Food for thought

Low-carb diets slightly more effective than low-fat, JAOA research finds

JAOA analysis of popular diets finds low-carb diets are safe in short term and slightly more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets.


When trying to decide at your next holiday meal whether to skip the dinner roll or the egg nog, research shows there is a slight advantage to following a low-carb diet over a low-fat diet when trying to lose weight, according to an article published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Physicians from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona found low-carb diets such as Atkins, South Beach and Paleo, safe to follow for up to six months. Depending on the diet, participants lost between 2.5 to almost 9 pounds more than those who followed a low-fat diet.

“Adhering to a short-term low-carb diet appears to be safe and may be associated with weight reduction,” says Heather Fields, MD, an internal medicine physician at Mayo Clinic in Arizona and lead researcher on this study. “However, that weight loss is small and of questionable clinical significance in comparison to low-fat diets.”

Dr. Fields reviewed articles from January 2005 to April 2016 that addressed potential adverse effects and overall safety of low-carb diets. While available studies did not consistently address the source or quality of proteins and fats consumed in low-carb diets, they did show short-term efficacy in weight loss without negative effects on blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol compared with other diets.

However, Dr. Fields says the findings come with a caveat.

“Physicians must keep in mind that the literature is surprisingly limited, considering the popularity of these diets and the claims of health benefits in the media. Our review found no safety issues identified in the current literature, but patients considering low-carb diets should be advised there is very little data on long-term safety and efficacy,” she adds.

Dr. Fields’ review also found the definition of low-carb diets to be highly variable. While all were based on carbohydrate restriction, diets allowed carbs to account for anywhere between 4% and 46% of daily calories.

Read the JAOA study to learn more.

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