According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it's time to give up on calorie counting and focus on eating real, whole foods.
This new research, performed at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, concluded with a twist...
According to the lead researcher, Dr. Gardner, he and his collegues designed this study to find out if a low-carbohydrate diet could outperform a conventional low-fat diet in obese and overweight people.
Both diets were about equally effective with the low-carb group losing approximately 13 pounds and the low-fat group experiencing a loss of approximately 12 pounds.
This finding sent shockwaves throughout the low-carb community because most low-carb experts expected the low carbohydrate diet to significantly outperform the low-fat diet.
Low-Fat And Low-Carb Are Equally Effective? Not So Fast...
On the surface, it looked as if losing weight is all about a calorie deficit. In fact, this study resulted in a flood of dieticians on the airwaves screaming, "See...we told you, as long as you have a calorie deficit, it doesn't matter what diet you follow."
...but as I said, there was an interesting twist...
The twist was, unlike other studies, the researchers made it a point to impress upon the subjects that they were to seek out real foods during the course of the study rather than eating low-fat/low-carb processed foods like low-fat brownies and low-carb Atkins bars.
This is what makes this study so groundbreaking...
It turns out that both diets worked as long as the foods you eat are natural, wholesome foods.
The researchers set two groups of overweight and obese subjects on one of two diets, which were called “healthy” low carb and “healthy” low fat.
Both groups attended classes with dietitians where they were instructed to eat nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods,.
They were also instructed to make a concerted effort to eat at home when possible.
Even though soft drinks, juices, white starches (i.e. white bread and white rice) were technically low fat; the low-fat group was told to avoid these foods and replace them with whole-grain and low-glycemic alternatives when possible.
They still consumed a low-fat, high starch diet, but those foods were minimally processed and more natural such as:
- Brown rice
- Steel-cut oats
- Fresh fruits
- Lean Meats
The low-carb group was instructed to choose nutritious, high-protein foods like:
- Olive oil
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Nut butter
- Grass-fed meats
- Hard cheeses
Although the study subjects were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity no further instruction was given to increase physical activity. This means that exercise was not a significant factor in this study...
Compared to other studies, it's important to note that these diets were not overly restrictive for either the low-carb or low-fat group. They were not instructed to count calories nor were they instructed to meet stringent guidelines for carbs and fat.
This Low-Carb Diet Wasn't Actually "LOW" Carb...
As expected, the "Low-Carb Tribe" attacked this study with brutal and flailing arguments, and truth be told, they aren't wrong...
This study was "carb-controlled", it wasn't truely "low-carb"...
My hypothesis is that if the researchers made the carb requirements more stringent, the low-carb group would have outperformed the low-fat group for weight lost during the course of the study...
I also believe, however, that doing that would have rendered the results of this study less insightful...
The REAL Insight Of This Study Is a Game-Changer...
I believe low-carb diets are more effective than low-fat diets if you look exclusively at the weight lost, however, I do not believe that people are any more successful at maintaining a restrictive low-carb diet than a restrivtive low-fat diet.
The real insight of this study is that we can lose weight without taking a low-carb diet into the "restrictive range" where consistency of action begins to waver.
Interestingly, these study particpants were instructed to eat as much food as they needed to avoid hunger, provided that food was wholesome and natural.
“The unique thing is that we didn’t ever set a number for them to follow,” Dr. Gardner said.
Even though there was a lot of variability in weight loss from person to person, Dr. Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight were the ones who reported that they had "changed their relationship with food."
They no longer found themselves eating mindlessly in their cars or in front of the boob-tube like so many Americans. Instead, they were cooking more at home and actually sitting down to eat dinner with their families...how about that?
Mindfulness seemed to be baked into the diet when people chose real food...
The key was eating high-quality foods, limiting refined foods, and minimizing added sugar.
Vegetables and other whole foods were stressed and the avoidance of low-carb/low-fat pseudo-foods was recommended because, as the researchers put it, that's "gaming the system".
...and gaming the system is almost always fails to produce lasting weight loss.
More Research-Proven Benefits For Eating Real Food...
Aside from the weight loss, it's important to note that both groups also saw improvements in other health markers, like decreases in their waist girth, lower body fat percentages, improved blood sugar levels and lower blood pressures.
What About Fat-Genes? Did Genetics Matter?
Interestingly, the researchers tested the genetics of the subjects for indicators of how their bodies handled fat and carbs...
in essence, the researchers evaluated for the presence of fat-genes, which are snips within their genetic material that may offer insight into how sensitive their metabolisms may be to fat consumption or carb consumption...
Results: Genetics didn't matter.
Well, it's not that genetics didn't matter so much as it was that a whole-food diet seemed to take the genetics out of the picture.
My guess is that eating real food flips the right genetic switches on or off so that the fat genes become inactive whether they fall on the fat or carb side of the equation.
How About Insulin Resistance?
Amazingly, the researchers tested the subjects level of insulin resistance and many subjects DID fall into the insulin resistant range at the start of the study...
Once again, however, the consumption of real food seemed to knock insulin resistance out of the picture; the subject's level of insulin resistance at the start of the study didn't impact the effect of either diet. Both low-fat and low-carb diets worked despite the level of insulin resistance of the subjects at the start of the study.
The KEY Findings Of The Study
Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said that the key finding of this study was that a “high quality diet” results in significant weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs do not matter provided the subject eats REAL food.
Dr. Gardner built on this observation saying that both groups ended up eating fewer calories unconsciously and the natural, unconscious decrease in calories resulted in significant weight loss.
He went on to say, “We really need to focus on the foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains.”
On the surface, this doesn't seem like groundbreaking stuff, but it really is groundbreaking because the weight loss industry would have you believe that calories are the only thing that matters so they can sell you protein bars, packaged TV dinners with a low-calorie sticker, fake foods, and supplements that report to burn more calories while you sleep.
None of that works...
We tell people on our weight loss podcast, "It's not enough that a weight loss program fit you biochemically, it has to fit you culturally as well." This means it doesn't serve you to give you a diet that causes you to lose weight if you have a zero percent chance of sticking to the program because it's overly restrictive or doesn't take into account the culture of your life.
It comes down to the recommendation, "Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants, some protein, some healthy fat."