All Diets Are High-Fat Diets

While driving down to the in-laws to spend the holidays, we listened to several of Jimmy Moore's podcast shows and one of them was a two-part Q&A with Dr. Mary C. Vernon, a physician who treats diabetes and other ailments by putting her patients on a low-carb diet.

At one point, she pointed out that all diets (presuming fat loss is the objective) are high fat diets.

Get it?

Let's say you have 50 pounds of excess fat you'd like to lose in order to get down to around 15% body fat or thereabouts. Assuming you'll be successful, what does that imply? It means, necessarily, that you're going to metabolize 50 pounds of your own fat in order to accomplish your objective. So, even if you do this by means of a "low-fat" diet, it's still high-fat, as you've got 50 pounds or 175,000 calories worth of fat to burn through. If you do it in six months, that's almost 1,000 calories of fat per day. Presuming a basal metabolism of 2,500 calories, and what you do eat is 20% fat (a "low-fat diet"), then you'd be eating 300 calories of fat and 1,200 calories of protein and carbs combined, for a total consumption of 1,500 calories. The remaining 1,000 would be coming from your own fat, released into your bloodstream and metabolized. Out of the total 2,500, 1,300, or about 50%, are calories from fat, and so:

All diets are high-fat diets. Now do you get it?

A couple of things to note is that, one, "experts" are full of it when they heckle low-carb on the basis that it's the spontaneous reduction in caloric intake that's responsible for success on low-carb. In essence, they're talking, pretending to make a point, but aren't saying anything. When you lose weight, fat doesn't just disappear, it gets "burned" and counts toward your caloric expenditure (if not your actual intake). Second, it's even more revealing when they make the point, as they often do, that dieters on low-carb often lower their actual intake to levels below similarly disposed dieters on low-fat or plain old calorie restriction.

What this all adds up to is that low-carb — beyond the metabolic advantages of stabilizing blood sugar and thus, insulin — is most effective over time at curbing hunger. In the end, this is the way to fat loss of important proportions. Either way, you've got to burn through your own fat, so it stands to reason that a diet that both satisfies your hunger relative to low-fat or "balanced" restricted, as well as keeps insulin low so your fat stores can more easily be released, is probably the best strategy you can implement. Moreover, the two are, of course, related. You're not hungry (or as hungry) because you're getting the energy from your own fat, while the low-fatter or balanced, "everything-in-moderation" genius is perpetually hungry because both diets typically involve a high proportion of carbohydrate, lots as crap frankenfood. Insulin remains elevated, body fat remains locked in, they're hungrier, lose less weight, fail, and then get invited on Oprah because misery loves company. (I was going to do a post on Oprah's 1,000th diet failure; still might, but it may instead come in bits & pieces asides and diversions.)

Want a laugh? Next time someone mentions that they're dieting, ask what method. When they tell you low-fat — so you can congratulate them on their "wisdom" and they can feel like one of the crowd, which other than being oxymoronic, curiously seems important to a lot of people — you can inquisitively inquire that you thought they meant they were trying to loose weight. When they say they are, you can say, oh, then you meant a high-fat diet. Get it? How long do you think you can keep that up?

When finally you've explained, and they've understood, you can then ask them how come they're not afraid of clogging their own arteries with all the fat they intend to be releasing into their own bloodstream.

Isn't the age of ignorance grand? Well, at least we can have some fun with it.


  1. DrK Nutrition on December 25, 2008 at 20:45

    Interesting take on the low fat diet theory. Never thought about it that way before. The biggest problem in society today is our know it all ignorance. Even the so called experts sometimes don't know what they're talking about.

    Great article.

  2. Lute Nikoley on December 25, 2008 at 21:00

    DrK "sometimes?"

  3. O Primitivo on December 26, 2008 at 04:43

    Acording to this study, a high-fat diet in pregnancy may cause changes in the foetal brain that will lead to over-eating and obesity early in life. Does this makes any sense?

  4. Stan (Heretic) on December 26, 2008 at 10:00

    Armour lard is partially hydrogenated, see:

    Lard and Hydrogenated Lard, Bha, Propyl Gallate and Citric Acid Added to Protect Flavor.

  5. Richard Nikoley on December 26, 2008 at 07:43

    I just found the full text of the study in the Journal of Neuroscience. At first glance from the article in the BBC, I think I have a clue as to why it's bunk, but I'll withhold speculation until I've read the study.

    Let me see if I can impress Stephan the neurobiologist with my unravelling skills, which are no match for his, but my guess is that this one won't take many skills.

  6. Richard Nikoley on December 26, 2008 at 08:55

    Well, I didn't get all the way through it, and I really don't know what to make of it, as it does not seem to be applicable to what we already know and have observed repeatedly in humans: when you replace carbs with fat, blood triglycerides dive (mine are at 47, my wife's dove 20 points to around 50 when I began feeding her more fat).

    I know nothing about rat physiology, biochemistry, or metabolism, so if rats fed a high-fat SYNTHETIC diet…

    "The constituents of the HFD (5.15 kcal/g) and BD (4.29 kcal/g), described in detail previously (Dourmashkin et al., 2006), were as follows. The BD was composed of 25% fat, consisting of 70% lard (Armour) and 30% vegetable oil (Wesson), and of 50% carbohydrate, consisting of 30% dextrin (MP Biomedicals), 30% cornstarch (VWR International), and 40% sucrose (Domino). The HFD was composed of 50% fat, consisting of 80% lard and 20% vegetable oil, and of 25% carbohydrate, consisting of 30% dextrin, 30% cornstarch, and 40% sucrose. Both diets contained 25% protein, composed of casein (Bioserv) with 0.3% L-cystine and DL-methionine (MP Biomedicals), and were supplemented with 4% minerals (Briggs N Salt Mixture, MP Biomedicals) and 3% vitamins (Vitamin Diet Fortification Mixture, MP Biomedicals). These diets are nutritionally complete and found to have no detrimental effects on the health of the animals."

    …I don't even know what to make of that in the case of rats. We see what happens to humans when they eat the highly synthetic diets they now eat: bad.

    My conclusion is that feeding any complex biologic organism a highly synthetic diet in place of their natural diet is going to produce weird results, never mind that different weird results can be obtained by altering the macro-nutrient composition of those synthetic diets.

    This is why the Paleo approach (works for rats, too), combined with what we already know by observation of the archeological record, modern h-gs, non-industrial and pastoral peoples, is unassailable, so far.

    And even if it is the case, in humans, that a high-fat diet during pregnancy produces offspring with neurological changes that stimulate hunger more profoundly than in lower-fat diets, it could very well be an evolutionary adaptation. Higher fat diets are generally associated with populations living farther north where food is far more difficult to obtain than in warmer and more tropical regions. But it seems to me that's just one more reason to eat real foods and let nature do the rest.

    I'm going to toss this up in an off-topic comment at Stephan's and see if he has any comment.

  7. Richard Nikoley on December 26, 2008 at 10:06

    Yep, that's why I never touch the garbage. I now get fresh lead lard from Prather Ramch near SF. A very nice friend picks it up for me at the farmer's market in the SF ferry terminal. It's like $6-7 per pint tub.

    Wonderful to cook with and no pork taste where you don't want it.

  8. O primitivo on December 28, 2008 at 17:27

    The problem is the press and some "scientific" people constantly publish information that makes absolutelly no sense at all. Very difficult for the average person to realise they're being manipulated all the time according to big companies' interests.

  9. Dr Dan on December 29, 2008 at 03:49

    I never thought about it like that but I like it!!!!

  10. Hannah on February 27, 2009 at 11:14

    At the end of the first link, it says,

    "Professor Ian MacDonald, an expert in the biology of obesity at the University of Nottingham, said there was clear evidence that nutrition before and soon after birth had an on-going impact on the genes.

    But he warned against extrapolating too readily from animal studies, particularly as the rats in the latest study were fed a very unnatural diet."


  11. Richard Nikoley on February 27, 2009 at 11:18

    Yea, who isn't, these days.

  12. Richard Nikoley on April 23, 2009 at 12:39

    Actually, a good friend of mine has gotten the three tubs I've got so far. This post was in December, which was before I took this picture, which, as you can see, is $10:

    Perhaps my friend gave me the impression it was less.

  13. golooraam on April 23, 2009 at 11:49


    Hi Richard, I have bought maybe 10 or so tubs of lard from Prather since I started consuming this wonderful product, and it has always been $10 a tub… how did you get 6 or 7?

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  17. Ginger on January 15, 2010 at 16:17

    Holy crap. Those poor rats, being fed all that unadulterated sugar! Dextrin, if memory serves, is usually a corn-derived sugar that resembles glucose, and is modified in the making of high-fructose corn syrup (i.e. the rats are being fed dried corn syrup, cornstarch, and table sugar). Then there’s the high quantity of (usually rancid) vegetable oils, and hydrogenated crap.

    It’s unsurprising that rats would do poorly on a diet high in crap fats when combined with what amounts to a sugar drip. It’s analogous to the SAD in terms of nutrient quality and type, I suppose, but we already knew that messes people up. Also, the “high fat” diet was higher in calories, which further skews the absolute intakes of things like polyunsaturates. All in all, poorly done.

    It would be interesting to see both those artificial diets put up against real food of varying macronutrient ratios. I imagine the rats would do far, far better, independent of fat content. I do find it fascinating that researchers fail to differentiate between the various subcategories of macronutrients, and take no care to check that the food is as presented (as in check to see if anything’s gone rancid or has otherwise been changed during processing).

    What things like this do make me wonder is why people on government assistance don’t get any nutrition information, as the people I see generally live on nothing but processed food. As a number of people on assistance have children, and continue having children, the trend concerns me. Programs like WIC tend to promote highly artificial, cheap, fortified food, and it shows in the people that eat it.

    Oh, well. I can get a 4lb bucket of real lard for $12. Stuff is GOOD. I’d feed it to a rat (and have)! :D

  18. 4-Day Spring Cleanse « Trikona Health Works on April 9, 2010 at 06:03

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    […] gordura?", parece que isso depende de se estar em défice calórico ou não. Quando se está em perda de peso, todas as dietas são high-fat. Em relação à proteína de soro de leite (em inglês, […]

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  21. Aaron Blaisdell on October 23, 2016 at 09:17

    Great post, Richard.

    I’ve had this same insight early on in my journey into the paleo, ancestral health, low carb scene. But I take it even further than Mary and would claim that even a person GAINING weight on a low-fat/high-carb maintenance diet is actually on a high-fat diet.


    Because after filling up their limited glycogen stores in liver and muscle, the rest of the carbohydrate being consumed is converted in the liver to palmitic acid (a SATURATED fat! *gasp!*) and trucked off as triglycerides to be stored in the practically unlimited capacity adipocytes (i.e., body fat).

    It’s high fat all the way, baby!

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