The Skinny on High Fat Diets
Tom McCullough, MEd.


Weight control is a very big issue for most Americans. At any given time about 25% of America's men and 44% of America's women are trying to shed some of those unwanted pounds. In fact, studies done by the diet industry show that as many as 50 million Americans are on a diet. It is easy to see how the weight loss industry has become such a large source of financial profit, pulling in nearly $27 billion yearly. Most often at the expense of consumers who are looking for a fast and easy way to shed that excess fat. Most of these diets do not work and only offer the dieter a quick fix for their problem. Some are actually harmful and contain blatant misinformation. 

To make the problem much worse we have become overrun with unethical salesman who use science and pseudo-science to dupe us into believing in their magic. Worse yet---- athletes are very gullible people! We want so bad to have that little extra edge so we can achieve more muscular growth or better performance in what ever sport we participate in, that we often fall prey to those who deal in myths and magic. 

Because most of us today feel we possess more than our fair share of fat, we are too elated to try any fad that may offer the slightest chance of obtaining our goals in weight loss. The most recent fad in diets is the high fat or ketogenic diets. Many are under the assumption that if we take in high percentages of dietary fat we will be able to increase the amount of fat we burn and increase the amount of muscle we put on. All with out quite as much diligence in the gym. Now to further complicate matters, a few research studies and popular books have suggested that high fat diets might actually help to improve physical performance. Is there any real truth to these theories? Lets see what the experts have to say: 

Andrew Coggan, Ph.D.,of the Metabolism Unit at the Shriners Burns Hospital and Assistant Professor University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas says, "Despite the recent hullabaloo, there is really no good evidence that performance can be improved by increasing dietary fat intake (or by decreasing carbohydrate intake, which is actually what has been proposed). The stories presented in the popular press are simply anecdotal, while the handful of laboratory studies purporting to show a benefit suffer from serious methodological flaws." 

"The majority of the support for high-fat diets is based on personal experience and anecdotal information," says Lawrence Spriet, Ph.D., Dept. of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. "The studies cited to support these diets suffer serious methodological flaws and therefore do not constitute sound scientific evidence." Dr. Spriet adds: " I could never advocate that any athlete consume 60-70% of the day's caloric intake as fat. Much of the information in popular books and magazines has not undergone the peer-review process, so it is difficult to support the validity of these claims." 

Ellen Coleman, R.D., M.A., M.P.H., Nutrition Consultant for The Sport Clinic Riverside, California cautions: "A high-fat diet also contributes to obesity and increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers." 

After reading the advice of the experts, it soon becomes evident that we should keep our money in our pockets and not be so quick to be duped into this high fat diet theory. In any case, the jury is still out and the verdict doesn't look good. So what do the experts advise that we do in the future to protect ourselves from the purveyors of snake oil and magic diet formulas? The following are a few tips from the experts: 

Dr. Coggan advises, "Ask yourself, is somebody trying to sell me something, e.g., a product, book, or "system? Is the claim or product being promoted as "revolutionary", with sweeping and widespread benefits?" 

"The athlete should beware if: 1) the claim sounds too good to be true; 2) the suspected "quack" encourages distrust of reputable health professionals such as medical doctors, exercise physiologists, and registered dietitians; 3) a preponderance of case histories, testimonials, and subjective evidence are used to justify exaggerated claims," Coleman adds. 

"I would further recommend staying away from some of the fad magazines and books that abound in today's society," Dr. Spriet warns. "Look more to the science and educational materials that contain opinions of several researchers in a particular area." 

So with weight control and human performance being such a big concern among many Americans, we should all be aware that there are NO QUICK FIXES. It still takes less calories than what you are burning, exercise and lots of dedication to changing your lifestyle and training habits. There are NO MAGIC PILLS, NO MAGIC FOODS and NO MAGIC NUTRIENT RATIOS!