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Researchers push high fat diet for weight loss

Sunday 14 Apr 2013 6:01 p.m.

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AUT University researchers want people to start eating more fat – the very thing that's supposed to make us all obese.

But professor Grant Schofield says his research shows it's possible that people can eat fat and get lean.

So could the 80 percent fat, 20 percent carbohydrate diet be the answer to our obesity epidemic, while also helping athletes perform better?

Nigel Harris has been loading up on fat to lose fat.

"This is breakfast," says Dr Harris, AUT senior lecturer of fitness and exercise science. "It's my breakfast shake of raspberries and full-fat coconut cream and cream and a little bit of chia seed. There's about 800 calories in that, about 80 grams of fat."

The AUT lecturer wanted to test the theory that, far from being the villain in the war against obesity, fat can actually help people shed weight.

The diet promotes eating lots of vegetables along with food containing natural fats – such as nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, avocado oil, unprocessed meat and full-fat dairy products.

"I lost 2 kilograms," says Dr Harris. "I wasn't trying to. I really didn't have any fat to lose. I lost 2 kilograms in total and of that, 1 kilogram of it was fat. So that's despite eating 3000 calories a day."

Professor Schofield says that's because eating a traditional high carbohydrate diet causes levels of the fat storage hormone, insulin, to rise, which stops some people from burning fat.

"You go down to the Ironman, it's an ultra-endurance event," he says. "A third of the field is overweight or obese and they're training 10 to 15 to 20 hours a week. But the simple fact is their high carb diets aren't allowing them to turn over to use fat as a fuel source. They're just getting tired and they're staying the same weight."

Professional triathlete and coach Bevan McKinnon says he used to carb load before races. Now he's eating fat. He's dropped weight and is performing better because filling up on fat stabilises his energy.

It's also had some other unintended consequences for McKinnon's high cholesterol levels.

"My partner was very scared that if I decided to starting eating a high fat diet that was just going to get worse," says McKinnon.

"The really amazing aspect of it all was that for the first time in nearly 10 years that my lipid profile had actually improved quite substantially and I'd never been able to achieve that on a normal diet."

The Ministry of Health says it's not aware of the diet. But it recommends people eat food from each of the four major food groups. It says eating a diet high in saturated fat increases people's risk of obesity and getting diseases like diabetes.

However, researchers at the university say it's time we stopped demonising fat and started embracing it. They say saturated fats are only bad when eaten with a lot of carbohydrates.

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