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Nutrition Column

Don't believe all you read

What do you make of the latest reports of the study published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which found low-fat diets do not decrease cancer or heart disease risk in women?

From the print and news reports it seems like the study, done on over 49,000 women over an eight year period, undermines years of reports stating the benefits of a low-fat diet in reducing disease risk.

First off I remind you all of the fist slide I showed you all at the workshop. The one in which the National Academy of Science analyzed 30 of the most popular lay magazine and found many lacking in their scientific and nutritional accuracy.

Many reports are often misrepresented or mis-leading. This report is another in the list. If you look over the study itself you find that while the women in the low-fat group ate significantly lower fat level (29 percent versus 35 percent) it was no where near the 10 percent level which Dean Ornish and others have found is required for regression of disease.

In fact, at 29 percent it is only slightly lower than the Step One diet recommended for fat at less than 30 percent of the total calories for initial dietary modification by the American Medical Association. And if blood lipid values don't change favorably the diet progresses to Step two at less than twenty percent.

Another question is what types of fats were each group eating. While an extremely low-fat diet was previously recommended for reduction of disease risk more recent research supports the notion that it is the type of fat in the diet which is more important than overall fat intake. If the saturated fat content of both diet groups were similar then one would not expect a difference in disease rates.

Another possibility was that the lower fat group was taking in too much saturated fat and not enough mono-, and poly-unsaturated healthy fats. There might be a threshold below which saturated fat must be kept in order to reduce disease progression and disease risk.

While the study provides some insights into the role of diet into disease risk it seems to open up many more questions. Before believing all the reports in the news be aware that many headlines and quotes are taken out of context, sensationalized, or incomplete as to what can truly be stated based on the study involved.

Written by Dr. Sternlicht for on 2.09.06