For more than three decades we have been subjected to dietary propaganda that a low-fat diet is the key to losing weight and preventing disease. Public officials and the medical profession continue to broadcast the message. And the food industry – eager to sell their low-fat, high-margin, fake foods – is happy to reinforce the belief that a low-fat diet is the key to plaque-free arteries and a slim figure.
The problem is that this is exactly the wrong advice for weight loss and your health. In fact, the “solution” has actually made our problems with obesity, heart disease and diabetes much worse.
The misplaced vilification of fat began in the ‘50s and ‘60s. But it was not until the late 1970s that the message was broadcast to the public. It began with a 1976 Senate report, titled Dietary Goals for the United States. It was written by a journalist with no background in health, who was advised by a Harvard nutritionist who viewed dietary fat as the nutritional equivalent of smoking cigarettes. Shortly after, countless health organizations (including the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association) mobilized to spread the word that “eating fat makes you fat” and that a low-fat diet is the best way to prevent disease.
The food industry quickly joined the cause, but without the tasty fat, the food was bland. To compensate, they replaced the fat with sugar, producing thousands of new “low-fat” products. Americans had soon replaced a portion of the fat in our diet with refined carbohydrates.
And did we ever believe the propaganda. Millions of Americans came to associate “low-fat” on the food label with “good for you.” This led people to overeat foods that were “low fat,” even though they had the same number of calories as the regular brand and often far more carbohydrates. Journalists even came up with a name for it – the Snackwell Effect – named after a brand of low-fat, high-sugar Nabisco cookies aimed at health-conscious consumers.
The problem is that while our percentage of calories from fat did go down, our collective weight began to go up… up… up.
According to National Health Examination surveys, the rate of obesity in the U.S. during the ‘60s and ‘70s was relatively stable – around 12 to 14% of the population. Starting around 1980, this number began to rise. By the end of the ‘80s, over 20% of the population was obese. Today, more than 25% of the population is considered obese.