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Low-Carb Diet Versus Low-Fat Diet: Which Is Better?

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As a certified health and wellness coach, I love discussing food, health benefits, and how to keep weight in check.

Americans spend an estimated $42 billion annually on weight loss foods, products, and services. This astounding amount is expected to rise as more Americans fight the weight battle. Many have turned to weight loss plans to help shape their bodies and ultimately their health. However, the battle cry is loud and often times confusing—eat this, don’t eat that. Low-fat, low-carb, low-protein, high-protein—they all vie for your attention and they all tout promising results.

Familiar diet plans come to mind: Atkins (high protein, low in carbs), South Beach Diet (high protein, low carb, fat-controlled diet), the Zone diet (low-carb), the Learn diet (low-fat, high-carb) and the Ornish diet (high carb, low fat). What then?

To answer the question, let’s look at the basics of these two diet plans:

Low-Fat Diet

The basis of low-fat diet—cutting down high-fat foods can reduce calories intake and help you lose weight in the long run. The American Heart Association endorses low-fat diets to reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases. The emphasis is on grains, whole wheat pasta, bread, fruits and vegetables and low intake of fats (small portions of lean meat). It recommends limiting fat intake to less than 25 to 36 percent of the total calories for the day. Saturated fats and trans fat should be slashed to less than 7 percent and 1 percent respectively. Replace unhealthy fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from foods such as nuts, seeds, cold-water fish and vegetable oils.

For those looking to lose weight, low-fat diet doesn’t mean you can load up on low-fat foods. Eating lots of low-fat foods can chock up calories count and it may work against your weight loss plans.

Low-carb diet

Proponents of low-carb diet believe that a decrease in carb intake can result in lower insulin levels, which then causes the body to turn to stored fat for energy. Atkins, Zone, and Protein power diets work on these principles—reduce intake of bread, grains, starchy vegetables and fruits and higher intake of protein and fats. Some low-carb diets are less stringent and allow fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Low-carb diet often produces drastic results in the beginning.

So, which diet is better at keeping weight off? The findings are divided:

  1. According to Dr. Meir Stampfer, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, “The low-carb diet was the clear winner in providing the most weight loss.” He based his conclusion on a study conducted at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Ben Gurion University where 322 obese patients were randomly assigned to low-fat, low-carb and Mediterranean diet. After two years, the results showed that the low-carb dieters peeled off the most pounds, averaging 12.1 pounds. That was revealed in an interview with ABC News in July 2008.
  2. n the August issue of Harvard Health Letter, results from two studies revealed another twist: with regards to weight loss, low-carb and low-fat diets end up in a tie after one year. Low-carb scored higher weight loss points in the beginning: dieters lose weight faster during the first six months but regain pounds in the next six months. Dieters in the low-fat lose weight steadily and eventually catch up. The final score: There is no clear winner.
  3. A report by WebMd as of March 2010, unveiled a new winner—low-fat diet may be best for long-term weight loss and to maintain a healthy weight. In the study, 132 obese people who weighed an average of 289 pounds before being put on either a low-carb or low-fat diet. After six months, the low-carb group experienced the most weight loss but a year later, there was no significant difference between the two groups. However, when these dieters were tracked three years after the study and two years after the diet ended, the low-fat group came out top—they weighed an average of 9.5 pounds less before the diet as opposed to the low-carb group who weighed an average of 4.9 pounds less).

The explanation?

Researcher, Marion L. Vetter, MD, RD of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, explains in the Annals of Internal Medicine, ”Although participants in the low-carbohydrate group lost more weight at 12 months, they regained more weight during the next 24 months. In contrast, participants in the low-fat group maintained their weight loss.”

Break down of Low-carb diet.

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What to eat when on a low-fat diet?

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Clearly, there is no clear winner. That may leave you puzzled, frustrated as there is no clear direction as to what diet is best. If you’re still deciding what diet will work for you, Harvard Health suggests that you experiment with what works for you because many factors come into play in this whole weight loss equation: taste, upbringing, genetics and even personality. Response to diet varies from person to person. Of course, before you start any diet plan, be sure to check with your doctor or dietitian as some medical conditions may impose certain food restrictions.

Perhaps the better way to diet is to stick to a balanced diet, practice moderation in your eating styles, be mindful of portion control and yes…include physical activity.

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  • A Balanced Diet

The Mayo Clinic suggests that you include foods from major food groups: fruits and vegetables, grains (opt for whole grains), low-fat dairy products, lean protein sources which include meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

  • Moderation

You want to be able to live with your diet in the long run. You don’t have to punish yourself with food restrictions—it’s alright to include foods you like, even if they don’t always fit into the healthy profile as long as it’s done with moderation. You may need some resolve but it’s a happy resolve as opposed to total abstinence (they tend to backfire and make you indulge when your resolve gives way). Read the new health rule. Practice moderation and cut yourself some slack.

  • Healthy Food Choices

Pick healthy choices to include proper amounts of nutrients and calories to help you lose weight safely and effectively (ties in with point 1).

  • Portion Patrol

A calorie taken in is a calorie you have to burn. Short of counting calories at each meal, use your eyes to eye-ball your plate and mentally divide the plate into fractions: allocate half the plate to vegetables and fruits, a quarter to lean protein, and the last quarter to healthy carbohydrates (whole grains/resistant starch).

  • Exercise

Encourage physical activity—it doesn’t have to have a lot of exercise fanfare—enjoy a walk, walk your dog, do your own yardwork, play with your kids. You get the picture—discard sedentary life and move! The American Heart Association shows you how to incorporate exercise into your daily life.

It's perfectly permissible, just don't make it readily accessible.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2010 anglnwu


anglnwu (author) on March 18, 2010:

Thanks for your kind comments. I'm your fan too--check it out.

Cassidella on March 18, 2010:

This hub is attractive and informative. I found the same to be true on other hubs that I read and enjoyed by you. I definitely want to continue to check out your work, anglnwu, so I am a fan!

anglnwu (author) on March 14, 2010:

hypnodude, good to see you again. You've been very supportive and I really appreciate it. See u around.

Andrew from Italy on March 14, 2010:

Very good hub, with a balanced point of view. Really well done, and you choice of pictures is great, they really deliver the message. Rated up and stumbled. :)

anglnwu (author) on March 13, 2010:

Maita, we're all about images--I love the one you put up about Obama in you health hub. Thanks for dropping by and have a great weekend.

prettydarkhorse from US on March 13, 2010:

I like all the images, very comprehensive hub angel, I hope you're doing good, I like the low fat pyramid, Take care, Maita

anglnwu (author) on March 12, 2010:

Thanks,Sandyspider--i agree with you. Every individual responds differently.

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on March 12, 2010:

This fits right in with my Hub. I really think it is an individual thing.

anglnwu (author) on March 12, 2010:

Pamela, thanks for your comments. You're right that both diets have pros and cons--i didn't discuss cholesterol levels but you brought out other aspects involved (which adds to whole picture). The new diet rule if you read the NY article link is moderation and I can't agree more. Once again, i appreciate your visit and I look forward to visiting yours.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 12, 2010:

Anginwu, This is a very good hub and the pictures are hysterical. I believe both diets have pros and cons when you look at cholesterol levels, etc. I think what you said about moderation is so important and couple that with exercise and you should lose weight. I found so many studies out there and I think the bottom line is to chose the diet that will help you lose weight.

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