Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Low-Fat Diet Makes You Gain Fat

During the recent 2006 NMS Scientific Sessions in Brooklyn, New York, I had an opportunity to meet and discuss various research findings with Dr. Barry Sears, author of the Zone diet. One item we talked about was the recent JAMA publication that I wrote about earlier this month - JAMA Publishes Findings of Seven Year Low-Fat Diet Study - where I highlighted the increased risk from an increase in waist-hip ratios and waistline measurements in the study participants.

An even closer look at the results find something odd - over the seven years, even with the calorie restriction of both groups, neither had an appreciable weight loss. More startling, both groups experienced an increase in their waist hip ratio (WHR) due to an increase in the size of their waistline - a measure we now understand is important in assessing health risks.

This particular study was a "hot topic" of conversation amongst many of those in attendance at the conference because the results were so skewed by the media and within the press releases from JAMA.

Earlier this week, Dr. Sears issued a press release about this study - Lose Weight, Gain Fat on Low-Fat Diets? - where he rightfully points out that, "The women in the low-fat group were consuming 361 fewer calories per day during the study, Sears said, which means that they should have lost approximately three pounds per month as opposed to the actual two pounds lost in seven years.

"This suggests that a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to weight loss and even less so when it comes with an apparent long-term increase in body fat," he said."

From my conversations with Dr. Sears, it is this type of increase in body fat - even with no gain in body weight - that may provide the catalyst that increases inflammation in the body. Back in July I wrote about the insidious effects of low-level, chronic inflammation in the body in my article Death by Inflammation.

In that article, I pointed to the things that increase inflammation in the body and want to repeat them again:

There are a number of things that are found in the literature, and not surprisingly, all but two are associated with our dietary habits:
  • Advanced Glycation End (AGE) products, are formed when food is cooked at high temperatures. AGE's are toxins in the body and some are now calling them "glycotoxins". According to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, consuming foods cooked at high temperature accelerates the glycation process, and the subsequent formation of advanced glycation end products. When you eat foods with AGE's your body responds with inflammation to try to protect itself.
  • Sleep Deprivation. In 2002, researchers at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society held in San Francisco reported that sleep deprivation markedly increases inflammatory cytokines. Getting a good night sleep allows your body time to build and repair tissue - a process that is inhibited during waking hours.
  • Damaged Fats. Oil starts to degrade upon heating and over a relatively short period of time, within 30-minutes, 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal (HNE) begins to reach critical levels. HNE's are toxic in the human body.
  • Trans-Fatty Acids. Man-made trans-fats are disruptive in the body since they are not natural and the body does not know what to do with them.
  • High Blood Sugars and/or Insulin Levels. It is well documented that high blood sugar and/or insulin levels produce inflammation in the body. Quite frankly, our bodies are simply not designed to handle the excessive amount of sugars we eat daily. Prolonged elevated insulin levels disrupt cellular metabolism and spread inflammation.
  • Nutrient Deficiency from any number of vitamins, minerals and elements along with essential fatty acids (specifically omega-3) and essential amino acids. When your body does not have all the ingredients it needs for health, it makes do with what it has for survival and makes compromises. In that compromise process, it also works to protect itself and inflammation is one result of a nutrient-poor diet.
  • Stress, an often over-looked component in chronic inflammation. When you are stressed, your body releases a number of hormones and chemicals to try to counteract the affects of the stress. Chronic stress means constant elevated levels of stress hormones and inflammation. Relaxation, meditation, exercise and simple general activity all help to reduce stress and thus reduce stress hormones in the body.

If you look carefully at the above list, every last item you control.

The most important factor you control is what you eat. The seven-year study published in JAMA is a testament to how a long-term low-fat diet, even with calorie restriction, increases body fat and thus, increases your risk for inflammation and poor health in the long-term.

Dr. Sears is convinced that inflammation is at the root of many of our health ills - so convinced he founded the Inflammation Research Foundation that is "dedicated and committed to providing resources and funds for both education and medical research projects on the use of highly effective nutritional approaches for the treatment of chronic diseases associated with inflammation in adults and children."

While I don't think the Zone diet is the "cure all" or appropriate for everyone, it does have merit and is supported by evidence as one more dietary approach to consider for the long-term if your goal isn't simply weight loss, but also includes health gains in the long-term!

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