Low-Fat Vs. Low-Carb: When It Comes to Weight Loss, Science Has a Winner

August 14, 2015
by Dana Poblete for Thrive Market
Low-Fat Vs. Low-Carb: When It Comes to Weight Loss, Science Has a Winner

In this corner, weighing in at 170 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 37 grams of carbohydrates: the russet potato! And in this corner, weighing in at 200 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 0 grams of carbohydrates: sirloin steak! Who will win this controversial heavyweight match-up? 

Remember that decades long obsession with low-fat dieting? Then the new millennium brought the breakthrough of going low-carb for weight loss. The debate goes back and forth even today—healthy fats are in and carbs, still kind of evil . . . until now.

There’s good news for those not willing to give up sandwiches and rice bowls—recent research has discovered that cutting fat is slightly more effective for losing weight than cutting carbs. Does this mean dieters everywhere can break out the linguine? Well, maybe not.

So how exactly did this go down? The National Institutes of Health confined 19 obese human research subjects in a tightly controlled lab, strictly regulating their diets. They ate a balanced diet for five days, and they were switched to either a low-fat or low-carb diet, each with a 30 percent decrease in caloric intake. They did this for six days, broke for a few weeks, and then did it again, switching each subject to the opposite diet.

In the end, the low-fat diet caused a loss of 463 grams of fat on average—the low-carb diet, 245 grams. Not only did the low-fat group lose more weight, but they lost more body fat as well. Researchers projected that on low-fat, people would lose over six pounds more than on low-carb over the next six months. Not a huge number, but still enough to reconsider that cutting carbs is the definitive way to lose weight.

Although maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent inflammation as well as certain diseases like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, and cancer, overall health isn’t all about dropping pounds. Paleo eaters who eat a healthy high-fat diet of animal protein and omega-3 fats experience improved digestive health, more muscle mass, reduced inflammation, and high energy.

If weight loss is the goal, worry about regulating calories rather than fat or carbs. Both low-fat and low-carb can help achieve this. A good rule of thumb is to load up on fresh vegetables, fruits, lean protein, omega-3 fats from nuts and seeds, and if you want, low-glycemic grains and legumes.

So the takeaway is not that eaters should drop the steak and fill up on baked potatoes instead—as always, balance is key. Heaping plates of spaghetti and meatballs probably won’t slim anyone down. Binging on high-glycemic foods like potatoes, white bread, bagels, and white rice can still lead to obesity, and natural sources of fats like coconut oil, avocado, and lean cuts of protein are still amazing, nutritious foods to keep on hand—in moderation.

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5 thoughts on “Low-Fat Vs. Low-Carb: When It Comes to Weight Loss, Science Has a Winner”

  • Jason Jacobs

    It'd be interesting to see what each group ate. I didn't see it in the writeup.

  • ELW

    This runs absolutely against every peer-reviewed nutritional science article I've ever read on low-carb vs. low-fat.
    I'll stick with carb restriction and not worry about fat, which (even saturated) the body craves and provides an amazing energy source.

    • Omnedon

      More than a few of these low-carb vs. low-fat studies seem to have disparate ideas about the meaning of the two terms. Low-fat is apparently around 8% of caloric intake while low-carb is around 30% of intake. The majority of low-carb adherents consider that to be less than 5% to 10% (depending on which individual person you ask).

      Another common feature of these types of studies is short duration. Change from 'Common American Diet' to one of the 'study' profiles for 6 days or so. Adaptation of the body's metabolism to run on fats vs. carbs usually takes a *minimum* of a week.

      Add the short duration and the half-baked notion of what low-carb *is* and it is no wonder the "studies" and articles fail to address reality. Grant me a half million dollars, flip a coin and tell me which side to support, I'll design a "study" to do just that.

  • Virginia Catherine Hart
    Virginia Catherine Hart May 7, 2016 at 6:42 am

    awesome to see this article! As i've know this for a long time, so have many expert nutrition and doctors. Im a current medical student (specializing in preventative and pain medicine) and I recommend the starch based diet to my patients and collegues. The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall explains this in very great detail he is an expert on diet and weight loss. I eat a whole food plant based diet which is naturally low fat and high carb, the carbs do not mean white bread and pasta it means whole grains, starchy vegetables, rice etc. Nothing wrong with bread however but should not be the staple of a diet and choose whole unprocessed grains whenever possible :) Not only is it the most satisfying diet I have ever eaten its very easy for people to maintain and feel satisfied. Our brains and bodies run on glucose! trying to run your body on fats in detrimental and not effective in the long term. Great article thrive!

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