Will High-Fat, Low-Carb Diets Help You Lose Weight?

by Nina K. Hauptman, Demand Media Google
    Too much saturated fat from butter can lead to cholesterol buildup in your arteries.

    Too much saturated fat from butter can lead to cholesterol buildup in your arteries.

    If you keep bread and pasta on your no-no list while dieting, it's time to restore grain's good name. Carbohydrates aren't synonymous with weight gain, and curbing carb intake while increasing fat consumption probably won't help you shed pounds faster than with any other reduced-calorie diet. Plus, drastically slashing carbs can lead to fatigue and malnutrition, and nobody knows the long-term effects. See your doctor before making major changes to your diet or starting a weight-loss plan.

    How Fat Loss Works

    The thought of losing weight can seem daunting sometimes, but the concept is as simple as calories in versus calories out. Your body "burns" calories from food and beverages to use as energy. When you consume fewer calories than you expend, you burn calories from stored fat, shrinking your body. Every 3,500-calorie deficit equals about 1 pound of fat loss, and the fastest way to lose the weight is to increase your activity level while reducing caloric intake. You can safely lose about 1 to 2 pounds of fat per week -- more than that, and you risk losing valuable muscle and bone tissue.

    Carbs and Water Loss

    Even if a high-carb diet contains an equal number of calories as a low-carb plan, you may lose more weight in the first couple of weeks with the latter version -- but only due to water loss. Carbohydrates in your body hold liquid, and as carb stores become depleted with reduced dietary intake you'll naturally shed fluids. This boost is temporary, however, and does not affect fat loss.

    Carbs and Fat Loss

    In the long term, people lose the same amount of weight eating high-fat and high-carb diets, according to a study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" in 2009. Researchers assigned four groups of dieters to reduced-calorie meal plans containing varying levels of fat, protein and carbohydrates, and found that all lost about the same amount of weight. The average loss was 13 pounds after six months and 9 pounds after two years; dieters also lost 1 to 3 inches from their midsection and improved cardiovascular health. What's more, all reported similar levels of cravings and hunger.

    Health Concerns

    Although the dieters in the study were given heart-healthy unsaturated fats -- found in plant sources such as nuts and canola oil -- loading up on saturated fats from butter, meat and cheese may elevate your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. In addition, low-carb diets tend to lack fiber, which is important for digestive health and bowel regularity. For optimal nutrition, stay within the recommendations of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and get 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates and 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat. For a healthy ticker, less than 10 percent of your total calories should come from saturated fat.

    About the Author

    Nina K. Hauptman is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, "Healthy Living Magazine," "Organic Authority" and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.

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