For quite a long time, people were taught to avoid fats because a gram of it contains twice the amount of calories that proteins or carbohydrates have. Then, studies emerged saying carbohydrates are just as bad, if not worse, because refined carbs quickly get turned into sugar. Now, there are proponents of the low-carb diet and there are strict followers of the low-fat diet, both claiming their method is more effective than the other. But recent advances in food and nutrition research shed light on the importance (and disadvantages) of eating or avoiding fats and carbohydrates. Researchers are now saying that what actually works are not diets, but rather healthy nutritional choices tailored to an individual’s specific lifestyle and needs.
A low-carb diet or a low-fat diet?
The low-carb diet is based on the idea that cutting carbs will make it easier for the body to burn fats for fuel. After all, simple carbohydrates that have been stripped of most nutrients and dietary fiber are metabolized into sugar very easily. Too much sugar, according to science, causes energy swings and frequent bouts of hunger.
A recent study published in the journal BMJ even provided evidence in support of the low-carb diet. The researchers examined energy expenditure in people with varying amounts of carbohydrates in their diet. Those following a low-carb diet burned more calories while in a resting state than people on a high-carb diet, reported the study.
While this may sound encouraging, it didn’t say that the people who were on a low-carb diet lost more weight. The study only stated that they expended more energy. The researchers controlled every meal and snack to keep the participants’ weights the same throughout the study.
David Ludwig, the lead author, said that their findings were not intended to test the long-term health effects of the low-carb diet. They only suggested that the diet would be effective for people who have already lost weight and are simply trying to keep it off. He also said that the diet seems more suited to diabetics and pre-diabetics.
On the other side of the fence, experts are also raising some concerns about the low-fat diet. Popular belief has led people to avoid fatty foods like meat, nuts, eggs, and butter for years. They’d been taught that fats literally make people fat because they bring in more calories.
However, what had experts worrying was what this misguided belief has made people do: In their effort to avoid fats, people immediately switched to fat-free foods, which were full of refined carbs and sugar. This resulted in even wider waistlines and more weight gain.
Nutrition experts now say that fats are necessary for absorbing important nutrients and for making people feel full. However, they were quick to emphasize that this doesn’t mean that people should start consuming more fat. Instead, just like everything else, fatty foods should be eaten in moderation.
What really works for weight loss
Based on a recent study, the low-carb diet and the low-fat diet seem to be on equal footing. People who participated in a randomized clinical trial reported losing an average of 12 to 13 pounds after a year of being on either diets. Chris Gardner, one of the authors of the study, said there may be some flexibility in the ways people choose to shed weight.
For their study, Gardner and his colleagues encouraged the consumption of minimally processed foods in place of refined sugars and flour. He said, “If you got that foundation right, for many, that would be an enormous change.” This means that the diet method doesn’t matter at all. What matters is proper nutrition.
The key to improving a diet is cutting down overall calories, and the only way to do that is by avoiding processed foods. People can still leave a small room for their preferences; in fact, it is considered an important element that will ensure the effectiveness of a diet. A diet can only work if a person sticks to it.
Besides identifying what kind of diet to follow, having a support network also helps. Obtaining advice from a capable dietitian who understands people’s needs is necessary and will be a huge help. After all, there really isn’t a set of guidelines that everyone needs to follow to lose weight. Instead, improving certain areas in your life – such as physical activity and routine – is the best way to ensure that your preferred diet works.