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Rating Low-Fat Diets for Seniors

The Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds Diet for Seniors

This diet book, written by a physician and a nutritionist team from Brown University, espouses neither a low fat diet nor a low-carbohydrate diet. In fact, it's not really a diet book, if by "diet" you mean a weight-loss plan. Rather, Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds is a book about healthy eating, with weight loss as a side benefit.

Quick Take


  • A healthy diet modeled after the traditional diets of people in Mediterranean countries
  • Higher in fat than most diets, with much of the fat coming from olive oil
  • Includes lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, fruit, and whole grains
  • Recommends drinking one to two glasses of red wine a day

This Diet Is Best For

People who like vegetables and whole grains and feel they would benefit from the more liberal dietary guidelines the authors advocate

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Those who have a problem with alcohol and those who feel they need more specific dietary guidelines.

The Premise

Kevin Vigilante, clinical associate professor of medicine at Brown, and co-author Mary Flynn, a nutritionist and Brown faculty member, advocate the Mediterranean style of eating, a diet that is rich in olive oil, fish, vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils and includes a daily glass or two of red wine. Research confirms that the Mediterranean diet lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of cancer, and this book explains why and how.

In addition, the authors "expose the failures, false promises, and potential dangers of low fat diets," as well as those of the popular high fat (and low-carbohydrate) diets. Vigilante and Flynn also acknowledge the importance of exercise but say you can get the exercise you need to lose weight and stay healthy without becoming a "gym rat."

The authors point out that some of the largest consumers of olive oil, such as people who live in Spain, are also among those with the longest life spans. Moreover, the diet promises to help prevent killer diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, which become so much more common with age.

The Rationale

Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet has, for thousands of years, resulted in some of the lowest rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in the world. Much of the research is discussed in the book, which has an impressive 300 references. The authors disagree with the official diets of the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, which recommend limiting fat intake to 30 percent of calories.

Rather, they say that cutting back on fat can backfire, leaving you hungry and with a high level of risky fats in your blood. The Mediterranean diet provides about 40 percent of calories from fat, primarily from olive oil, which has heart-healthy properties. They maintain, and provide the science to explain, that the right kind of fat actually helps you stay healthy and lose weight.

Eating on the Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds Diet

The book provides a week's worth of menus for a 1,500-calorie and a 2,000-calorie diet, along with about 75 recipes for healthy dishes that fit the Mediterranean eating style. The diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil.

Four tablespoons of olive oil are allowed on the 1,500-calorie-a-day diet while 6 tablespoons are allowed on the 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, which doesn't leave a lot of room for "cheats." The diets provided aren't prescriptive for weight loss; the authors advise that you simply eat fewer calories if you don't lose weight.

Because of its heart-protective properties, a glass or two of red wine a day is included in the Mediterranean diet. It's unclear whether the calories from the wine are included in the two diets, as the sample menus don't list wine, but throughout the book the authors recommend that one should drink it.

What the Experts Say

The American Heart Association cautiously acknowledges that the incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is lower than in the United States. But it points out that other lifestyle factors may play just as important a role in reducing risk. While some experts have researched the Mediterranean diet and are advocates of it, others believe the diet is an open invitation to overeat.

The Mediterranean-style diet the authors promote is generally an excellent one that incorporates all the foods that nutrition experts say we should eat more of. And it also advises cutting back on foods we eat too much of, such as meat, processed foods, and high fat junk. Some experts fear that the diet is too liberal and can easily result in eating too many calories because of the higher fat content.

And several experts have a problem with the recommendation to drink a glass or two of red wine each day, fearing it could open the door to drinking problems. If you currently take any medication, be sure to check with your doctor about any potential interactions. You may also fall short of calcium and vitamin D since the authors don't emphasize low fat dairy products or supplements, putting you at increased risk for osteoporosis.

The authors claim that because the diet isn't high in protein, which leeches calcium out of the body, less calcium is needed to maintain healthy bones. However, to be safe, take supplemental calcium and vitamin D to ensure healthy bones.

Calorie quota: There is no set calorie limit. Sample menus are provided for 1,500- and 2,000-calorie diets.

Yes: Olive oil, red wine, vegetables, beans, lentils, fruit

No: Reduced-fat foods, hydrogenated fats, and foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products

Other similar diets: The Origin Diet

To learn more about senior health, see:


Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D. is the author of seven books, including Foods for Better Health, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, and Super Nutrition After 50. Webb also writes about health and nutrition for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Fitness, Parade, Men's Fitness, and Redbook. She is a regular columnist for Woman's Day and Prevention magazines, a contributing writer for The New York Times, the associate editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter, and a writer for the American Botanical Council.

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. is a nutrition consultant and writer. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Super Nutrition After 50 and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. Ward is a contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition newsletter and a contributing writer for She also writes for publications such as Parenting magazine and The Boston Globe.