LOW FAT VS LOW CARB – WHICH DIET IS BEST?
I’m often asked to advise patients on the best sort of diet for weight loss. And two of the main contenders are ‘low-fat’ and ‘low-carb’.
Which is best?
Well, the low-fat diet has been around for decades since the American physiologist, Ancell Keys, first linked heart disease with saturated fat. What’s more, fat is higher in calories, gram for gram, than carbs and protein. It seemed sensible, therefore, to cut right back on fat to reduce weight and heart disease together. However, the result of demonising fat was that we ended up being bombarded with foods that were heavily processed to reduce fat and calories – often with added sugar or other baddies to make them palatable.
Then came the low-carb backlash. Various studies showed that fats weren’t always bad for you – healthy fats are essential for our bodies to work properly. What’s more, decades of low-fat dieting had just made us fatter and fatter. Perhaps eating too many carbs was the problem? So the Atkins, Dukan and other diets, where carbs were cut out or cut back, became the trend. They worked as well, to a degree, but most people found them difficult to stick to when the carb cravings, the hunger or the less-than-sociable bowel problems got the better of them!
The truth is that scientific studies show that neither of these dieting approaches works any better than the other in the longterm. Why? No diet works if we look at it as a quick fix solution to our weight problem. No diet will work if we struggle to make it fit in with our family, work or other commitments. No diet will work if it means denying ourselves food that we love – because when our willpower fails, as it inevitably will, we will just give up the diet until next January! Finally, no diet will work if it demonises a particular food group and expects you to exclude it.
What should you do instead? Simple. Both diets have some element of sense if you don’t take them to extreme. So, throw out the ‘fat-free’ diet food and eat healthy fats in moderation. Then lower your intake of carbs and ensure you eat the wholegrain, non-processed variety. Try to eat fresh, real food like they do in the sunny Mediterranean – because the ‘Mediterranean diet’ that provides both healthy fats and healthy carbs appears to be the best for overall health.
Whatever you do, it has to be possible to keep to it most of the time allowing yourself a few indulgences when you need them without beating yourself up about them. Now call it a healthy eating plan for life rather than a diet, and you are on to a winner!