Low Fat vs Low Carb Diets

Smooth peanut butter vs crunchy peanut butter? Window seat vs Aisle seat? Toilet paper roll hung over or under? These are some arguments which have been dividing humans for decades. Loyalists to both sides of the argument will extort the benefits of their belief until they are blue in the face resulting in ongoing disagreements which will never be solved.

In the nutrition world, a similar sort of argument has been whether low-fat diets or low carbohydrate diets are better for generating weight loss in healthy populations. Now there are specific arguments for carbohydrate restriction in persons with Diabetes, Insulin Resistance, or PCOS, or specific fat restrictions for high cholesterol or fatty liver issues; but this is talking about the otherwise healthy population who are trying to lose weight or get into a healthy lifestyle. 

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has pitted these long term competing diet strategies against each other and found that both are equally successful at generating weight loss as long as participants maintained an overall calorie deficit. The study looked at a large group of people who were asked to follow either a low carbohydrate or a low-fat diet for a 12 month period. Both groups were made to maintain an average daily calorie deficit of 500-600kcal per day.

At the end of the 12 months periods, both groups recorded an average weight loss of 5-6kg and a loss of 2% Body fat. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, it would equate to an average weight loss of 5-10% body weight which is enough to reduce many risk factors associated with Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease and Metabolic Syndrome. Now other more restrictive diets may generate a more rapid weight loss but as this was a slow gradual weight loss sustained over a longer period of time, participants will be less likely to experience re-bound weight gain and maintain their weight loss.

This means that for the majority of the population who are trying to lose weight, the macronutrient breakdown of their diets is less important than the overall calorie (or energy) intake. Maintaining a calorie deficit just means eating less overall than you usually would, which could be through choosing less energy dense foods, reducing portions, swapping sugary drinks for water and/or reducing your alcohol intake; it doesn’t have to mean restricting yourself and being miserable.

Calorie saving tips:

  • Swap soft drinks for sparkling mineral water with a squeeze of lemon or lime.
  • Snack on fruits or vegetables at work instead of biscuits and cake.
  • When watching tv of an evening, snack on popcorn instead of crisps/crackers; or make yourself a hot drink instead.
  • If going out for a meal, share an entrée or dessert and order extra vegetables.
  • Order a small coffee instead of a large size.
  • Make sure that your dinner plate contains more vegetables than meat or carbohydrates (rice/pasta/potato).
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