When people are considering a weight-loss strategy, low carbs rather than low fat may be the way to go, a U.S. study has found.
Tulane University researchers say they've determined there are significantly more beneficial results in weight loss, a reduction in fat mass, lower cholesterol levels and a decrease in waist size, from a low-carbohydrate diet as compared to one focused on lower fat levels.
In their study, the researchers monitored 148 people diagnosed as clinically obese while they attempted to lose weight for a year on a randomly assigned low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet.
At the close of the study, participants who kept their consumption of carbs -- in sources such as breads, pastas, cookies and the like -- to under 40 grams daily dropped an average 8 pounds more than was shed by people on low-fat diets, the researchers said.
"Carbohydrates, in general, are not the kind of neutral dietary component that we thought they were," says lead researcher Dr. Lydia Bazzano. "[Historically] they were often at the base of the dietary pyramid."
In addition to the weight loss, there were heart health benefits in the low-carbohydrate diet, the researchers said, with improvements in levels of "good" cholesterol and triglycerides.
"Carefully selecting carbs in your diet would be the best take home message," Bazzano says.
However, there is a problem when trying to directly compare the two diets, some experts said - the result of differences in how easy or hard it is to stick to one or the other for the long term.
"There is more to do and think about with a low-fat diet," says dietician Keith Ayoob at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
People on a low-fat diet, he points out, must make a distinction between the various types of fats they are consuming, whereas people on a low-carbohydrate version simply have to cut out that entire food group.
"A low-fat diet appears less restrictive, but it may be more difficult for some people to comply with," he says.
Bazzano, however, suggests a trip through any supermarket would indicate the opposite, providing ample help for the low-fat crowd, and that the low-carb regimen may in fact be the harder one to stick to.
"At the grocery store there is every product in the world that is low fat," she says.
The most important decision, the experts all agree, is about a commitment to stick to a diet -- any diet -- once begun.