Diet options: Low-fat, low-carb or neither?

Diet options: Low-fat, low-carb or neither?

A new study suggests low-fat diets were no more successful than low-carb diets in achieving and maintaining weight loss success.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard’s School of Public Health explored the success rate of a low-fat diet. They analyzed data from 53 studies with 68,000 participants that were designed to measure the weight change between a low-fat diet and a higher-fat or low-carb diet.

The results showed that, on average, study participants who ate a low-fat diet lost and kept off 6 pounds after a year, while those who followed the low-carb diet lost 8.5 pounds.

“Despite the pervasive dogma that one needs to cut fat from their diet in order to lose weight, the existing scientific evidence does not support low-fat diets over other dietary interventions for long-term weight loss,” said Deirdre Tobia, a researcher in the Division of Preventive Medicine at BWH, in a news release.

Elizabeth Zawila, a registered dietitian at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital’s Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill., reinforces the fact that there is more than one way to lose weight.

“Some people may adapt well to a low-fat diet because they focus on their overall fat intake and the caloric deficit necessary to lose weight,” says Zawila. “Others might find success by focusing on portions, better meal planning or higher protein consumption.”

Zawila recommends that instead of always preaching the benefits of “low fat,” people instead focus on foods that are nutritionally dense, meaning it provide a lot of nutrition relative to its caloric content.

While fad diets come and go, it’s important to incorporate healthy eating habits into daily routines.

“The one thing that the weight loss study participants have in common, regardless of prescribed diet, is that they are more focused on what and how they eat,” says Zawila. “This increased mindfulness and awareness to eating habits should not be overshadowed by the type of diet you follow. Often it is this intentional increased awareness to nutrition habits that has the greatest impact.”

Follow these recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to incorporate a healthy eating plan into daily routines:

  • Focus on fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
  • Limit saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars

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  1. FINALLY!! Oh, so glad to see this type of information finally being spread through the healthcare system. There is no “one size fits all” approach. Fat is OK to eat! Focus on whole, real foods that are nutrient dense and avoid processed foods and added sugars. These facts are key to maintaining health in general, not just in your waist line.

  2. Portion control I believe is the key

  3. Dr. Ashwani Garg

    In my practice, I don’t like to talk about either carbs or fat. There are good and bad carbs just as there is good and bad fat. For example, an avocado is full of fat but also full of fiber. Similarly, an apple is full of sugar but supplies fiber and nutrients that fight cancer and heart disease. Oatmeal can reduce cholesterol, even though it’s a “carb”. Protein is not the exclusive domain of meat and dairy, but also is found in most veggies, whole grains and beans.

    I like to de-emphasize the focus on protein/carbs/fat and zero in on 1 nutrient that is deficient in nearly all Americans: Fiber. Aim for 40 grams or higher of fiber (Avg intake from all the processed foods, meat/cheese/egg/dairy in the US is about 1/4 of that, and USDA recommends 20 grams / day). If you follow the USDA dietary guidelines, you will definitely not lose weight. Throw the USDA guidelines out, and aim for most of your foods from intact, whole grains that are minimally processed; beans/peas/lentils, fruits and veggies. If you can increase these foods from less than 10% in the typical American diet, and increase to 90%, you will lose weight. Remember that 100-calorie packs of junk are equal to about 2 apples. The 2 apples will make people more full and prevent over-eating later. A baked potato is 200 calories, but is very satisfying. Just don’t top it with cheese, bacon and sour cream, and try veggie chili instead, or broccoli and some sauce. A great resource is the book “Full Plate Diet” because it emphasizes natural, whole, unprocessed foods, and minimization of dairy, meat, cheese, egg since those foods don’t contain fiber. Their companion program is at Whole Foods Market has a wonderful website where they have cooking videos, and recipes based on the concepts of high fiber, including free links to “Engine 2 Diet”. Fiber + water keeps a person full, and usually fibrous foods contain much fewer calories for the amount of food that people eat. Permanent weight loss is not achieved through pills, shakes, and supplements, but with long-lasting lifestyle changes, meal planning/cooking, mindful eating, exercise, and stress management. A doctor can help to find any medical issues that may be holding one back from weight loss, and in some cases medical/surgical intervention for obesity is necessary, but it should only be used after intensive behavioral changes are tried for a significant period of time.

  4. Rosemary Mueller
    Rosemary Mueller, MPH, RD, LDN November 4, 2015 at 4:51 pm · Reply

    Well said, Elizabeth! Healthy fat is an important component of satiety, as is protein. For some individuals who need to lose a significant amount of weight, there may be benefit to a balanced, moderately reduced carbohydrate, moderately higher protein regimen. The overriding key is truly lifestyle change and a lifelong commitment to movement/exercise. For individuals interested in a supervised weight management program, contact us at Advocate Weight Management at 847 990-5770.

    • Dr. Ashwani Garg

      Actually, I would argue that fiber is a most important component of satiety. When eating fibrous foods, usually one can eat larger portions than before. For example, 1/4 cup of olive oil = 500 calories. If you eat 10 apples, it is the SAME number of calories. Which of the 2 do you think will make you more full, 500 cal of oil or 500 cal of apples? Any plan that emphasizes fats/protein/carbs and not the whole intact foods is bound to fail. I agree that lifestyle change and lifelong commitment is important, but not just movement/exercise, but choosing whole, unprocessed/minimally processed plant foods, and minimizing dairy, eggs, cheese, meats, etc. For some more information go to http://WWW.FULLPLATELIVING.ORG and also PROTEINAHOLIC.COM – Dr. Garth Davis is actually a prominent and famous weight loss surgeon and has special qualifications to speak on this topic in his new book. I encourage you to read it! First chapter available free. full plate = full stomach and long term success. Emphasize LIVING not DIEting. There is no quick fix for obesity, only long term durable changes can help. Please keep away from any “weight management” program because they all fail in the long run.

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About the Author

Johnna Kelly
Johnna Kelly

Johnna Kelly, healthe news contributor, is a manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. She is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly 10 years as a public relations professional working for state and county government. During her time as a communications staffer for the Illinois General Assembly, she was integral in drafting and passing legislation creating Andrea's Law, the nation's first murderer registry. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local homeless shelter, enjoys traveling, photography and watching the Chicago Bulls.