Carbs, fat, DNA? Weight loss is finicky, new study shows

Researchers found people cutting either carbs or fat lost on average 13 pounds after a year

Rather than leave the results to chance, the researchers tested the participants for genetic differences that might influence whether their weight was associated with too many carbohydrates or too much fat.

The finding puts an end to a long-argued debate about "what's the best diet".

But in the months that followed, participants were encouraged to gradually add in small amounts of carbs or fat until they reached a daily amount that satisfied them (which ended up being around 57g fat and 132g carbohydrate, still well below the amounts they'd regularly eaten before the study).

The randomized investigation (which is important) by Stanford University researchers assigned 609 overweight but otherwise healthy participants to a low-fat or low-carb diet and followed them for 12 months. Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight reported that the study had "changed their relationship with food". Low-carbohydrate diets had no significant adverse effect on serum lipid, fasting serum glucose, and fasting serum insulin levels, or blood pressure.There is insufficient evidence to make recommendations for or against the use of low-carbohydrate diets, particularly among participants older than age 50 years, for use longer than 90 days, or for diets of 20 g/d or less of carbohydrates.

By the end of the study, individuals in the 2 groups had lost, on average, 13 pounds (5.9kg). It may be that some people find low-fat or low-carb diets easier to stick to, because of personal preference. "Both diet groups in the current study were instructed to minimise or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximise intake of vegetables", they said. In all, 241 participants on the low-fat diet and 238 individuals on the low-carb diet finished the study.

"We really did get a lot of people on both diets to be successful", Gardner says.

Lead study author Christopher Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, noted that the point of the study wasn't to compare a low-fat diet to a low-carb one to see which was best for weight loss, as many previous studies have done. They were advised to choose high-quality foods but were not given suggested calorie limits nor were they provided with specific foods. Some people lost 40 or more pounds, he says, while others gained 10 or 20.

They were also urged to consume healthy low-fat and low-carb diets, as opposed to bacon, which is low in carbs, or soda, which is low in fat.

But contrary to expectations, individuals randomized to a diet favored by their genotype did not lose more weight than those assigned to the mismatched diet.

For decades, those striving to lose weight have faced a dilemma over whether it is better to cut the carbs or ditch the fat.

"We made sure to tell everybody, regardless of which diet they were on, to go to the farmer's market, and don't buy processed convenience food crap". They simply stopped eating in front of the TV or in their cars.

But a study yesterday found neither approach is better than the other. There was still, however, huge weight loss variability among them.

"We've all heard stories of a friend who went on one diet - it worked great - and then another friend tried the same diet, and it didn't work at all", he said. "But let's cut to the chase: We didn't replicate [our previous] study, we didn't even come close". But the data didn't show any strong correlation between these signatures and weight loss on the corresponding plan, Gardner says.

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