In a society plagued by obesity, diet has become a four-letter word, even though the need for effective weight management strategies has never been greater. An information overload exists concerning what foods should or should not be eaten, much of it conflicting, yet people must eat something.
Since the explosion in popularity of the Atkins diet in the early 1990s, there has been much controversy about the efficacy and long-term health of low carbohydrate diets as compared to low fat diets.
A study published in a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicineattempts to address some of the issues concerning low-carbohydrate diets and compares the results, in terms of weight loss and cardiovascular health improvements, to a typical low-fat diet as recommended by the American Heart Association.
Low Fat Diet
A low-fat diet is the gold standard diet endorsed by the American Heart Association for weight loss and increased cardiovascular health. The recommendation is to eat a diet with less than 30% of calories coming from fats, including several servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and whole grains rather than processed grains. Participants in the low fat study group followed a similar, calorie-restricted diet with a maximum of 30% of calories coming from fat.
Low Carb Diet
Low carbohydrate diets are frequently vilified by the medical establishment, in stark contrast to successful low carb dieters, many of whom are equally vocal in their support for a low carb style of eating. The low carb diet group followed a protocol which limited daily carbohydrates to 20 grams for the first three months of the diet with an increase of five grams of carbohydrates per day until a stable, desirable weight was achieved.
The most frequent criticism leveled at low carb eating is the acceptance of an unlimited amount of fat, particularly saturated fat, a risk factor for increasing blood cholesterol levels. Researchers attempted to address this concern by comparing cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and blood pressure of both low fat and low carb dieters during the study.
Low Fat Diet vs. Low Carb Diet Results
The low carb participants showed statistically similar amounts of weight loss as low fat participants at various testing intervals throughout the two-year study. Additionally, at the completion of the study, low carb dieters showed improvements in cholesterol and triglyceride levels coupled with an overall reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Both diets had high rates of attrition over the two-year study, but participants who remained on either diet for the duration demonstrated the benefits of both diets.
Weight loss is possible on either type of diet, but the real secret to long-term weight loss success is compliance. No matter how effective a diet seems to be in the short-term, it is only effective for the duration of the diet. Selecting a diet that can become a lifestyle makes compliance easier and long-term weight management an easier task.