The Best Diet is…
The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed 59 diets in an effort to conclude which method works best—a task repeated many times in recent years. In Carbohydrate Part II, I mentioned that low-carb diets didn’t rank in most top-10 listings. Surprising since versions of low- or no-carb dieting still dominate pop culture. More surprising because when researched for effectiveness, low-carb diets prove most often to be the king of the hill. If they promise the most weight lost in the least amount of time, why doesn’t this translate to medical, science, or journalistic accolades?
Doctors’ Orders: Use the Diet that Works for You
JAMA’s position ended up being, we don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Okay, maybe not that ambivalent, but they concluded that permanence matters most. As I noted is typical, the low-carb dieters in those 59 studies did lose more body fat. But the margins weren’t great enough to warrant an endorsement. JAMA’s assessment that long-term analytics and sustainability is low-carb dieting’s stumbling block will go a long way to bring clarity to the debate, still, let’s admit that there are good, better, and best ways to apply improved eating habits.
A low-carb diet is better than being overweight, right? Meh…one study reviewed more than 80,000 women and found that a low-carb diet can reduce the rate of heart disease and diabetes 30 percent and 20 percent respectively if the fat consumed was mostly plant-based. Fantastic! But, if the women consumed more fat from animal sources, the protective advantage fell back to zero. When you restrict carbs, dietary fat will increase, and that is a critical variable. Quality matters.
Are Low-Carb and Low-Fat Diets Equally Effective?
Did I mention sustainability? Executed as true ketogenic diets, a strong case can be made that eating too little carbohydrate is acutely inferior to a lower-fat, higher-carb diet. But, I’ll say again, low-carb diets can help a person lose weight and improve health—no argument from me. Instead of viewing them as polar dichotomies, maybe we should consider high-carb and low-carb diets both viable. Then we could simply ask the question, which is preferred? But isn’t it just like us to pit epic verdicts against each other? Are you a conservative or a liberal! Are you religious or a rationalist! JoJo or Lauren! Carb or no carb—I must choose a side!
I would prefer the conversation start with the question: Should the first option be to completely eliminate starch and sugar? Why or why not? In my opinion, based on a comprehensive view of research, the answer is that it’s not the best place to start and it’s not the best choice for most people. When reduced to the cellular level, the National Institutes for Health said this: “After analyzing everything from how much carbon dioxide and nitrogen they were releasing to their hormone and metabolite levels, the researchers concluded that the calorie-per-calorie, low-fat diets beat out low-carb diets.”
Need one more reason to keep carbs?
Do Low-Carb Diets Cause Binge Eating Disorder?
The hype surrounding supposed low-carb advantages often leads people to episodic binge eating. One Harvard study showed that high-carb dieters were better able to sustain their diet after two years when compared to low-carb dieters. An Australian study determined that a higher-carb diet led to happier, calmer, more-focused dieters while low-carb dieters reported more anxiety. A very practical study in Toronto showed that low-carb dieters were more prone to binging when given the opportunity. I think we’ve all been there, eh?
Perhaps the study I referenced in my introduction has the best angle. The lead author said, “We thought (comparing) low- versus high-fat diets would help us identify the optimal diet, but it’s clear that just focusing on how much fat is in your diet is not what is going to help address the obesity epidemic. Long-term adherence is going to be what drives (weight loss), so identifying which of all the health foods you enjoy, which patterns you can stick to on a daily or weekly basis, will be what gives the best weight loss.”