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Monday, 31 August, 1998, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Fat strikes back
Cutting back drastically on fatty food may be bad for your health
Eating an extremely low fat diet may be bad for your heart, according to new research.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says eating a low fat diet can reduce the risk of heart disease.

But it claims that reducing fat to extremely low levels - less than 15% of calorie intake - may provide no additional benefits and could lead to short-term disadvantages.

In a statement in the current edition of Circulation magazine, the AHA's Nutrition Committee says very low fat diets can increase the presence of triglycerides, the chemical form in which fat is stored in the body.

Triglycerides decrease the amount of HDL cholesterol, the non-harmful form of cholesterol. People with low levels of HDL cholesterol are thought to be at higher risk of heart disease.

Exercise and weight loss can help to raise levels.

'Good' cholesterol

Not enough fat could damage the heart
The AHA says there is no firm proof that a very low fat diet alone is responsible for the reduction of HDL cholesterol as people on very low fat diets may also have lost a lot of weight, increased their consumption of fruit and vegetables and increased the amount of exercise they do - all of which could also lead to lower HDL levels.

The AHA says that very low fat diets could also be low in vitamins and minerals.

"A label touting fat-free or low-fat should not be the only criterion used when making dietary modifications aimed at reducing the total and saturated fat content of the diet," said Alice Lichtenstein, a member of the AHA's Nutrition Committee.

"The level of vitamins and minerals as well as calories must also be taken into consideration."

Serious risks

The report warns that young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with diabetes could face serious health risks if they go on a very low fat diet.

Experts say that it is best to stick to a diet where fat provides no more than 30% of total calories, with under 10% of that coming from saturated fats, including animal fat.

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