Low Fat Diets

Fat is necessary in our diets. It is one of the three macro-nutrients, along with protein and carbohydrates, which we cannot live without. However, health difficulties arise from poorly balanced fats in our diets, leading to high cholesterol and heart disease. Traditionally, low-fat, low-cholesterol diets have been prescribed for the condition of having high cholesterol, but diet recommendations for high cholesterol have continued to develop in complexity. Once the risk factor for heart disease develop, the best dieting method to treat these is not clear. Coronary heart disease has been linked to dietary fat, but it has been found that it is also related to fibre intake, exercise, and risk factors such as cigarette smoking and blood pressure. Simply reducing or eliminating saturated fats from the diet is not an immediate cure for heart disease.

'Good' and 'Bad' Cholesterol

Risk of heart disease is measured in levels of cholesterol in the body. The distinction between good and bad cholesterol is a simplification of research examples which have shown that coronary heart diseased is correlated with (but not necessarily caused by) high levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL/'bad') cholesterol in the body as well as low levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL/'good') cholesterol. It has been assumed that a reduction in LDL cholesterol and an increase in HDL cholesterol would reduce the risk of heart disease, but clinical trials have not actually proven this to be true. In some studies where patients were able to reduce their cholesterol, heart attacks were still suffered.

Gradual Weight Loss

It has also been proposed that, in some cases, the reduction of body fat, especially through rapid weight loss, can create a greater risk of heart disease. This is because the accumulated fat being burned must first be released into the bloodstream. If too much fat is released at once, this can lead to blockages and the health emergencies related to poor circulation and heart disease. Gradual weight loss is always the healthiest and safest option.

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Prevention

Overall, the greatest problems lie in secondary treatment (catching a disease early) and tertiary treatment (lessening the effects of a fully developed disease). Primary prevention that is, preventing heart disease and high cholesterol before the problem begins is the easiest stage to manage and the most important. Different sources of fat are known to be healthier than others. It is important to know that there are fewer saturated fats in higher quality meats. It is important to learn about the different types of fat available in one's diet to be able to plan a healthier lifestyle overall.

Successful Studies

Some studies have been conducted with positive results. One example showed that a combination of high dietary fibre, reduced saturated fats, an increase in Omega-3 fatty acids, and an increase in antioxidant vitamins and minerals led to a modest reduction in cholesterol and weight loss over two years. Importantly, this also led to a reduction in heart attacks, 42% reduced deaths by heart attack, and 45% reduction of total mortality when compared to the study's control group. Another successful study showed that a Mediterranean-type diet, with a modest reduction in total and saturated fat, an increase in Omega-3 fatty acids from vegetables and fish led to a 70% reduction in heart attacks, with reduced heart-attack-related mortality after two years. These studies concluded that the most effective diet for secondary prevention of heart disease is not a reduction in saturated fat and cholesterol, but rather an increase in polyunsaturated fats of the Omega-3 and Omega-6 varieties.