Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat: The Better Diet Comes as No Surprise to Me

woman eating a breadstick

Fat in our diets equals fat on our bodies, right? Not quite, according to the latest science. People who ate more fat, even saturated fat, while limiting carbohydrates lost more weight, more body fat, and had fewer cardiovascular risks than people who followed a low-fat diet in a major new study financed by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The low-fat group lost weight -- but it appeared to be more muscle mass than fat.

Furthermore, the research included a racially diverse group of 150 men and women assigned to diets that either limited fat or carbs -- and unlike other research before it, subjects didn't have to stick to any sort of calorie restriction. Whaaat?!

Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows this is all sorts of jaw-dropping, because "calories in, calories out" has been the holy grail of weight loss for just about EVER. I know this all too well.

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A devoted Weight Watchers Lifetime member since I lost 40 pounds my freshman year of college (take that, freshman 15!), I subscribed to the idea that a low-fat, high-fiber, restricted calorie diet was the best way to go.

I steered clear of fat as a rule, opting for low-fat yogurt, cheese, ice cream, tortilla wraps, crackers, bars, cookies ... Oh, and speaking of those cookies: I was perpetually trying to address dips in energy (obviously linked to low blood sugar) with caffeine and sugar or sugar substitutes.

More from The Stir: Confessions of a 'Semi-Vegetarian': How I Learned to Like Red Meat

At the same time, I scoffed at my mom's adherence to low-carb diets like Atkins, saying I could never give up bread, because I simply wouldn't be satiated. And how could all that FAT be good for you?! HA.

Well, I am eating my words, Mom! I recently turned to a lower-carb, protein-packed, Paleo-esque plan -- eating protein, good fats (think coconut oil, almond butter, avocado), veggies, and a small amount of complex carbs (sweet potatoes, beans). And you know what? It got me off that blood sugar roller coaster and helped me feel more satiated and consistently energized.

What's more, when I lost all that weight on the low-fat diet, I was weak. Maybe I weighed less, sure, but lean mass vs. fat mass is much more important than weight. My whole body was at risk for injury, because my lean muscle mass was pathetic! These days, I'm so much stronger.

Plus, calorie-counting -- which is stressful and tedious -- is totally out the window. And that's another landmark conclusion the new NIH research shows to be true: Simply cutting back on carbs and changing what you're eating may be enough to lose weight.

Oh, sure, the skeptics are already yakking about the detrimental effects of saturated fat (it will up your cholesterol and then you'll have a heart attack!). And plenty of people will, fairly enough, look at this news and roll their eyes, thinking that the constant debate over which diet "works" best is nothing short of totally exhausting and confusing.

It's understandable to want to throw up your hands, but those of us who've embraced fat and kept carbs to a healthy minimum know how consistently good it feels. That isn't to say any diet is one-size-fits-all. But if this research is any indication, getting on the low-carb bandwagon may be very well worth a shot.

What has worked for you: Low-fat or low-carb or something else entirely?

 

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