Weight loss: low carb vs low fat
Most of us desire an answer for effective weight loss. To carb or not to carb? Or is it fat or not to fat? Or do we take a little from column carb and a little from column fat?
The dietary pyramid of decades past is currently being flipped on its pointy head, but not without confusion and conjecture as to what dietary recommendations are best for us as a population as a whole. This can be a very difficult task, as each person is individual, with genes, physical make up, and set of circumstances unique to each of us. And these factors affect food choice, metabolism, and the impact of food and drink on our bodies and minds.
So whilst there mightn’t be a magic pill or quick fix to our weight woes, a recent meta-analysis has had a look at comparing various studies, looking at the results of low carbohydrate versus low fat dietary interventions.
What the studies say
The assessment included 17 trials, each with at least an 8-week dietary intervention, comparing effects of low carbohydrate (≤120gm carbohydrates/day; 20-30% daily energy intake) and low fat diets (≤30% daily energy intake) in obese and overweight individuals. (4)
Results favoured low carbohydrate diets for statistically significant weight loss (on average 94.8kg to 86.6kg), though weight loss was found in the low fat diet too (on average 94.1kg to 88.2kg). Other benefits included impact on cardiovascular risk factors, such as:
- Low carbohydrate diets saw increased HDL cholesterol and reduced triglyceride levels
- Low carbohydrate diets saw reduction on systolic blood pressure.
Weight loss remained consistent for both dietary interventions at 6 month and 12 month follow up. However studies are needed to assess adherence and impact of such restrictive diets in the long term.
Therefore, whilst effective in the short term, if you are considering a strictly low carbohydrate or low fat, it is best to do so under supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
The cause for concern
What we must keep in mind is that all fats and carbohydrates are NOT created equal. Just as I wouldn’t want people to assume that because I am Australian I am indefinitely donning stubbies and double pluggers, we shouldn’t assume that all fats and carbs have similar impact on our health.
Additionally, a low-carbohydrate is not necessarily ketogenic, which stipulates consuming even less carbohydrates per day than the study above (<50gm carbohydrate per day).
We discuss this further here.
Targeting macronutrients such as fats or carbohydrates may be a simple way to improve the health of the public, as we look for an intervention to address a recent rise in obesity.
The rise in obesity has raised alarm in healthcare circles due to the increased burden on the healthcare system, and individual quality of life. Issues arising from obesity include various organ dysfunction or failure, joint and musculoskeletal pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and the myriad of ramifications associated with type 2 diabetes. (1)
According to recent reports, financial cost of obesity is estimated at AUD$8.3-8.6 billion in direct and indirect costs. Then there is an additional AUD$49.9 billion in the form of lost wellbeing. (2,3)
However, weight is only one aspect of our health to consider.
Weight isn’t everything
In discussing weight loss, we are not asking everyone to become a super thin, protein shake sipping, fitness junkie. Weight needn’t be the only measure of health. Learning to listen to your body – energy levels, moods, sleep quality, digestive function – can better indicate whether you are in a state of wellness; and a state of wellness can be encouraged with eating an abundance of real, unprocessed food, in place of all the refined stuff.
As mentioned, we are all unique. Everyone has different parameters when it comes to diet, stress and exercise in order to feel their best. It may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you! Broadly speaking, ensure each day you move, eat mostly whole, fresh food, and find something to be grateful for. All these actions go a long way – in weight loss and in health.
- AIHW 2014, Burden of overweight and obesity, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Government, viewed March 2016
- Obesity Australia 2014, Obesity: A National Epidemic and its Impact on Australia, viewed March 2016
- PWC 2015, Weighing the Cost of Obesity: A Case for Action, viewed March 2016
- Sackner-Bernstein, J, Kanter, D, & Kaul, S 2015, ‘Dietary Intervention for Overweight and Obese Adults: Comparison of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets. A Meta-Analysis’, PLoS ONE, vol. 10, no. 10, pp. 1-19