In my job as a health and nutrition coach, I help my clients to find their healthiest selves by making dietary adjustments. When studies like the Tulane University low-carb vs low-fat diet receive huge press (like this, this and this), it makes my job a little tricky. There are only three macronutrients: Protein, fat and carbohydrates, and at any given time, one of these guys is elevated to hero status and another is vilified. That’s what makes headlines. This coverage of this study is a lot of spin, and frankly not a whole lot of news. It’s so important to read all the details, not just the headline of “Eat lots of steak and eggs to lose weight, feel great!”
The study found that those following a lower carbohydrate, higher fat diet lost more weight over the course of the year than individuals following a low fat diet high in carbohydrates. So what did this low-carb diet consist of? Was it huge steaks slathered in cream cheese and butter? Slices of American cheese rolled in mayo? Bacon dipped in ranch dressing?
Nope. It was actually a quite reasonable diet: Low carb participants may start with eggs for breakfast, tuna salad or other salad for lunch, and protein with vegetables for dinner. They were encouraged to eat plant-based oils, like olive oil, and lots of vegetables. The low fat diet had an emphasis on cutting out fats and eating lots of cereals and starches, foods that we know the average American doesn’t need in large quantity.
We’ve known for some time now that fat doesn’t make us fat and we have many studies discouraging us from over-consuming refined grains. We learned long ago that the green box of Snackwells cookies—reduced in fat but crammed with sugar—is not a healthy choice. We know that when we eat diets high in refined carbohydrates, like bagels, crackers, snack cakes, pastries, white bread and white rice, our bodies become hooked on those sugary foods, we’re hungrier, and we gain weight.
So while the spin sounds exciting and new, the facts are much less so: Diets that exclude lots of refined carbohydrates and sugar, and instead include healthy sources of protein, fats and lots of vegetables promote weight loss and overall better health. Sounds like common sense to me.