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Low-carb and low-fat diets face off in new Stanford study

22 February 2018

"High quality" is an important point, because you could consume nothing but soft drink and accurately claim you're on a low-fat diet, or eat nothing but bacon (heaven) and say you're on a low-carb diet - but those diets wouldn't be healthy.

No one diet strategy is consistently better than others for weight loss in the general population, conclude the researchers. Perhaps, it could be explained by genotype patterns and baseline insulin levels, but Gardner and colleagues failed to make any association between these factors and the propensity to succeed on either diet.

"We've all heard stories of a friend who went on one diet - it worked great - and then another friend tried the same diet, and it didn't work at all", Gardner said in a statement. May be we should not be requesting what's the best diet but what's the best diet for whom?

The team enlisted 609 participants between the ages of 18 and 50. which were divided into two equally-sized groups.

About half were men and half were women.

In the healthy low-fat diet group, 42.6% of participants had the low-fat responsiveness genotype, and 27.2% had the low-carbohydrate responsiveness genotype. The participants were initially instructed to reduce their total fat or carbohydrate intake to 20 g/day during the first 8 weeks of intervention, and then slowly added back either fat or carbs into their diet, not surpassing the lowest level of sustainable intake each participant could individually maintain.

The low-fat dieters cut things like oils, fatty meats, full-fat dairy and nuts, while the low-carb dieters cut the likes of cereals, grains, rice, starchy vegetables and legumes.

Within the 12 month period, an average of 13 pounds were lost per person - that's just under 6 kgs - although some participants lost up 60 pounds (27.5 kgs) while others gained 20 pounds (9 kgs).

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People were also encouraged to increase their intake of whole foods and vegetables and minimize added sugars and refined grains.

A recent trend in healthy eating circles has been a "genotype" diet.

From the testing, the researchers determined that their subjects had varied genes linked with how their bodies process fat or carbs, and they thought these variations would ultimately make them more likely to lose weight when given the right type of diet.

"By becoming engrossed in counting calories and restricting our food intake, which is often what a diet requires us to do, it means becoming more and more confused in regards to what it means to be healthy".

Researchers at Stanford University found that overweight adults who followed a low-fat or low-carbohydrate diet tailored to their genetic predisposition and biological makeup weren't any more successful at shedding pounds than the groups that followed the same two diets, but without the customization for these predispositions.

"There was no significant difference in weight change among participants matched vs mismatched to their diet assignment", the researchers wrote. "But let's cut to the chase: We didn't replicate that study, we didn't even come close".

The biggest takeaway from the study is that the strategy for losing weight - whether you're following a low-fat or a low-carb approach - is very similar. "I still think there is an opportunity to discover some personalisation to it [dieting] - now we just need to work on tying the pieces together".

Low-carb and low-fat diets face off in new Stanford study