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Diet food dangers and why you need to avoid low-fat marketing promises

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Low-fat food dangers

Researchers warn about falling for so-called diet foods designed to help cut calories and lose weight. A University of Georgia study highlights how diet foods can cause liver damage, brain inflammation and make you fatter. There is good reason we should avoid low-fat food marketing promises.


Health conscious consumers can be easily lulled into the so-called diet food trap. Watching your fat intake is recommended for weight loss, making it reasonable to shop for foods labeled as diet products. But they don't always work and can actually back fire to make us fatter.

No fat often means lots of sugar'
According to University of Georgia researchers who found rats given diet foods gained weight and more, 'diet products' may be far worse than just eating a balanced diet.

In their experiment, the researchers fed rats foods that mimic the diet foods we find in the supermarket that are often higher in sugar.

Not only did the rats get fatter, but they also suffered from liver damage and brain inflammation. Though the study was done on rats, the finding might be enough to keep health conscious consumers away from what appear to be false promises from food manufacturers.

"Most so-called diet products containing low or no fat have an increased amount of sugar and are camouflaged under fancy names, giving the impression that they are healthy, but the reality is that those foods may damage the liver and lead to obesity as well," said Krzysztof Czaja, an associate professor of veterinary biosciences and diagnostic imaging in UGA's College of Veterinary Medicine, one of the study's key investigators in a media release.

Sugar and fat calories aren't equal either, which Czaja said is "troubling".

Rats given a low fat, higher sugar diet didn't consume more calories. The researchers found the rodents got fatter with a low-fat diet at half the amount of calories.

"Our research shows that in rats fed a low-fat, high-sugar diet, the efficiency of generating body fat is more than twice as high--in other words, rats consuming low-fat high-sugar diets need less than half the number of calories to generate the same amount of body fat," Czaja said.

The study

The experiment took place over a period of four-weeks. During that time the researchers looked at the rat's’ body weight, how many calories were consumed and body composition. The scientists also collected fecal samples in 3 groups of rats.

Group one was given a diet high in fat and sugar, a second group was fed a low-fat, high sugar diet and a third group ate a regular, balanced diet.

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The group given a normal diet fared far better than the other two groups of rodents.

The low-fat, high-sugar and high-fat, high-sugar groups developed liver inflammation, which was especially pronounced in the low-fat ‘diet food’ fed rodents.

One of the other key findings that has been confirmed in previous studies is that low-fat foods that have more sugar alter signals between the gut and brain to tell us when to stop eating because we're full.

Low-fat diets have been found repeatedly to lead to weight loss failure.

Czaja said the pronounced liver inflammation seen in the group given diet food "is a very dangerous situation, because the liver accumulating more fat mimics the effect of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease", which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Diet food and inflammation

Eating an unbalanced diet caused gut and brain inflammation. Czaja said it isn’t known if a balanced diet can reverse the damage done by eating a low-fat diet, high sugar diet.

Consumers should also be aware of meat with added sugar that can also promote inflammation and even cancer.

Scientists agree the incidence of type 2 diabetes, obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have been on the rise. All are a public health concern and stem from some sort of inflammatory process in the body.

The good news is, there are anti-inflammatory food choices that lower inflammation that could get you back on track eating a balanced and healthy diet.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that eating a balanced diet can keep the gut and brain healthy and help weight loss. Low fat foods that are marketed to consumers but have added sugar can alter gut bacteria, leading to liver damage, brain inflammation and could be making us fatter.

Image credit:
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