The Truth behind the Headlines: The Diet Battle Heats Up

In All Health Watch, Diet and Nutrition, Featured Article

You may have seen several articles in the press in the last week or two promoting the “fact” that low-carb and low-fat diets deliver equal weight-loss results.

That’s because a new two-year study has revealed that two groups of dieters – one sticking with low carbs, the other with low fat – both wound up losing about the same amount of weight.

But what those articles don’t reveal are the enormous health benefits that the low-carb group enjoyed over the low-fat gang. And what the articles really show is that we, as Americans, still have it all wrong when it comes to health.

Instead of thinking about improving our health we’re still caught up thinking about losing weight.

Digging Up the Facts

The brand new study – funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – was published earlier this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study was led by Gary D. Foster, PhD, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education and professor of Medicine and Public Health at Temple University

Professor Foster and his team conducted a trial study on 307 people and followed their progress over two years. One group stuck to a low-carb diet; the other to a low-fat one. Most people in the study were about 45 years old and had a mean body mass index (BMI) of 36.1.

The low-carb group had 153 people in it. They limited their carb intake to 20 grams a day and were allowed to eat as much fat and protein as they wanted to during the first 12 weeks of the study. Their carb intake was limited to mainly low-glycemic index vegetables.

They were told to eat four to five small meals every few hours and use butter, mayonnaise, and vegetable oils instead of margarine. They were also told not to "do a low-fat version of the program as it will disrupt weight loss."

After 12 weeks, they were allowed to increase their carbs by five grams each day in the form of vegetables, fruit, and even whole grains. They were told to eat foods that were "rich in fat and protein."

The low-fat group was limited to 154 people. Their calories were limited to 1200-1500 each day for women and 1500-1800 for men. They kept their calories low and focused on cutting down on their fat.

Both groups were given lifestyle guidance and encouraged to take up gentle exercise.

After two years both groups had lost about the same amount of weight.

The papers have been keen to promote the fact that the average weight loss was about 15 pounds for both groups across the two years. Most papers have concluded that there’s no real difference between low-carb and low-fat diets.

Digging Deeper into the Truth

What the national press has ignored are the radical health differences made between the groups. A careful review of the study itself reveals a very different truth.

Professor Foster was mainly interested in weight loss, which he called the “primary outcome” of his study. And those are the results that the press has seized upon.

But he also recorded “secondary outcomes.” These measured risk factors for heart disease. And it’s these results which are crucial to your actual health.

Common wisdom says low-carb diets are bad for heart health. If you believe the hype of the last 40 years, low-fat diets are much better for your heart.

But these secondary outcomes show quite the opposite results – just like dozens of studies before them.

In just six months, the “low-carbers” were seeing major reductions in diastolic blood pressure. They also saw significantly reduced triglycerides and Very Low-Density Lipoproteins (VLDL). While LDL cholesterol is bad, VLDL is the really bad form of cholesterol.

And, most significant of all, the “low-carbers” enjoyed a significant increase in HDL. (HDL is the good form of cholesterol.) In fact, they enjoyed an almost 25 percent increase in HDL.

“There’s not a drug on earth that’s been able to do that,” says Dr. Jonny Bowden.

The low-carb group outstripped the low-fat group in all these benefits. And the improvements in HDL cholesterol were seen only in the low-carb group. The low-fat group saw no benefit in this area at all.

“Don’t buy for a minute that this study shows ‘no difference’ between low-fat and low-carb,” says Dr. Bowden. “It showed no difference in weight loss. But there was a significant improvement in cardio risk factors for the low-carb group.”

Taking It to the Next Level

The papers also ignore the fact that high-protein, low-carb diets leave you with more muscle mass which is healthier even at the same weight. The low-carb group would no doubt wind up looking better because despite being the same weight… they’d have more muscle instead of fat. The roll on benefits are obvious… they’d probably be more fit and athletic too.

But, the low-carb group could have made better progress still if they had followed a primal diet.

The key difference here is that Professor Foster had them follow the Atkins diet, which allows unhealthy fats and protein. They also received some of their carbs from whole grains.

Dozens of studies show that whole grain carbs are little better than simple grains. And while it’s true that fat and protein are a smarter option than grains and pasta… where you get your fat and protein from is vital to better health. If those “low-carbers” had followed the primal way of eating, they probably would have outstripped their low-fat counterparts in weight loss too.

Here are some important points to remember…

Picking the Right Protein

Protein is your cellular building block: your hair and nails are largely composed of protein. It produces essential enzymes, hormones, and other bodily chemicals. It also builds blood, bones, muscles, cartilage, and even regenerates tissue.

Quality protein comes from many sources. Animal protein is a great source of nutrients. But this is not the Atkins Diet. You should not be chowing down on bacon and sausage. Stay away from processed meats like deli and meatballs.

Pick protein that is lean and healthy. That doesn’t mean picking chicken over beef. It means avoiding grain-fed meat. Just like us, the make-up of an animal is changed by what it eats. An animal raised on an artificial, grain-fed diet will produce meat that is harmful to us. The key to healthful cuts of meat is reading labels at the store. Look for the grass-fed label on red meat; and the free-range label on poultry. If you’re buying eggs, pick cage-free ones, and opt for wild salmon when buying fish.

Finding Healthy Fat

The low carb group was told to use mayo and vegetable oil. That’s not the smartest way to select your fats. Fat plays an important role in most bodily functions. But there are good and bad fats. For example, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential. These fatty acids build strong hearts and protect against cardiovascular disease. Rich sources of Omega-3s are wild fish, avocado, walnuts, and olives. Other essential sources include cod liver oil, Sacha Inchi oil, and nuts.

Saturated fats are also essential components of a healthy body. They boost immunity systems and help us absorb calcium. The healthiest sources of these fats in are in grass-fed beef, raw milk, and raw butter.

So, when selecting fat, chose from these sources:

  • Grass-fed beef
  • Free-range chicken
  • Organic butter
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Avocadoes
  • Cold water wild fish
  • Raw milk

The Case Against Carbs

What makes carbs bad? Often, processed carbs – like sugary cereals – represent bad carbs. But that’s not to say that all natural carbs are good. Starchy white potatoes are also bad, despite coming from a natural source.

Processed carbs tend to offer little nutrition: they are stripped of their vitamins and fiber. Worse… they are loaded with simple sugars and refined starches. It’s the sugar and starch that make carbs – processed or natural – really bad. That sugar or starch is what affects your body at the hormonal level. It spikes blood sugar and triggers the release of insulin – and later – leptin. It’s because of this hormonal response that whole grain bread is just as bad for weight gain as white bread.

Here are seven good carbs you can count on:

  • Berries
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Collards
  • Green beans

To your health,

Ian's signature
Ian Robinson,
Managing Editor, Natural Health Dossier “Health Watch”