Low Fat Diets: How Low is Too Low?

Low Fat Diets: How Low is Too Low?

When I got my bloodwork done 2 months ago, I discovered that in one year I had dropped from a perfectly normal HDL (good) cholesterol level to just below normal. In this article, I’ll share why this happened, how I fixed it, and what you can do to make sure you keep your fat intake just right.

When I took the results to my holistic doc, the first thing he said was I needed to start eating more fat. Duh. But you can imagine my initial reaction!

Why is fat important?

If you eliminate all overt fats (nuts, seeds, etc.), you risk becoming deficient in Omega 3 and fat soluble vitamins. Beyond the most familiar function, which is to store energy on your body (I store mine in my thighs :)), dietary fat serves some important purposes.

Our cell membranes are made up of fat. It’s also necessary for transporting Vitamins A, D, E, and K through the bloodstream. Cholesterol, which isn’t technically a fat, is the precursor to some hormones, but it’s also one thing that we produce ourselves and shouldn’t have to consume. In addition, essential fatty acids play an important role in brain development and managing inflammation. (source)

Read my article on how my too-low fat intake affected my acne. I personally wouldn’t just assume everything is okay because you don’t notice any symptoms. I’d get a blood test.

Can fat drop too low?

The World Health Organization recommends 15-20% of our calories from dietary fat.

Those on a low fat vegan diet are concerned about keeping fat levels low. First, I want to clarify that we’re not talking about buying “low fat” processed junk at the grocery store. We’re talking about a diet naturally low in fat because it’s made up of almost entirely fruits and veggies.

But your body does need some fat, so avoiding all overt fats is not the answer either.

Since adopting a low fat high raw diet 6 months before my bloodwork, I had been limiting my fat intake to about 6-8% on average. I wasn’t eating much in the way of overt fats (nuts, seeds, avocado), and it was keeping my weight stable. Yet, I was surprised when I found out my HDL had dropped from 61 to 41. The reference range is 46-199.

This post on fat in vegan diets by Ginny Messina, the Vegan R.D., also provides a good perspective on dietary fat.

Like anyone else, I’m always learning, and I feel it’s my responsibility to share with you the bad as well as the good.  Got it?

Thankfully, I was able to get my fat back to a healthy level with a month of supplementing with Omega 3 and making sure I had some overt fats every day.

Too much or too little? How do you know?

It seems that the ideal fat intake is individual to you, based on your current diet and how it makes you feel. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re on the right track:

  • Listen to your body.
    Are you tired and groggy all the time? Perhaps try reducing your fat intake (and increasing fresh fruit) and see if that helps.
  • Get your blood tested with a full lipid panel.
    See where your levels fall.
  • Supplement with Omega 3, if needed.
    If your lab results show you are off, you may want to supplement with a daily Omega 3 for a month or at least until your number comes back up. I use Ovega-3 which is an algae-based source of DHA and EPA.
  • Make sure to get nuts, seeds, or avocado every day.
    The amount will vary based on the calories in your diet, but for me at 1600 daily calories, I try to get 2 Tbsp nuts and seeds or 1/4 avocado each day along with my fruits and veggies. A tablespoon of ground flax will cover your daily Omega 3 needs for only 30 calories. Chia and hemp seeds are also great to include.

 

Now your turn. How do you make sure to get your necessary fats every day? Leave it in the comments.

More Unforgettable Insight

15 Responses to Low Fat Diets: How Low is Too Low?

  1. Just starting on this journey, I have a lot of unwanted fat stored on my body as it is. My thinking is that I don’t need any overt fats in my diet because I have so much already. Am I on the right track? And of course, when I do get to my ideal weight/shape/fat amount that makes me feel good on the inside and out, then I can start to incorporate closer to 10+% in terms of fat, because at that point I won’t be storing it, but burning it?

    • Rigel, I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, but my feeling is that even though you are losing weight, I still think it’s important to keep *some* overt fats in your diet for a few reasons.

      Some vitamins are fat-soluble so you want to make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for a nutrient deficiency. Eliminating overt fats also has the potential to affect your hormonal balance; it’s common in fruitarians (90-5-5) to have a low sex drive, and no one wants that!

      That being said, the amount for you to consume on 80/10/10 is very low anyways. Having a couple Tbsps ground flax seed a day won’t weigh you down or slow your weight loss! According to Doug Graham, it is the average over time rather than each day so you could go overt-free for a few days then have a higher intake (say, a full avocado).

      Keep in mind that as you lose weight you want to develop healthy habits and eat like you’re going to once you are at goal and ready to maintain. So if you consistently include a small amount of overt fats as you lose, you will learn control and will be developing those healthy habits.

      Here are a couple of good articles from other lfrv bloggers on this topic: http://www.incrediblesmoothies.com/nutrition/low-fat-diets-how-low-should-you-go-and-should-you-cut-out-all-overt-fats/ and http://www.fitonraw.com/2011/04/should-you-cut-out-all-overt-fats/

  2. Just starting on this journey, I have a lot of unwanted fat stored on my body as it is. My thinking is that I don’t need any overt fats in my diet because I have so much already. Am I on the right track? And of course, when I do get to my ideal weight/shape/fat amount that makes me feel good on the inside and out, then I can start to incorporate closer to 10+% in terms of fat, because at that point I won’t be storing it, but burning it?

    • Rigel, I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, but my feeling is that even though you are losing weight, I still think it’s important to keep *some* overt fats in your diet for a few reasons.

      Some vitamins are fat-soluble so you want to make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for a nutrient deficiency. Eliminating overt fats also has the potential to affect your hormonal balance; it’s common in fruitarians (90-5-5) to have a low sex drive, and no one wants that!

      That being said, the amount for you to consume on 80/10/10 is very low anyways. Having a couple Tbsps ground flax seed a day won’t weigh you down or slow your weight loss! According to Doug Graham, it is the average over time rather than each day so you could go overt-free for a few days then have a higher intake (say, a full avocado).

      Keep in mind that as you lose weight you want to develop healthy habits and eat like you’re going to once you are at goal and ready to maintain. So if you consistently include a small amount of overt fats as you lose, you will learn control and will be developing those healthy habits.

      Here are a couple of good articles from other lfrv bloggers on this topic: http://www.incrediblesmoothies.com/nutrition/low-fat-diets-how-low-should-you-go-and-should-you-cut-out-all-overt-fats/ and http://www.fitonraw.com/2011/04/should-you-cut-out-all-overt-fats/

  3. I am always wondering exactly how much fat is enough. I followed the 80/10/10 diet and like you didn’t have any overt fats for about 4-5 months and felt great. Then I started to eat more overts which didn’t make me feel good a lot of the time. My body fat percentage had dropped to about 16% then. Now I’ve gone the other way and have been eating far too much fat lately and need to lose weight. I think whole foods are the way to go to get your fats but I can’t help myself and use oils too at the moment. Thank you for sharing this with Healthy Vegan Fridays.

    • Katherine, my body fat percentage is about 16-17% right now. I think my strength training helps me with that as much as the diet. I agree that I don’t feel as good when I add extra fat but that whole foods fats are the way to go. I’ve found it doesn’t take too much to get the right balance for me. So far, just a couple of tbsp of nuts or seeds or 1/4 avocado though I’m still adjusting the ideal amount. I understand – once you add fats, it’s harder to limit yourself than if you weren’t eating them at all!

  4. I am always wondering exactly how much fat is enough. I followed the 80/10/10 diet and like you didn’t have any overt fats for about 4-5 months and felt great. Then I started to eat more overts which didn’t make me feel good a lot of the time. My body fat percentage had dropped to about 16% then. Now I’ve gone the other way and have been eating far too much fat lately and need to lose weight. I think whole foods are the way to go to get your fats but I can’t help myself and use oils too at the moment. Thank you for sharing this with Healthy Vegan Fridays.

    • Katherine, my body fat percentage is about 16-17% right now. I think my strength training helps me with that as much as the diet. I agree that I don’t feel as good when I add extra fat but that whole foods fats are the way to go. I’ve found it doesn’t take too much to get the right balance for me. So far, just a couple of tbsp of nuts or seeds or 1/4 avocado though I’m still adjusting the ideal amount. I understand – once you add fats, it’s harder to limit yourself than if you weren’t eating them at all!

  5. Nice post on fats! I get my fats from whole food sources too– mainly a variety of nuts, seeds, nut butters and avocado. Delicious coconut butter and cacao contributes too! I definitely minimize added oils. After living very low-fat many years ago, I have learned that whole-food plant-sourced fats are healthy and I have overcome my fear of dietary fats automatically equaling body fat. I feel so much better eating them (they’re satiating!!) and my skin has completely changed and cleared up.

    • Corinne, thanks for sharing. It’s nice to hear your skin cleared up. I’m working on that right now and having a little fat in my diet seems to help.

  6. Nice post on fats! I get my fats from whole food sources too– mainly a variety of nuts, seeds, nut butters and avocado. Delicious coconut butter and cacao contributes too! I definitely minimize added oils. After living very low-fat many years ago, I have learned that whole-food plant-sourced fats are healthy and I have overcome my fear of dietary fats automatically equaling body fat. I feel so much better eating them (they’re satiating!!) and my skin has completely changed and cleared up.

    • Corinne, thanks for sharing. It’s nice to hear your skin cleared up. I’m working on that right now and having a little fat in my diet seems to help.

  7. a large percentage of individuals who do not eat fish or seafood regularly do not have optimal levels of DHA – even those eating walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds on a regular basis. For DHA levels sufficient to maintain brain health throughout life, a healthy diet (even with plenty of ALA-rich foods) simply may not be enough. This may be more important for males as they age. DHA deficiency carries dangerous risks and supplementation is the sensible choice.
    https://www.drfuhrman.com/library/health_benefits_omega_3.aspx

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