Many types of weight-loss diets exist, including those that are low in fat and low in carbohydrates. Even if you're not trying to shed pounds, you may still be considering a low-fat or low-carb diet for health reasons. Benefits and drawbacks exist for each type of diet, and the right choice for you is often a matter of preference and lifestyle.
Low-Carb and Low-Fat Defined
There is no clear definition of low-fat and low-carb diets, but general guidelines do exist. A 2013 issue of Today's Dietitian suggests that low-carb diets generally contain 30 to 100 grams of carbs daily. A review published in 2012 in the American Journal of Epidemiology defines low-carb diets as supplying less than 45 percent of your daily calories from carbs, which is less than 225 grams of carbs when eating 2,000 calories per day. This review and a study published in 2014 in Annals of Internal Medicine classify low-fat diets as providing less than 30 percent of your calories from fat, which equates to less than 67 grams of fat daily when following a 2,000-calorie plan.
Which is Better for Weight Loss?
Some studies have found that low-carb diets are more effective for weight loss and fat loss than low-fat diets. A study published in 2014 in Annals of Internal Medicine showed that this was the case, even after a period of 12 months. Participants in this study consumed fewer than 40 grams of carbs daily when following low-carb diets, and ingested less than 30 percent of their calories from fat when following low-fat diets.
However, low-fat diets can also help you shed pounds. Studies published in 2012 in the American Journal of Epidemiology and in 2009 in Diabetes showed that both low-carb and low-fat diets can lead to significant weight loss. The bottom line is that whichever diet you can stick with long term that allows you to reduce your overall caloric intake is the best weight-loss option for you.
Which Reduces Disease Risks?
Because low-fat and low-carb diets can aid in weight loss in overweight individuals, they can also both help decrease disease risks. However, low-carb diets may be slightly more beneficial in some cases. The studies published in 2012 in the American Journal of Epidemiology and in 2014 in Annals of Internal Medicine found that low-carb diets lowered cholesterol levels slightly more than low-fat diets. Low-carb diets may also be more beneficial for people with diabetes trying to control blood sugar levels.
Which Diet is the Best Choice?
Personal preference often determines whether a low-fat or low-carb diet is easier to stick with long term. If weight loss is your goal, eat plenty of protein- and fiber-rich foods to help boost satiety and make it easier to lower your overall caloric intake. If you work out regularly, avoid eating too few carbs because that could cause fatigue and decrease athletic performance. If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, a low-carb diet may be a good option for you but check with your doctor to be sure.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com.