When trying to lose weight, you obviously have to cut some calories from your diet. But, what foods should you cut from your diet, and what foods should you eat instead? Clinical trials that have followed the weight loss of thousands of people are increasingly showing that we should be restricting our carbohydrate intake in order to shed the extra pounds.
Why not low-fat diets?
There are plenty of clinical trials, conducted to a high standard, which have directly compared various low-carb diets and low-fat diets. The difference in weight loss between groups is statistically significant, and has been replicated in many studies. In many studies, the low-fat diets are calorie restricted, whilst the low-carb diets are not, and yet the low-carb diets still outperform the low-fat diets!
In one 2003 study, 132 people with an average BMI of 43 (severely obese) were divided into two groups, one following a low fat diet and the other following a low carb diet. After six months, the low-fat dieters had lost an average of 1.9 kg (4.2 lbs), whilst the low-carb dieters had lost an average of 5.8 kg (12.8 lbs). That’s three times as much weight loss!
In another study that lasted for 12 weeks, overweight dieters were split into two groups, a low-carb diet group and a low-fat diet group, with neither group being instructed to restrict calories. On average, the low-carb group lost 9.9 kg (21.8 lbs), while the low-fat group lost 4.1 kg (9 lbs). The difference in weight loss between the two groups is obviously huge.
Why not a carb-free diet?
It might seem logical that if low-carb is better than high-carb diets, then surely a diet with no carbohydrates at all is better again, but this is not the case! Fruit and vegetables contain carbohydrates, and would be eliminated from this extreme type of diet. The most extreme low-carb or no-carb diets put the body into a state of ketosis; when the body’s carbohydrate stores in cells are depleted, the body begins to burn fat stores for energy instead. Whilst this sounds great in theory, it is not a sustainable diet, with it being associated with liver problems in the long term. It also causes some uncomfortable side effects such as constipation and bad breath! Read more about why a no-carb ketogenic diet is far from ideal here!
What carbohydrates can I eat then?
If you aren’t sure how your diet is currently split between carbohydrates, fat, protein and fibre, then try counting your macros. Whilst macros is a term thrown around by bodybuilders and fitness professionals, it really is not as scary as it sounds. It is just short for macronutrients, i.e. carbohydrates, fat, and protein. There are plenty of websites and apps that can help you to calculate your daily macro goals, and help you to track them.
Fibre is technically an indigestible carbohydrate; your body can’t digest fibre, and so it just passes through, acting as a calorie-free, natural appetite suppressant that’s vital for good digestive health. (Fibre is another reason why eliminating carbohydrates completely is a bad idea.)
Consider fibre your unlimited carbohydrate; many medical professionals believe that we do not get enough fibre in our diets anyway. When following a low-carb diet, pay attention to the digestible carbohydrates in your diet. Not sure how much that is? Look at the nutrition label, and subtract the number of grams of fibre from the total carbohydrate count. That’s how many grams of digestible carbs you are getting from that meal.
If counting calories, macros, or carbohydrates is too much like hard work, or you don’t want to obsess over your food, then just pay attention to where your carbs are coming from. Limit your intake of white rice, bread, pasta, potatoes, and refined grains, and ensure that your carbs come from fruit and vegetables. Don’t forget to cut out beer from your diet as well. A pint can pack well over 200 calories, and is much higher in carbohydrates than other alcohols.
Other Benefits: Improving Heart Disease Risk Factors
Obesity and the strain it puts on the body has been long associated with increasing the chances of developing numerous different health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. There are numerous health markers that can be improved to reduce your chances of developing heart disease, including blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, and blood sugar levels.
As the majority of weight loss studies use overweight or obese participants, these studies also report back how different diets affect various Heart Disease Risk Factors, as well as reporting weight changes.
Low carb diets generally do not raise Total and LDL cholesterol levels on average. Having higher HDL levels is correlated with improved metabolic health and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Having low HDL levels is one of the key symptoms of the metabolic syndrome. The majority of studies we found showed that low-carb dieters generally reported increases in HDL cholesterol levels, most likely because they were eating healthy fats as a part of their diet.
Studies clearly show that both low-carb and low-fat diets lead to reductions in triglycerides, but the effect is much stronger in the low-carb groups.
One study looked at how a low-carb diet affected diabetic participants. By the end of the 24 week trial, 90% of the low-carb eating participants had been able to “reduce or eliminate” their diabetes medications, whilst 62% of participants from the low-glycemic index group (who were consuming more carbohydrates but were eating a calorie restricted diet) were able to reduce or eliminate their diabetes medications. All of this was done under medical supervision, of course.
Losing weight and increasing your fitness levels in general will improve metabolic factors, but the evidence suggests that a low-carb diet can help to support good health, as well as being a great option for losing weight!
Low-fat diets have been popularised over the years, with fat being stigmatised and given incredibly bad media coverage. However, the clinical evidence clearly shows that low-fat diets are just nowhere near as effective at aiding weight loss as a low-carb diet.
Possibly the best thing about following a low-carb diet, is that it appears that many people can lose weight without having to actively track and restrict their calorie intake; in many studies of low-carb diets, consumers were instructed to focus upon reducing their carb intake, rather than limiting their calorific intake as well. There are actually numerous studies that showed that the low-carb groups ate fewer calories than low-fat groups anyway, without having to track it. Eating a low-carb diet also improves many risk factors for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
In conclusion, following a low carb diet could be one of the easiest, healthiest and most effective ways to lose weight and improve metabolic health.
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.