Does a low-fat diet increase triglycerides?

Healthy food

Healthy food (Nancy Stone/Tribune Newspapers)

It’s easy to assume that a low-fat diet is the healthy way to go, especially since a diet low in saturated and trans fat was recommended by government agencies back in the 1980s.

But in Tuesday’s Chicago Tribune story, which looked at the declining level of nutrition education among physicians, I referred to a 2003 published report that found that that the majority of internists and cardiologists who responded to the survey did not know a low-fat diet would increase the level of triglycerides in the blood. High triglycerides increase the risk of heart disease

Several concerned readers emailed, thinking I’d made a mistake. “In fact, my cardiologist told me just the opposite,” wrote one.

“I always thought that the trigyclerides would decrease with a low-fat diet,” wrote another. “Is your article correct?”

The confusion among both consumers and doctors illustrates why many are pushing to incorporate more nutrition education into the medical school curriculum.

It’s true that cutting out saturated fat and completely avoiding trans fat is beneficial and will definitely help to lower elevated triglycerides. But a trade-off can occur when other, healthier fats such as vegetable oils are replaced with certain carbs and this commonly occurs when people switch to a low-fat diet.

Increasing carbs, especially the starchy or refined type, tends to increase triglycerides  -- and lower HDL (the ‘good cholesterol.’)

The bottom line: Results from dietary changes depend on not only what you stop eating, but also what you replace those foods with.

 

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