Low-Fat Fraud?

The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Low-Fat Fraud?


"The Soft Science of Dietary Fat" by Gary Taubes, in Science (Mar. 30, 2001), American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

Urged on by experts from government and other quarters, healthy Americans for decades have been struggling to rid their diet of fat- and thus, they hope, lose weight, ward off heart disease, and live longer. The food industry spends billions of dollars a year pushing the antifat message, and thousands of food products claiming to be low-fat or no-fat now crowd supermarket shelves. The only thing the whole crusade lacks, reports Taubes, a Science contributing correspondent, is the hard scientific evidence to justify it.

"Despite decades of research," he says, "it is still a debatable proposition whether the consumption of saturated fats above recommended levels ... by anyone who's not already at high risk of heart disease will increase the likelihood of untimely death....Nor have hundreds of millions of dollars in trials managed to generate compelling evidence that healthy individuals can extend their lives by more than a few weeks, if that, by eating less fat."

Weight loss? It seemed reasonable to suppose that trimming fat from the diet would help, since fat has nine calories per gram compared with four calories for carbohydrates and protein, but science now suggests otherwise, Taubes says. "The results of well-controlled clinical trials are consistent: People on low-fat diets initially lose a couple of kilograms, as they would on any diet, and then the weight tends to return. After one to two years, little has been achieved."

For individuals at high risk of heart attack, notes Taubes, the evidence has mounted in recent years that cholesterol-lowering drugs can be beneficial, and for those people, a low-fat diet may also be somewhat helpful. …

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