At the moment, there are so many kinds of diets that it can be pretty mind-boggling to figure out which one is right for you. Low-carb diets like Paleo, Atkins, and South Beach fill you up on healthy fat and protein but can leave some people feeling fatigued as carbs are actually your body’s first source of energy. Low-fat diets have become more controversial in recent years since zero-fat or low-fat products often contain lots of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients to make them taste better—after all, fat has flavor. Plus, research shows that healthy fats like omega-3s are a crucial part of any diet. Studies also suggest that eating low-fat products can make you crave more carbs, which can, in turn, counteract all the calories from fat you’re trying to save.
Despite these limitations, limiting total fat intake or carb intake as needed to balance out your diet will have its benefits. For example, one study found that low-carb dieters were almost twice as likely to lower their risk of heart attack and stroke than those who followed a low-fat diet. And now a new study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association is giving low-carb eating habits the upper hand again. Researchers found that over the course of six months, those who followed a low-carb diet lost between two and a half and almost nine more pounds than those on low-fat diets. If you put that in perspective, for people who are trying to lose weight in a healthy way for a wedding or other major event, an extra nine pounds of weight loss can make a huge difference.
There are, however, some significant limitations to the study. First, the authors point out that their research does not show the type of weight lost, meaning whether the weight shed was from water, muscle, or fat. Losing fat is probably the goal for most people, while losing water (awesome if you just want to debloat) means virtually nothing for long-term weight loss since you gain that back very quickly. Finally, losing muscle is probably not what you want either because there goes your muscle mass, which can actually speed up metabolism. If people on low-carb diets are losing a higher rate of muscle or water weight than those on low-fat diets, then these findings don’t mean as much.
“As an osteopathic physician, I tell patients there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health,” says Tiffany Lowe-Payne, D.O., a representative for the American Osteopathic Association, in a press release. “Factors like the patient’s genetics and personal history should be considered, along with the diet programs they’ve tried before and, most importantly, their ability to stick to them.”
So, ultimately, if you’re trying to lose weight quickly without succumbing to fads, shakes, or pills that will a) never work or b) leave you weak and hangry, a low-carb diet may produce better results. If you’re looking to follow a longer-term plan, though, a deeper look at your overall food intake is probably needed if you want to lose the weight and keep it off.