Many nutrition experts have maintained that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. In other words, all calories are created equal. The more calories you consume the fatter you get. Put another way, these diet dictocrats insist that you will gain or lose weight based on the dictum: “calories in – calories out.” If you take in more calories than you expend, you gain weight. If you burn more calories at the end of the day than you consume, you lose weight. But a new study published in the BMJ (Nov. 14, 2018) contradicts that old logic. In this study the low-carb diet wins.
Why We Believe the New Research:
Researchers have been studying diets for decades. This is a highly charged topic. There are strong opinions on all sides of the debate. Often the loudest shouters overwhelm solid science.
For years we were told that fat was the enemy. Calories from fat were supposed to make you fat. Researchers evaluated eating patterns in countries around the world and concluded that if you just eliminated fat, people would lose weight and avoid many of our chronic ailments—obesity, diabetes and heart disease, to name just a few.
The food industry hopped on the bandwagon. We got low-fat and no-fat foods galore—cookies, yogurt, milk, ice cream—to name just a few. People consumed more carbohydrate to make up for the lack of fat. Sugar was a prime ingredient in many of these foods. You could pat yourself on the back for eating low-fat yogurt, but there was often “fruit” added in the form of jam, loaded with sugar. The obesity epidemic accelerated.
How the Low-Carb Diet Wins:
The new study in the BMJ was elegant in its design. It did not rely on volunteers reporting what they ate. People have notoriously bad memories when it comes to detailing their caloric intake.
For this study, researchers recruited overweight volunteers from Framingham State University in Framingham, MA. These hardy souls included students, faculty and staff. They agreed to eat only the food supplied by the investigators and they weighed themselves daily with a sophisticated WiFi scale (Withings) that sent the data directly to the researchers.
There were three dietary patterns that were tested. People were randomly assigned to receive either a high-carb diet, a moderate-carb diet or a low-carb diet for 20 weeks.
The researchers describe the diets this way:
“During the test phase, high, moderate, and low carbohydrate diets varied in carbohydrate (60%, 40%, and 20% of total energy, respectively) and fat (20%, 40%, and 60%, respectively), with protein fixed at 20%.”
Why the Low-Carb Diet Wins:
One of the researchers involved in this study was David Ludwig, MD, PhD. He is an endocrinologist who has studied metabolism and weight management for years. Dr Ludwig was a Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. He was Founding Director of the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) program at Boston Children’s Hospital, one of the oldest and largest family-based weight management programs.
Dr. Ludwig explained the latest research for the L.A. Times (Nov. 14, 2018). He pointed out that this was “one of the largest feeding studies ever conducted.”
Here is how he describes the results:
“Participants in the low (20%) carbohydrate group burned on average about 250 calories a day more than those in the high (60%) carbohydrate group, just as predicted by the carbohydrate-insulin model. Without intervention (that is, if we hadn’t adjusted the amount of food to prevent weight change), that difference would produce substantial weight loss — about 20 pounds after a few years. If a low-carbohydrate diet also curbs hunger and food intake (as other studies suggest it can), the effect could be even greater.”
We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Ludwig a couple of years ago for our syndicated public radio show. You may want to listen to the free podcast. You can also listen to the free audio file by clicking on the green arrow above Dr. Ludwig’s photograph. Here is a link.
The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:
We have spoken with a great many experts over the last 40+ years on our People’s Pharmacy radio show program. The overwhelming majority believe that refined carbohydrates and sugar lead to a spike in blood glucose. That leads to a corresponding spike in insulin. This hormone moves glucose into cells for storage as fat. This chain of events has helped create the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics.
Coming up this Saturday at 7:00 am EST we will interview Dr. Jason Fung. He is a nephrologist who got tired of trying to repair the damage diabetes does to kidneys. His intermittent fasting program coupled with a low-carb diet can help prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes. Here is a link to the show. If you cannot listen live, be sure to listen to the podcast or the streaming audio on Monday, November 19, 2018. He adds fascinating insights to this weight loss discussion.
Share Your Thoughts
We recognize that everyone is different. Some people love the low-fat approach. Others crave carbs. We are not diet dictocrats. If one approach works well for you and allows you to control your weight, we’re delighted. But we have to admit that the latest research from Framingham, MA, suggests that if all else is equal, the low-carb diet wins when it comes to weight loss. Share your thoughts below in the comment section.