DIETING
December 27, 2016

Diets: Which Is Better — Low Carb or Low Fat?

What's the best way to lose weight in the New Year? Here are some answers.

If your New Year's resolutions include losing weight, you may be wondering if you should take the low-fat or the low-carb diet route. It may help to know that low-carb diets seem to have a slight edge, according to new research, but there are a few qualifications.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic reviewed 11 years’ worth of research on low carbohydrate diets. They analyzed diets like Atkins, South Beach and Paleo to see if they were both effective and safe, not only for weight loss, but for cardiovascular and metabolic health, too.

Considering how popular low-carb diets are and the vast amount of health claims they generate, there is surprisingly little research on the safety or value of following such a diet.

People who avoided things like bread, pasta and sugar lost anywhere from two and a half to nine pounds more than those who ate a low-fat diet, depending on the type of low-carb diet they followed.

Small Differences, Questionable Results

Following a low-carb diet for up to six months was found to be safe. But the amount of weight lost on low-carb diets was small compared to weight loss on low-fat diets, and its clinical significance was questionable, according to Heather Fields, lead author of the study and an internal medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic. This is particularly true since people who restrict carbohydrates often eat more meat, and some types of meat have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and an overall increased risk of death.

“We encourage patients to eat real food and avoid highly processed foods, especially processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, hot dogs and ham when following any particular diet,” Fields said, in a statement.

After six months, those on a low-carb diet lost about as much weight as those eating a low-fat diet, but the low-carb diet had a more immediate effect.

Considering how popular low-carb diets are and the number of health claims they generate, there is surprisingly little research on the safety or value of following such a diet, especially for an extended period of time.

All the studies in this review had limitations that raise questions about their results. Most depended on people’s dietary recall — what they remembered eating or not eating — a notably unreliable method of collecting information. The type of weight lost — whether from fat, water or muscle — was often not specified; and the source or quality of fats and proteins eaten by those following low-carb diets was also not always spelled out, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the effect of increased amounts of meat in the diet.

Perhaps the most confounding aspect about the studies examined was the lack of a consistent definition of “low carbohydrate.” Anything from 4 percent to 46 percent of calories from carbohydrates was considered low-carb.

Even with these problems, the studies still showed that people eating a low-carb diet did have a short-term weight loss without any adverse effects on their cholesterol, glucose, or blood pressure numbers — especially if they were careful about the kind of protein they chose. Bacon is not a good replacement for bread. After six months, those on a low-carb diet lost about as much weight as those eating a low-fat diet, but the low-carb diet had a more immediate effect. And for those trying to lose weight or manage blood sugar levels or insulin resistance, that may be the incentive needed to continue their effort.

Whatever method of weight loss you choose, it has to be something that fits into your lifestyle, something you can live with, and something that keeps you motivated to stick with it. Is it easier for you to give up breads, grains and potatoes or meat, cheese and mayo? You get to decide.

The study is published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

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