Low carb versus low fat? I hear both my buddies in the gym and chubby women on the bus arguing.
Now diet is not a dirty word, but merely means what we consume. That said, many people try specific diets for weight loss or more specifically fat loss.
Whether you are an average couch potato who wants to lose a few pounds of spare tire or a bodybuilder knowledgeable about nutrition, there are certain trends in diets and types of diets that mirror them.
But despite seemingly endless dieting, the world keeps getting fatter; there is an obesity epidemic that affects couch potatoes and serious bodybuilders and other athletes as well. This article is based in part on research by Christopher Gardiner, director of nutritional studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.
Gardiner pooled data across a number of different studies on different diet types across the years. He also is running his own studies including one where he assigned 311 obese women to one of four diets ranging from very low carb (Atkins), middle of the road diets (Zone and LEARN diets), and very low fat (Ornish).
Read on for his results. Basically, any diet can work but most dieting attempts fail.
A “balanced diet” used to be touted, and balanced is good, but people kept getting fatter,
Then for decades, low fat diets were the rage. A prime although extreme example is the Dean Ornish Diet. Other than banned foods such as fats and oils, nuts and seeds, avocados, refined carbs like sugars and white rice/white flour, you can eat all you want. This pretty much means fruits, veggies, and grains. Fats are about 10-20% of your caloric intake.
I followed the Ornish diet and stayed relatively trim and muscular (lots of beans for protein etc.) for years. But the diet is not especially easy to stick to especially when traveling, entertaining, during the holidays, or if you simply like food!
After the low fat diet rage we had still, as a group, gotten fatter. Clearly simply low fat is not the answer.
The “low carb” diets came next with the Atkins Diet being an extreme example. It allows eating plenty of meats and veggies (no restrictions on many foods). Bacon, eggs, steak, salads (no croutons!), broccoli, etc.
Low carb is popular and like low fat it can work. For years I followed a very low carb diet and could even have several glasses of wine most nights with no problem and keep my bodyfat low. It still works for me although as I’ve aged I need to be more restrictive of alcohol in order for it to work well.
Still, although it can absolutely work, in general the population got fatter during the low carb dieting craze.
So what did Gardner discover about low carb versus low fat?
After one year, in Gardner’s study, weight loss ranged from a lot (30-40 pounds) to even gaining a few pounds. The average participant lost very little weight! Average weight loss ranged from 10 pounds for Atkins to 3 ½ pounds for the Zone Diet. LEARN was 6 pounds average, and Ornish was 5 pounds.
Now all diets used high quality foods: organic vegetables, pastured grown chicken and eggs, grass feed beef, etc. and plenty of fiber.
None of these results were impressive! Obviously it is not diet alone that matters.
There is some evidence that if you are insulin resistant (and there is no easy test) that low carb is better for weight loss for you.
Gardiner’s studies are ongoing, and his advice for losing weight today is very simple: focus on quality food, eliminate processed sugars as much as possible, less packaged and processed foods, and “go to the farmers market and buy what’s fresh.”
And I’ll add, together with healthy foods (whether low carb, low fat, balanced, whatever), you need to exercise, ideally resistance exercises as well as aerobic exercise like walking, running, or biking.
So fat loss? It’s not just diet. But you knew that right? So get off your butt and do some exercise!