Low carbohydrate diets have received a lot of press the past few years. For someone who grew up under the “fat is bad” mindset, this took me a while to grasp. Although I look and feel much better when I eat fewer carbs, I know that this isn’t the case for every single person. I’m the first to say that a one-size-fits-all mentality doesn’t work when it comes to dieting. I will make a case for eating a less carbs than are in the standard western diet, but you can do so while avoiding extremes.
[For many years, fat used to be considered the devil. These days many people consider carbs to be harmful. Although I tend to lean towards the Paleo and Primal way of eating, I don’t think carbs are evil. The key is to find your “sweet spot” and adjusting up or down depending upon your goals.]
A Study Comparing Low Carbohydrate and Low Fat Diets
Try to say this title quickly 3 times…A Randomized Controlled Trial on the Efficacy of Carbohydrate-Reduced or Fat-Reduced Diets in Patients Attending a Telemedically Guided Weight Loss Program. Basically two groups of 100 followed either a low carbohydrate diet or a low fat diet for 12 months. After 12 months the participants in each group lost a similar amount of weight, but the low carbohydrate group had lower HDL-cholesterol levels as well as lower systolic blood pressure than the low fat group. So the low carb group experienced some health benefits along with weight loss.
I’m Expecting a Good Debate on This Topic
There are people who have strong opinions about too much fat in the diet or too many carbs. I know that this site has a lot of readers who follow more of a primal (low carb) way of eating, so it will be a little slanted. Here are a few things, I’m hoping that both groups will agree on. I think it is best to show what the diets have in common before talking about the differences.
Fruits and Vegetables…Hard to Go Wrong Here
I know a lot of people just say this out of habit, but this really is the best place to start. When I grocery shop, I try to spend at least 75% of my time in the produce section. I feel great when the bottom of my shopping cart is full from this section. There is a bit of debate about whether the sugar in fruit will make it hard to lose weight. I have a good article about fruit here. It explains why fruit is the perfect food for our digestive tract and why it is probably the food we were meant to eat: Incredible Fruit Facts: Why Fruit Should Be A MUCH Larger Part of Your Diet!
Quality Sources of Protein Each Day
I know people will argue about how much protein you need, but there isn’t any big arguments over the fact that you do need protein. The low fat group would be more inclined to focus on less fatty meats like chicken breasts, while the low carb group would have no problem eating meat with higher fat content. Vegetarians also focus on protein sources but typically have to combine incomplete protein sources to hit their protein requirement each day.
“What Else?” is Where the Debate Starts
You aren’t going to easily get your daily calorie requirements from fruits, vegetables, and protein. So, what else do you include in your diet? Here is where the biggest disagreements occur between the followers of low carbohydrate dieting and low fat dieting.
‘Low Fat’ Advocates Claim…
…high fat diets raise cholesterol and cause heart disease.
…fat is more calorie dense than carbohydrates, making it easier to eat more calories per meal.
…studies comparing high-fat to low-fat meals show that people tend to eat more in the higher fat conditions.
…some people equate eating fat with putting on body fat (this is what some of the general population still believes…educated low fat advocates know better).
…too much fat intakes has been blamed for many chronic diseases.
‘Low Carb’ Advocates Claim…
…carbs raise insulin levels making it easier to put on fat and harder to lose that body fat.
…excessive carbs cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, causing unpredictable energy levels.
…when dietary fat is too low, it can negatively affect hormone production.
…fat digests slowly in the stomach, making higher fat meals more satisfying. Low fat diets cause hunger and make people more likely to binge…eating a lot of food in one sitting.
…studies of the Mediterranean diet have found few problems in terms of heart disease despite a relatively high fat intake.
…we were not meant to have grains as the basis of our diet. A diet based on grains causes high insulin levels leading to inflammation, diabetes, and many of the modern chronic diseases that we didn’t experience as hunters and gatherers (before we focused on grains).
So What is Right? A Low Fat Diet or a Low Carb Diet?
This health and fitness stuff is very confusing at time. My hope is that you study from numerous sources and make the best decision for your situation. To help you out a bit, I’ll give you my personal experiences and opinions on both low fat and low carbohydrate diets…
It is Easy to Follow Low Carb Diet During the Week
I really like the way my body looks while eating low carb. I also like the way my body feels. I have more energy and I seem to be more productive. For me, this is the ideal way to eat Monday-Friday. This type of eating also makes it easier to follow the Eat Stop Eat method of eating…you typically don’t get the strong cravings for food that moderate to high carb diets produce.
Tougher to Go Low Carb on the Weekend
I’m a social guy, so I do like to enjoy time with family and friends on the weekend. The challenge is that much of this time involves being around food that isn’t low carb. So I do eat higher carb on the weekend quite often. When possible, I still try to focus on vegetables and protein, but I would be lying if I said I followed this rule all of the time. I think the devil invented nachos, because I love eating lots of them…with a cold pint (and not water in that glass).
For Short Periods of Time I Like to Go Low Fat AND Low Carb
If you need to sharpen up and only have 1-2 weeks to do so, then you need to meet your protein requirement with as little excess calories as possible. For 1-2 weeks (no longer than that) you can create a large calorie deficit by avoiding fat calories as well as carb calories. A diet based around chicken breasts and green vegetables can work wonders in dropping weight quickly. This is what I would call a “vacation prep” diet. I may outline this in full in a free report at some point.
Occasionally I Go Low Fat and Higher Carbs For A Few Days
If I feel like my muscles are small and flattened out a bit more than normal, I will eat low fat and higher carb for a few days (before going back to my preferred lower carb way of eating). I simply just keep the calories low while adding in rice or potatoes, etc. This doesn’t happen too often, but occasionally I will train a bit too hard and need a little bit of carbs to look my best.
Overall, I Like the Idea of Eating Primal 75% of the Time
When I eat on my own on a typical work day, I enjoy primal meals…higher protein and healthy fats while being low carb. This way just feels right to me. I am pretty sensitive to carbs, and they cause me to get a bit tired during the day. I also tend to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables when I don’t have things like bread, rice or potatoes in the meal. On the weekends I eat a little more traditional…trying to go low carb low fat, but often times doing high carb and high fat (doing my best to limit this).
Summary: In my opinion, the goal of losing weight is to simply find the easiest way of eating less. For me it is a combo of eating low carb during the week with two Eat Stop Eat style fasts…which allow me to eat more carbs and calories on the weekend. For quick weight loss, I employ both low carbs and low fat. If my muscles look smaller than normal, I can quickly “carb up” a bit with a higher carb low fat diet. How do you use carbs and fat in your diet? What approach have you found to work best?
***New Addition to the Post*** Mark Sisson put up a great article on saturated fat called: The Definitive Guide to Saturated Fat. This is a great place to start when it comes to researching saturated fat’s role as far as health is concerned. He believes that saturated fat is a healthy part of the diet (I am still in research mode as far as saturated fat goes).
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