From the Headlines: Low Fat or Low Carb? Turns out, it doesn't matter.
You may have seen stories this week about the Diet Intervention Examining The Factors Interacting with Treatment Success (DIETFITS) study from the Journal of the American Medical Association which sought to put to rest the debate about what diet is best for weight loss, low fat or low carbohydrate. It was a randomized control trial (the gold standard of research), so there is a lot we can take away from the results.
The Nuts and Bolts
The study divided 609 adults, ages 18-50 who were overweight or obese but didn’t have other significant medical conditions. The participants were tested for specific genotypes that may respond better to low fat or low carb diets. They were assigned to either follow a low carb or low-fat diet for one year. They were not given a specific calorie guideline to follow, but they were given education—and a LOT of it. Participants attended 22 health education classes taught by registered dietitians where they learned about healthy eating habits, including reducing intake of refined sugar and flour, mindful eating, eliminating trans fats, and nutrient-dense foods.
Despite not being given specific calorie targets, both groups lost nearly the same amount of weight on average, a little over 10 pounds. LDL (bad cholesterol) went up in the low-carb group, but so did good cholesterol (HDL). The particular genotypes tested for in this study did not appear to have any effect on weight loss.
Diet quality likely means more than calorie counting. That is not to say that calories don’t matter—they certainly do, but research shows that calorie restriction and extreme diets often result in more weight gain in the long term. Study authors note that participants likely naturally lowered their calorie intake because they made better food choices—a result of the classes they attended. Study participants who lost the most weight reported a better relationship with food—they ate more mindfully and ate less in their cars and more at the table. Instead of calorie counting, they picked foods that were nutrient dense, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, eggs, beans, and nuts. They reduced their intake of refined flour, sugar, and trans fats.
What Does This Mean for You?
The best diet is the one you are able to maintain for life, not just a few months. If you can live without bread or pasta, then low carb may be for you. If you enjoy whole grains and lots of fruit, then low-fat may be your best option. What this study shows that is it neither carbs nor fat are the villains that they've been made out to be.
Instead of obsessively counting calories, work on the quality of your diet, selecting more fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Sit down and enjoy your food, pick foods that make your body feel good, and don’t beat yourself up if you indulge occasionally—just return to your healthier habits at the next meal.
Interested in getting healthy? Mary Rutan Hospital offers many options to help you achieve your goals. Learn more about healthy eating and lifestyle with our inexpensive, eight-week Creating a Healthy ME program (call 599-7005 for more information on exact start dates). Get support for your weight loss goals with our Weight Management Program; call for details at 599-7044.