A recent diet study profiled in the New York Times has got everybody talking. It supports the new dietary trend of “out with the carbs, in with the fat” that’s made diets like Atkins and Paleo so popular. Turns out that people who followed a low-carb high-fat diet lost more weight and body fat than people who ate a low-fat diet. A low-carb high-fat diet also dramatically decreased cardiovascular disease risk! But…how trustworthy are the results?
Researchers from Tulane University divided 148 racially diverse obese men and women into two groups. The low-carb, high-fat group was advised to eat only 40 grams of carbs a day (approximately two slices of bread!). The low-fat group was encouraged to consume less than 30% of calories from fat and 55% of calories from carbohydrates. Researchers tracked results at three different times during the year.
On average the low-carb, high-fat group lost 8 more pounds and 1.5% more fat mass than the low-fat eaters did. They also experienced a 1.7% greater gain in lean muscle mass—and that’s without changing their physical activity levels! The low-carb dieters also exhibited better metabolic health, showing a decrease in the markers of coronary artery disease, such as lower triglycerides and inflammation. Low-carb eaters also enjoyed a boost in healthful HDL cholesterol. The low-fat group experienced no such gains.
Without a doubt, this study confirms that a low-carb high-fat diet can be advantageous to health and weight loss, but is it necessary to go as low as 40 grams of carbohydrates? The low-carb group of dieters couldn’t seem to cut out that degree of carbs. They reported eating double, and sometimes triple, the 40-gram recommendation…but still kept carb intake half that of the low-fat group. The low-carb eaters also raised their protein intake by 18% on average, whereas the low-fat eaters replaced fat not with protein, but with even more carbohydrates!
While the study has received praise from health experts, some believe that perhaps it was less the low-carb high-fat diet and more the dietary and nutritional support the participants received that made it so effective. All dieters from both groups had access to nutritionists, community support, and “accountability measures,” which made it easier to stick with the program.
What we do know is that the days of following the federal government guidelines of a whopping 45-65% of your calories from carbs…and only 20-35% from fat, and an even more minuscule 10-35% from protein…are over!
Lead researcher Lydia Bazzano, M.D., Ph.D sums up the implications of the study the best: “The public perception is that a diet high in fat could not possibly be healthy, but in fact it is healthy and is doing an even better job of lowering cardiovascular risk, according to my study.”
So while you may not want to go as low as 40 grams a day, watching those carbs could be the key to shedding some pounds, melting away stubborn fat, and fine-tuning your health.