Low-Carb and Low-Fat Diets Are Equally Effective When Used With a Lifestyle Change Program
What is the problem and what is known about it so far?
Weight control is a cornerstone of care for people with type 2 diabetes. Low-carbohydrate diets are very popular among people who want to lose weight. Previous studies suggest that low-carb diets may result in more early weight loss than diets that are low in fat and calories. However, results after 1 year are mixed, and weight lost with either type of diet after 1 year tends to be small. Studies comparing these diets have not included lifestyle programs to help patients change their eating and exercise habits. It is possible that people could lose more weight and keep it off better if such diets were combined with behavior-change programs.
Why did the researchers do this particular study?
The researchers wanted to compare weight loss after 2 years with either a low-carb diet or a low-fat diet when each diet was combined with a lifestyle change program.
Who was studied?
The study included 307 obese adults who received care at one of three academic medical centers.
How was the study done?
Some participants followed a low-carb diet consisting of limited carbohydrates and as much fat and protein as they wanted. After 3 months, these participants increased their carbs gradually until they achieved their desired weight. Other participants followed a low-fat, low-calorie diet. All patients also participated in an education program to help them change their exercise, eating, and other lifestyle habits. The researchers collected information about weight at the start of the diet and after 3, 6, 12, and 24 months. They also collected information on cholesterol levels, blood pressure, bone density, and side effects.
What did the researchers find?
After 2 years, participants in both groups lost about 7% of their body weight. There were no differences in weight, body fat, or bone health between the two groups. Those who followed a low-carb diet had greater improvements in some heart disease risk factors, such as HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
What were the limitations of the study?
This study included a lifestyle-change program. The effects of either diet used without such a program might differ from the results achieved here. Also, people with diabetes and those with high cholesterol were excluded from the study. Finally, many patients withdrew from the study before it was completed.
What are the implications of the study?
Overweight people may be able to lose weight with either a low-carb or a low-fat diet combined with a lifestyle-change program. Low-carb diets may modestly improve some heart disease risk factors more than low-fat diets.
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