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Fat-free Snackwell generation gets fatter: Why it's time to stop banning butter

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Do you suffer from fear of foods that contain fats? If so, you qualify for membership in the "Snackwell generation," an era when Americans were told to reduce their intake of fat and eat more carbs. Now,however, experts are linking the obesity epidemic to that low-fat, high carb diet trend, reported Capital Public Radio on March 28. And the message that they want to send to would-be weight loss winners: Ban the fat-free bread, not the full-fat butter and beef, to shed pounds.

The obsession with avoiding fats began in the 1970s, when Sen. George McGovern began an investigation of the connection between diet and disease. Concerned that eight U.S. Senators died from heart disease, he and his colleagues heeded the advice of Nathan Pritikin.

Pritikin was famed for his belief that by following a low-fat, high carb diet, you could reverse heart disease. The result: America's first dietary guidelines, which emphasized the dangers of fats.

"The thinking of the day is that you wanted to reduce fat," says science writer Gary Taubes, author of "Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It" (click for details) and "Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health."

As a result, consumers were advised to eat more carbohydrates. Doctors told their patients to ban butter and beef. Instead, they were instructed to eat pasta, potatoes, rice and bread.

But although those fat-free Snackwell cookies and fat-free cheese products were eagerly gobbled up by dieters, that advice backfired, say health experts such as Dr. David Perlmutter, author of "Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers."

It was the era of fat-free frozen yogurt, fat-free muffins, fat-free pretzels and fat-free salad dressings - and no one seemed to notice that many of those products actually contained more sugar and calories than their full-fat counterparts.

"There were definitely unintended consequences of the original guidelines," Mary Flynn, a professor of medicine at Brown University, commented.

And the results of studies analyzing whether low-fat diets work for weight loss and health show that fat-free fails.

"There have been a number of studies done," Flynn said, "and there's been no benefit for low-fat diets to lead to better weight loss, and there's no benefit for low-fat diets to lead to less disease."

“Compelling argument can be made for the general lack of evidence in support of a low-fat diet,” said Dr. James DiNicolantonio, a leading cardiovascular researcher in the United States, in his research article in the journal Open Heart, reported March 30 in the Express Tribune.

Fat-free foods continue to sell well, with SnackWell's Devil's Food Cookie Cakes, for example, promoted as providing dieters with fat-free sweet treats.

The popularity of such products supports DiNicolantonio's declaration that "a public health campaign is drastically needed to educate people about the harms of a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar."

And in an interview with Medical News Today, he added:

The increase in the prevalence of diabetes and obesity in the US occurred with an increase in the consumption of refined carbohydrate, not saturated fat. There is no conclusive proof that a low-fat diet has any positive effects on health.

Agreeing with him: Physician-scientist Steve Phinney and Professor Jeff S. Volek, who specialize in physiological adaptations to low carbohydrate diets. They are the co-authors of "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable" (click for details) and "New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great."

The duo have published research on the process that they have named keto-adaptation, "because to get insulin low enough to unleash fat as a performance fuel, the body shifts into nutritional ketosis." And their message: By following a low carb high fat (LCHF) ketogenic weight loss plan, dieters can safely and effectively reverse the obesity epidemic as well as conditions such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Worth noting: Multiple studies have noted that symptoms such as fatigue and headaches can be linked to an overdose of carbohydrates. Dr. William Lagakos, author of "The poor, misunderstood calorie: calories proper," recently cited a study showing the fatiguing impact of eating carb-rich foods at lunch.

And Dr. Terry Wahls, a physician who treated her patients with drugs or surgery, reversed her own progressive MS with Paleo principles, creating her own high fat, low carb ketogenic diet. She documented her protocol in her new book: "The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine" (click for details).

Learn more about the other uses of ketogenic diets by clicking here.

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