Breakfast TV where he said that a whole food industry has grown up promoting low fat foods, but not concerning itself with the carbohydrate content of food.   Someone he treats put on 20kg of weight in a few months when they moved to a low fat diet.  He found that what they were eating contained high levels of carbohydrate.

He is growing a following in the UK, so I think you might be hearing more about him in the months and years to come!   Check out the links above to find out more.



Maybe you are more confused now than ever!    After four decades of being told that fat is bad for you, now you are being told that fat is okay for you, and you can live on a very high fat diet with very low carbs and be thin.   Worst still, many of the foods you love contain carbs, and you need to cut them out.   I hope these two articles have given you some food for thought!     The purpose of them is to make you better informed.  There is no doubt that if you reduce your carbohydrate intake it will be beneficial, and that can help you to worry a bit less about your fat intake, as long as you consume the right fats.   A good guide is to stick with high quality food, and to avoid junk food and processed food, but if you want to be thinner, then you will need to be a bit radical about reducing your carb intake.    We haven’t mentioned alcohol, and that is highly calorific.  Let’s just say that they are not calories of fat!

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