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Low vs. High Carbohydrate Diets: Which is Better?

Fitday Editor

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans describe a healthy diet as one that emphasizes all food groups: fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains and low-fat milk products. However, when looking for quick weight loss results, some food groups such as carbohydrates and fats have long been demonized. Specifically, both high and low carbohydrate diets have been described as being solutions to lose weight. While both may show initial results, finding a balance between the different food groups helps to ensure that you get the most nutrition out of your daily calories.

Low Carbohydrate

Low carbohydrate diets provide a wide range of definitions and guidelines. The most extreme diet of this nature was pioneered in 1972 by Robert Atkins, M.D. The Atkins diet promised a quick and lasting weight loss solution, all the while offering up high-fat indulgences like steak, bacon and ice cream. Since then, other more moderate diets have allowed in small amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods, but still cut out most grains as well as starchy vegetables and fruits.

Low carbohydrate diets are effective at short-term weight loss, mainly because they end up being very low in calories. Recent studies show that low carbohydrate, high protein diets can lower your triglycerides and glucose levels. However, the Atkins and many other low-carb diets have turned out to be less effective and less healthy than originally advertised. For most, cutting out carbohydrates cold turkey is not maintainable, and upon re-introduction into the diet, many fall back into their old ways. Often, the weight returns, and as it does, problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol come back along with it. In addition, robbing your body of carbohydrates takes away a natural source of many micronutrients.

High Carbohydrate

In recent years, carbohydrates have been unfairly demonized. A common misconception is that they lead to weight gain. While it's true too many carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, so can too much protein or too much fat. Recent studies show that high carbohydrate diets contain greater amounts of many different vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, C, folate, carotene, calcium, iron and magnesium. In addition, by incorporating more whole grains, these carbohydrates contribute more dietary fiber to daily intake as well. Because fiber works to keep you full, studies have shown that those who increased their fiber intake through higher carbohydrate diets saw weight loss.

The main cause for concern with higher carb diets comes with not paying attention to the kinds and amounts of carbohydrates you are consuming. Carbohydrates are often easily overconsumed, which can easily lead to weight gain.

The key in this debate is that whether you're partaking in a low or high carbohydrate diet, success is most promised when you combine this diet with an overall healthy intake. The key in losing weight is finding a diet and exercise plan that you love and can keep the rest of your life. Going to an extreme may result in some initial successes, but fails to help you learn how to adopt an overall healthy lifestyle. The reason most low carbohydrate diets see such success is that it cuts out the foods that we tend to overconsume, such as breads, rice or pasta. However, keeping some sources of whole grains or fruit will not completely derail all hopes of weight loss if done right. Keeping everything in moderation rather than focusing on specific groups will help you develop a sustainable diet plan and keep you from missing out on all of the nutrients that our body needs.


Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.

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