Large study of low-carb eating finds weight-loss, muscle-gain, better cholesterol

The NIH-funded Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial, published in The Annals of Internal Medicine reports on an unusually large and diverse study of the impact of low-carb eating and finds huge benefits relative to low-fat diets.

Both groups were told to eat a normal calorie load, one group avoided carbs while the other avoided fat. The low-fat group lost muscle mass, while the low-carb group enjoyed an average of 8lbs greater weight-loss, higher muscle-gain, and better cholesterol levels.

By the end of the yearlong trial, people in the low-carbohydrate group had lost about eight pounds more on average than those in the low-fat group. They had significantly greater reductions in body fat than the low-fat group, and improvements in lean muscle mass — even though neither group changed their levels of physical activity.

While the low-fat group did lose weight, they appeared to lose more muscle than fat.

“They actually lost lean muscle mass, which is a bad thing,” Dr. Mozaffarian said. “Your balance of lean mass versus fat mass is much more important than weight. And that’s a very important finding that shows why the low-carb, high-fat group did so metabolically well.”

The high-fat group followed something of a modified Atkins diet. They were told to eat mostly protein and fat, and to choose foods with primarily unsaturated fats, like fish, olive oil and nuts. But they were allowed to eat foods higher in saturated fat as well, including cheese and red meat.

A Call for a Low-Carb Diet (Anahad O'Connor/NYT)

(via Hacker News)

Notable Replies

  1. Man, I can do a low-carb diet forever - except for the fact that I can't give up beer!

  2. Glitch says:

    The problem with a protein and fat heavy diet is that of economies of scale.

    Carb laden foods like grains and cereals are staples because they are calorically efficient - both in terms of carbohydrates themselves compared to protein and lipids, and in terms of food production. It's a lot easier to feed huge numbers of people on wheat, corn, and rice than it would be to feed them on meat and other animal products. (Yes, there are protein and fat rich plants, but not a lot of people eat nothing but things like peanuts and coconut oil.)

    In a world of 7.2 billion people, with little sign of our growth slowing by any meaningful amount any time soon, and with most arable land already being farmed, the vast majority of people rely on high-carb diets to survive. But this is hardly news - humanity has relied on carbohydrates for the bulk of our caloric intake since agriculture itself was developed.

    The low-carb diet fad can only exist in places of excess, where a small portion of the society can afford to subsist on mostly meat while the rest eat chiefly grains. It's a luxury lifestyle that is unsustainable on anything resembling a large scale. It might have some marked health benefits, and indeed our evolutionary history may favor it - but we no longer exist as small bands of hunters in a world rich with game.

  3. In areas where coconuts don't grow, swallows could bring them.

  4. Just a day?! Damn, this is gonna be harder than I thought.

  5. Protein requirements on a low carb diet are exactly the same as protein requirements on a high carb one.

    You don't replace carbs with protein... You replace carbs with fat.

    The magic of low carb diets are largely in its effect on insulin/glucagon ratios, and in turn ins effects on our ability to metabolize fat... To the point that it becomes the substrate of all our energy needs, rather than carbs.

    Its cool, cool stuff.

    And yes its sustainable... Fat is cheap, plentiful, shelf stable, and energy dense. Lupins are the highest protein containing legume. They also nitrogenate soil, and grow like weeds.

    We could have another green revolution, feed the world, end hunger, and our agricultural dependency on petroleum, eradicate type 2 diabetes, most heart disease, etc... We could cut medical costs by a third in the US, reduce obesity, keep our aging population fitter longer, and all kinds of good stuff if this type of eating is widely adopted and becomes the norm.

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