Medical myth: Cutting carbs is the best way to lose weight

August 27, 2012 by Gary Sacks
Medical myth: Cutting carbs is the best way to lose weight
A calorie is a calorie, no matter what type of food it comes from: Mrs Magic.

There seems to be an endless number of fad diets and "golden rules" for weight loss. One of the most popular of these rules is that cutting carbohydrates (carbs) is the best way to lose weight.

The most famous low-carb is the , first developed in the 1970s. The Atkins diet recommends limiting foods high in , such as bread, pasta and rice. Carbs are replaced with foods containing a higher percentage of proteins and fats (meat, poultry, fish, eggs and cheese) and other low-carb foods (most vegetables).

But what does the evidence show us about whether low-carb diets really are best for ?

Theoretically, a "calorie is a calorie" and it doesn't matter what types of food the calories come from. Accordingly, all reduced-energy (calorie) diets should lead to equivalent weight loss.

However, some studies have reported that low-carb diets lead to greater weight loss than other types of diets, at least in the short-term. So, what are the possible explanations for these results, and can we rely on them?

1) Changes in body composition

Energy is stored in the body as protein, fat, and , which is a form of . If there is an imbalance between how many of these nutrients are ingested (through the food that is eaten) and how many are used by the body for every day functions, will change.

In turn, this will affect body weight because of the different impact that the relative amounts of stored protein, fat and carbohydrates have on body weight.

However, the vast majority of studies in which they've measured very accurately (that is, they've locked people in a room and measured exactly what they've eaten for several days), show absolutely no difference in weight loss based on the composition of the diet. and high-carb diets resulted in the same weight loss.

This indicates that, in the short-term at least, the human body is a superb regulator of the type of energy it uses, and whether the diet is low-carb or high-carb probably won't make much of a difference to the amount of weight lost.

2) Changes in metabolic rate

The body's metabolic rate (the amount of energy expended by the body in a given time) is dependent on the composition of the diet. Consumption of protein, for example, is known to result in a larger increase in for several hours after a meal compared with the consumption of fat or carbs.

But the overall effect of diet composition on total energy expenditure is relatively small. As a result, the assumption that a "calorie is a calorie" is probably a reasonable estimation as far as energy expenditure is concerned.

3) Changes in hunger levels and satiety

Some diets can lead to reduced hunger, improved satiety (feeling full), and can be easier to stick to than others. There is an enormous amount of research on this.

The problem is that it's extremely difficult to accurately measure what people are eating over extended time periods. People rarely stick to their diets for more than just a few weeks, making it almost impossible to adequately compare the effects of different diets.

And so, is cutting carbs the best way to lose weight?

Maybe, but there's not really good evidence supporting it. All diets with similar calorie content have a similar effect on weight loss in the short-term. This is because the body adapts rapidly to changes in relative protein, fat and carbohydrate intake levels.

The truth is that losing and keeping it off in the long-term is difficult. It requires permanent changes to the number of calories you eat each day.

Perhaps the best dietary advice comes from Michael Pollan when he says, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Explore further: Calories, not protein or carbs, are key to weight loss for people with diabetes

Related Stories

Calories, not protein or carbs, are key to weight loss for people with diabetes

February 7, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Overweight or obese people with type 2 diabetes are more likely to reduce weight if they focus on cutting back on total calorie intake, rather than specific high protein/high carbohydrate diets according ...

'Dessert with breakfast diet' helps avoid weight regain by reducing cravings

June 25, 2012
Dieters have less hunger and cravings throughout the day and are better able to keep off lost weight if they eat a carbohydrate-rich, protein-packed breakfast that includes dessert. These findings come from a new study that ...

Cut down on 'carbs' to reduce body fat, study authors say

June 6, 2011
A modest reduction in consumption of carbohydrate foods may promote loss of deep belly fat, even with little or no change in weight, a new study finds. Presentation of the study results will be Sunday at The Endocrine Society's ...

Recommended for you

Amber-tinted glasses may provide relief for insomnia

December 15, 2017
How do you unwind before bedtime? If your answer involves Facebook and Netflix, you are actively reducing your chance of a good night's sleep. And you are not alone: 90 percent of Americans use light-emitting electronic devices, ...

Warning labels can help reduce soda consumption and obesity, new study suggests

December 15, 2017
Labels that warn people about the risks of drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can lower obesity and overweight prevalence, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

Office work can be a pain in the neck

December 15, 2017
Neck pain is a common condition among office workers, but regular workplace exercises can prevent and reduce it, a University of Queensland study has found.

Regular takeaways linked to kids' heart disease and diabetes risk factors

December 14, 2017
Kids who regularly eat take-away meals may be boosting their risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Your pets can't put your aging on 'paws'

December 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—In a finding that's sure to ruffle some fur and feathers, scientists report that having a pet doesn't fend off age-related declines in physical or mental health.

Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

December 14, 2017
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
not rated yet Aug 27, 2012
At age 47 I started a 4000 to 5000 calories a day, low carb diet, that lasted for 16 months.

Bacon, eggs, cheeses of every kind, beef, salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, pork chops, ham, bacon and eggs and cheese, leaf lettuce and green beans with bacon and 25 grams of almonds a day. I lost 160 pounds. I was never hungry. My cholesterol levels lowered (though they had never been high). My blood pressure went to normal. I felt good.

Did I mention I was never hungry?

Did I mention that there is nothing that bacon cannot do?

8 years later I am still 90 pounds off my high of 360.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.