Note: Please see the updates on healthism here. Flexibility, social connection, enjoyment of health, and not obsessing on perfection of diet is what makes health a means, not an end.
Right now, we’re in a health war. The enemy is disease. We’re also in a major food fight against obesity and weight loss. Bad news, we’re losing…badly.
In my homepage blog, I discuss how the emphasis on fighting the body and increasing access to a broken healthcare system isn’t working. I also discuss how the old paradigm of counting calories is becoming obsolete as scientists, clinicians, and
nutritionists note the futility of a system which doesn’t fully account for the biochemical processes and metabolism that exist inside the human body.
True, calorie intake is a crude measure of nutrition, but a crude measure that should be considered as a therapeutic measure for those it fits, which is few. It should not be the weight-loss go-to that it has been. This Vital Choice newsletter article excerpt below provided an excellent summary of the new trend that is shifting from food quantity to food quality:
The idea that calorie intake alone determines successful weight control is losing ground. However, debates over
the best mix of food types for weight control continue to rage. So far, the evidence doesn’t strongly favor either low-fat or low-carb diets. But the comparative studies rarely account for the specific types and sources of fats
and carbs being consumed.
So it’s still unclear whether Paleo-type diets (high-protein/moderate-fat/low-carb) or Ornish-type diets (low-fat/high-carb/plant-based) are best for weight control. However, it’s become increasingly apparent that the two types of polyunsaturated fat essential to human health – omega-6 and omega-3 – exert opposing effects on weight gain.1
As our nation and our nation’s children continue to expand in waist-size and health problems, many experts are still debating the butter verses no fat, cholesterol comeback, which I discussed here.2-3 Still, the evidence for healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) continues to increase, in a welcomed way.
In fact, few will disagree that essential fatty acids modulate various disease processes and may be protective against obesity. In a recent study, researchers compared the outcomes of the ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs),
including omega-6 (w-6) and omega-3 (w-3), to saturated fatty acids in relationship to measurements of lean mass (LM) and measures of adiposity in 311 children. 4-5
It was found that intake of PUFAs was positively associated with lean mass and negatively associated with intra-abdominal adipose tissue (belly fat). They also found that as omega-6 to omega-3 increased so did belly fat. “All results were independent of biological, environmental, and genetic covariates.”4
Two well-known essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are eicosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and docoasahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are found in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel) and some omega-3 enriched eggs, and are the most
studied and researched for their benefits for your cardiovascular system (heart and circulation), brain health, memory, mood, inflammation, and even behavior. In fact, a few recent trials demonstrated the use of fish oil in modifying behavior from addictions to hostility! Furthermore, they modulate mood and neurotransmitters and assist with cellular integrity. All of these can have positive benefits from cellular to whole body health.6-16
The Caveats of the “Science of Nutrition”
Interesting, however, a new study entitled, “Calorie for Calorie, Dietary at Restriction Results in More Body Fat Loss than Carbohydrate Restriction in People with Obesity,” had the low fat camp exalted again. However, there were
several caveats to this study that demonstrates limitations to research in nutrition in general:
1. The experimenter’s definition of restricted fat (RF) was 8% total fat and the restricted carb (RC) was 29%,
enabling 140g of carbs a day. 17 This is not the typical low-carb diet.18 In fact, a 2003 study reported different findings. Why? What most studies are really proving is that different ratios of different foods produce different results. Furthermore, they are still using the outdated calorie model, not looking at the other factors such as stress, inflammation, sleep, genetics, gender, hormones, microbiome, nutrient quality, hormonal balance, as well as all the factors I discussed on my homepage blog.
2. Generally, it’s protein that is most satiating, though the type of protein (vegetable, animal, or legume) is still up for debate, once again, this is because everyone is different. The authors admitted that body fat loss, “was relatively insensitive to isocaloric substitutions of dietary fat and carbohydrate, suggesting that the body acts to minimize differences in fat loss when the diet calories and protein are held constant…” 17
3. Most studies are short-term, one year or less.
4. Controlled feeding experiments are hard to portray in real life, usually low fat dieters
cheat because their starving. I’ve read several studies that report high dropout indicates, which may or may not be indicated in study results. You can read more about the caveats of a perfect diet and research methods here.
What’s a Dieter to Do?
I discussed this in my homepage, but here’s the hint…consider all the things I discussed above that modulate healthy weight: quality of food, modulating stress and inflammation, genetic variances, optimizing sleep, digestive health and microbiome balance, movement, toxins, and hormone balance to consider. However, there are 5 simple tips that will help most people get a good start. Read them here.
Bottom line, your body is best guide. It’s more about whole body health than punishment and food restriction. If you need support in weighing through all the dietary suggestions, your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor can help.
1. Wetherby, C. Early Omega-3s May Help Prevent Obesity: Childhood diets
rich in fishy omega-3s linked to a reduced risk for excess weight. Vital Choice
Newsletter. August 20, 2015.
2. Ward, T. Saturated Fat and CAD: It’s Complicated. theheart.org on
Medscape. February 9, 2015.
3. O’Riordan. No Evidence to Support Dietary Fat Recommendations,
Meta-Analysis Finds. Heartwire. February 12, 2015.
4. Cardel M,
Lemas DJ, Jackson KH, Friedman JE, Fernández JR. Higher Intake of PUFAs Is
Associated with Lower Total and Visceral Adiposity and Higher Lean Mass in a
Racially Diverse Sample of Children. J
Nutr. 2015 Aug 12. pii: jn212365.
5. University of
Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. (UCAWC) Children who are leaner
report eating more polyunsaturated fatty acids. August 12, 2015. Accessed at
6. Inclusion of fish or fish oil in weight-loss diets for young adults:
effects on blood lipids. Int J Obes
(Lond). 2008 Jul;32(7):1105-12. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2008.64. Epub 2008 May 20.
Institute of Health. Omega Fatty Acids and Health.
8. Gómez-Pinilla F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain
function. Nature reviews Neuroscience. 2008;9(7):568-578.
9. Kohli P, Levy BD. Resolvins and protectins: mediating solutions to
inflammation. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2009;158(4):960-971.
10. Vedin I, Cederholm T, Freund Levi Y, Basun H, Garlind A, Faxén Irving
G, Jönhagen ME, Vessby B, Wahlund LO, Palmblad J. Effects of docosahexaenoic
acid-rich n-3 fatty acid supplementation on cytokine release from blood
mononuclear leukocytes: the OmegAD study.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jun;87(6):1616-22.
11. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3
essential fatty acids. Biomed
Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79.
12. Meyer BJ, Byrne MK, Collier C, et al. Baseline Omega-3 Index
Correlates with Aggressive and Attention Deficit Disorder Behaviours in Adult
Prisoners. Siegel A, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(3):e0120220.
13. Harris WS, von Schacky C. The Omega-3 Index: a new risk factor for
death from coronary heart disease? Preventive
Med. 2004;39: 212-220. pmid:15208005 doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2004.02.030
14. Von Schacky C. Omega-3 Index and Cardiovascular Health. Nutrients. 2014;6(2):799-814.
15. Gesch CB, Hammond SM, Hampson SE, Eves A, Crowder MJ. Influence of
supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial
behaviour of young adult prisoners. Randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Br J Psychiatry. 2002;181: 22-28.
pmid:12091259 doi: 10.1192/bjp.181.1.22
16. Mayo Clinic. Drugs and Supplements Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil,
17. Hall K, Bemis T, Brychta R, Chen KY, Courville A, Crayner AJ, et al.
Calorie for Calorie, Dietary Fat Restriction Results in More Body Fat Loss than
Carbohydrate Restriction in People with Obesity. Cell. September 2015;
18. FF, Iqbal N, Seshadri P,
Chicano KL, Daily DA, McGrory J, et al. A Low-Carbohydrate as Compared with a
Low-Fat Diet in Severe Obesity. N Engl J Med 2003; 348:2074-2081/DOI: