Nutrition Divided: Low-Fat vs. High-Fat Diet

Nutrition Divided: Low-Fat vs. High-Fat Diet | The Paleo Diet

The amount of debate in the nutrition field has never been greater.1, 2, 3 As Americans (and everyone in the world) gets progressively more obese, we seem to be digging into our respective trenches, saying ‘this diet or that diet will cure all ills’.4, 5 This is a sad waste of resources, and a little bit irresponsible, especially in a field where the endgame should be helping people – not furthering one’s own agenda. Sure, you may say I’m biased as well, writing this piece for The Paleo Diet. But the bottom line is, I care about people’s health more than I care about making money.

If you don’t believe me, go ahead and take a look at my website Eat Clean Train Clean. See if I have anything for sale, or any agenda to be pushed. You will find that I have a nutrition lecture, with slides and scientific references for sale, for a whopping $2 – and that’s it. And it isn’t a ‘pro-Paleo, bash everything else’ lecture. It highlights the science behind good nutritional choices. The long-winded opening here is simply to make a point: everyone who has a ‘big voice’ in nutrition – also has an agenda.6, 7, 8 And they’re not going to stray from their agenda, because it might mean less book sales, less money and less of a voice.

Possibly the single best example of this is Dean Ornish.9 While at first glance Ornish seems like a great nutrition icon (after all, he pushes low fat diets, lots of vegetables, etc.) if you dig a little below the surface, you will find some rot.10 Okay – lots of rot.11 Did you know that Ornish is paid by McDonald’s?12 Yes – that McDonald’s. ConAgra and Pepsi Co. also have Ornish on the payroll.13, 14 Since we all clearly know that McDonald’s, ConAgra and Pepsi are making us all healthier, we really should applaud Dr. Ornish for his work – right? My tongue is planted firmly in cheek on that one.

Nonetheless, because I firmly believe in unbiased science, if Ornish’s approach had some scientific merit, I would actually applaud him for some of his work (the Big Food work is never going to get my approval, but to each their own). But the simple fact is – Ornish’s approach has little-to-no scientific merit.15, 16 While he is indeed correct in stating that we all likely need to eat more vegetables, he goes far away from good science by virtually ignoring the huge problem of sugar – which is undoubtedly one of our biggest dietary downfall in the last 50 years.17, 18, 19 Is it a mere coincidence that if Ornish bashed sugar, he might lose his McDonald’s, ConAgra and Pepsi deals? I think any astute reader will clearly be able to draw the obvious conclusion here.

If you haven’t caught on to the fact that your favorite dietary “guru” may just be cashing in on things, it may be a good idea to take a look around and do some internet searching – just to see what really goes on behind the scenes. If one wants to see some clear bias in action, go ahead and read Dr. Ornish’s piece for The New York Times.20 But this isn’t to simply bash Ornish – like any headline-grabbing nutrition guru, he does offer some good advice. Because when it comes to nutrition, there are always some broad agreements that can be made.21, 22

No one will ever debate that organic vegetables should be included in every diet.23, 24 That is because they have clearly been found to support many different neuronal and physiologic processes.25 26, 27 Though Ornish himself ignores this next point (another nail in the coffin for his bias) almost everyone else agrees that good amounts of healthy fats are very beneficial (elements such as extra virgin olive oil, avocados, almonds, etc.).28, 29, 30 Another common point that nearly everyone agrees on? Eating organic, lean protein.31, 32, 33 This means wild caught salmon, organic chicken and other muscle-building sources of essential amino acids.

Another point that – again, everyone but seemingly Ornish – can agree on? Keep sugar to a minimum – especially added sugar.34, 35 Even the World Health Organization agrees on this point.36 If Ornish’s bias isn’t crystal clear by now, then I’d be shocked. You can also clearly see that I have yet to mention a Paleo Diet. Again, I am not biased. Does it happen that all of these points fall squarely under the Paleo Diet umbrella? Sure. But all of these elements also fall under the Mediterranean Diet umbrella – which nearly everyone in the nutrition world agrees – is extremely healthy.37 And guess what? The science backs up that diet, too.38

Even Dr. David Perlmutter’s often controversial ketogenic diet approach, is substantiated by sound scientific research.39 While one could argue the science doesn’t quite back up all of Dr. Perlmutter’s conclusions yet, the point is he has salient scientific data to support his claims. And I do think one day he will end up being right about nearly everything he states in his book. Only time – and more scientific research – will tell.

So, when you look to indulge in a healthy diet, they may be confused by all of the noise in the media. At that point, I think it is important readers look to the science. And what does the science say? Avoid lots of sugar, eat lots of vegetables, eat lots of healthy fats, and consume quality sources of protein.40 That is all you really need, to put together a healthy diet.

Another huge issue here, which seemingly is only hinted at, is that people have trouble sticking to any diet.41 That is another discussion for another day, but the human factor must be weighed into the scientific debate, as well. The bottom line is, take care of yourself, worry only about your health, and not the back-and-forth bantering that goes on in the media.

There is very little new in the world of nutrition, and the same foods which have been helping humans thrive for centuries, will also be the ones we should keep consuming, since our physiology will not change enough by the time I’m dead, or you are dead, to warrant brand new food choices. If you are overweight, think of all the food choices that led you to this state. Too much sugar? Too many processed foods? Not enough vegetables? That’s what I thought. You don’t need to read biased, industry-backed propaganda to know what to eat. Intrinsically, you’ve known all along.



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[2] Kornhuber J. [What should we eat?]. Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr. 2014;82(6):309-10.

[3] Adams SM, Standridge JB. What should we eat? Evidence from observational studies. South Med J. 2006;99(7):744-8.

[4] Roth J, Qiang X, Marbán SL, Redelt H, Lowell BC. The obesity pandemic: where have we been and where are we going?. Obes Res. 2004;12 Suppl 2:88S-101S.

[5] Swinburn BA, Sacks G, Hall KD, et al. The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments. Lancet. 2011;378(9793):804-14.

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[17] Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516-24.

[18] Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013;16(4):434-9.

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[24] Liu RH. Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(3 Suppl):517S-520S.

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[26] Polidori MC, Praticó D, Mangialasche F, et al. High fruit and vegetable intake is positively correlated with antioxidant status and cognitive performance in healthy subjects. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009;17(4):921-7.

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[29] De roos N, Schouten E, Katan M. Consumption of a solid fat rich in lauric acid results in a more favorable serum lipid profile in healthy men and women than consumption of a solid fat rich in trans-fatty acids. J Nutr. 2001;131(2):242-5.

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[31] Brehm BJ, D’alessio DA. Benefits of high-protein weight loss diets: enough evidence for practice?. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2008;15(5):416-21.

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[33] Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(5):373-85.

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[40] Babio N, Bulló M, Salas-salvadó J. Mediterranean diet and metabolic syndrome: the evidence. Public Health Nutr. 2009;12(9A):1607-17.

[41] Thomas SL, Hyde J, Karunaratne A, Kausman R, Komesaroff PA. “They all work.when you stick to them”: a qualitative investigation of dieting, weight loss, and physical exercise, in obese individuals. Nutr J. 2008;7:34.

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“4” Comments

  1. I was at a crossroads between high fat and protein and fruits and veggie diet. I like the paleo diet and totally enjoyed this article. I’ve read Dr. Perlmutter’s books and agree with what he says about wheat and plaque causing plaque in the brain. Well written with a straight forward approach!

    Thank you,

  2. Very well said sir. I’ve taken up Paleo eating recently and although I’ve noticed some really awesome health benefits (including weight loss), I sometimes get slack from people about high fat vs low fat and that whole argument. I agree that we should do what’s best for ourselves and use a common sense approach. Thanks!

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  6. Casey,

    Very well written article. It’s nice when people include the resources for which they got their information. I agree with you 100% that the hardest part for people is not starting “a diet”, but keeping with it and forming healthy habits.

    It goes along with New Year’s resolutions. Everyone wants to lose weight and in January you see a ton more people in the gym. However, by February most of them have gone back to their old ways and start skipping the gym again.


  7. Pingback: Nutrition Divided: Low-Fat vs. High-Fat Diet | Health Fitness Daily

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