You may have seen it in the news last week… A new study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that people lost more body fat on a low-fat diet than a low-carb diet. What?! Before you believe the media hype and swap out your avocados, olive oil, steak and cheese for bread, lets get the facts. You know the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? I’d like to vehemently add to that with “Don’t judge a study by its coverage.”
In this study, 19 people ate the same thing for five days. Then they were placed either on a low-fat diet or a “low-carb” diet (140 grams/day) for the next six days. The patients then switched diets. The result? While both groups lost weight, the people on the low-fat diet lost more weight. And suddenly that’s all you hear… “Low-Fat Trumps Low-Carb”, “Research Says Cut Fat, Not Carbs To Lose Weight”… and so on and so forth.
But dig a little deeper, and you get to the truth of the matter. All this media hype and lazy reporting trying to convince everyone that a low-fat diet is the way to go is based on a study with a few flaws. First of all, 140 grams of net carbs a day is not low enough to predominantly burn fat for fuel. And two weeks (the length of the study) does not give the body time to adjust to a fat burning metabolism on a low carb diet.
Second, this study is not relevant to the real world because it was in a metabolic ward and what people ate and how they exercised were under extremely controlled conditions for a very short time. In the real world, we deal with a variety of factors that affect our food choices and level of exercise. With that being said, even at a relatively high intake of 140 grams of net carbs a day, study participants did lose weight.
Meanwhile, Atkins recommends a starting point intake of up to 50 grams of net carbs a day for weight loss, and a person’s personal carb tolerance could go up to 120 grams of net carbs a day for healthy weight maintenance.
There are numerous peer review clinical studies that have demonstrated the efficacy of a low-carb diet in the last two decades that contain a true low-carb intake, longer trial periods and larger sample sizes—which is what makes up a quality study.
Long story short? As evidenced in this study and many more in the past few decades, Low-carb diets work, and they work well for achieving weight loss goals and achieving health improvements. This is consistent in the literature. Over and over again.