Low Carb vs. Low Fat for Weight Loss – Which is Better? New Study Shows Truth.

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Chinkerfly

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Chinkerfly

Carbs and fat are hot topics when it comes to weight loss and overall health. Specifically, the debate between the two:

“Are carbs bad?”
“Not all carbs are bad.”
“What ARE carbs?”
“What kind of fat should I be eating?”
“What’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat?”
“Why is everyone putting coconut oil on everything?”
“Can you build muscle on a low carb diet?”

And on and on and on.

Not only is fat picking up traction in major press, but what health experts once touted as gospel truth – “Eat Low Fat” – is wrong. Most fat is good, and Carbs are getting a closer look.

What happened to Low-Fat?

Low-fat everything can be traced back most popularly to the 80’s and the (Spandex) workout craze. As it turns out, with the recent research findings, low-fat was not the way to go. Evidence? We’re now the most obese we’ve ever been as a nation, with 1-3 adults being obese, and children at an all-time high when it comes to being at risk for diabetes. With all the Jane Fonda workout tapes and low-fat cream cheese, cookies, drinks and cereals – you’d think our cholesterol would’ve gotten better and waist sizes would’ve shrank. Since that’s not where we are today, we’ll just go ahead and share the details and results from the new National Institutes of Health study.

The new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, included a racially diverse group of 150 men and women who were assigned to follow diets for one year that limited either the amount of carbs or fat that they could eat, but not overall calories.

Summary of Key Findings

Low carb + high fat = Healthier, leaner body.

The study found that people who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the infamous low-fat diet.

Following the end of the year-long study, according to the New York Times, “people in the low-carbohydrate group had lost about eight pounds more on average than those in the low-fat group. They had significantly greater reductions in body fat than the low-fat group, and improvements in lean muscle mass — even though neither group changed their levels of physical activity.”

Saturated fat combined with lower carb intake does not make your cholesterol go up.

The high-fat group were told to eat mostly protein and fat – eggs, chicken, tuna, etc. – and to choose foods with primarily unsaturated fats, like fish, olive oil and nuts, but also ate foods higher in saturated fat, such as cheese and red meat.

The result?

“In the end, people in the low-carbohydrate group saw markers of inflammation and triglycerides plunge. Their HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, rose more sharply than it did for people in the low-fat group.”

Blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL (“bad” cholesterol) stayed about the same for people in each group.

Saturated fat combined with lower carb intake could actually help your heart

The study went on to detail that the low-carbohydrate dieters “ultimately did so well that they managed to also lower their Framingham risk scores, which calculates the likelihood of a heart attack within the next 10 years.” The low-fat group on average had no improvement in their scores.

We’re no stranger to butter here at WellnessFX – if you’ve been following Dave Asprey, he’s been a big supporter of grass-fed butter, be it the star ingredient in your morning cup of coffee or a blood sugar stabilizing snack to produce healthy, high-performing kids.

You may lose weight on a low-fat diet, but not the healthy kind

The low-fat group did lose some weight, but according to the study, they appeared to lose more muscle than actual fat.

“They actually lost lean muscle mass, which is a bad thing,” Dr. Mozaffarian said in the NY Times piece. “Your balance of lean mass versus fat mass is much more important than weight. And that’s a very important finding that shows why the low-carb, high-fat group did so metabolically well.”

The Real Reason Why Low Fat Didn’t Work?

What’s important to remember is that right around the time society was switching to low fat, in the 80’s, was when processed foods were really taking off, i.e. cereal bars, crackers, muffins, and other processed carbohydrate-heavy foods.

What we’ve learned since then, when it comes to cholesterol health and heart disease risk, is that the relative size and number of LDL particles in the bloodstream matter. As detailed by Dr. Sniderman, “Two people can have the same overall LDL concentration, but very different levels of risk depending on whether they have a lot of small, dense LDL particles or a small number of large and fluffy particles.”

If you’re following along at home, you guessed it:

Eating refined carbohydrates = Raises the overall number of LDL particles and shift them toward the small, dense variety, which contributes to atherosclerosis.

Eating saturated fat = Tends to make LDL particles larger, more buoyant and less likely to clog arteries, “at least when carbohydrate intake is not high,” said Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, the former chairman of the American Heart Association’s dietary guidelines committee.

Unfortunately, these LDL particle number and size tests were not conducted in this particular NIH study.

How to Test Yourself

If you want to test the particle size and number (along with a basic overview of other cardiovascular health indicators including HDL, LDL, Triglycerides), we created an Advanced Heart Health WellnessFX panel.

View Advanced Heart Health Panel Now

Bonus: You can do this for yourself, without waiting for a doctor to order and schedule the labs. Questions after? Consult with a WellnessFX practitioner over the phone for an informative session that is tailored to your individual health needs.

Want more?

You can read more about fat and carbs in these blog posts:

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.