Low-Fat or Low-Carb? Which Diet Is Better?

Recent Research Shows That One Diet Helps People
Not Only Lose Weight, But Keep It Off.

“In two decades I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds. I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.”  – Erma Bombeck

Charm bracelet. Flickr photo by Sarah G

Low-carb, low-fat, cabbage soup, Fruit Loops.  Which diet shows the most promise for helping dieters not just lose weight, but keep it off?

Turns out it’s none of the above mentioned.  Researchers that have been collecting data from a two-year-work-based program called the Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial have determined that the Mediterranean diet is the winner.

Two Years and Three Diets Later

Recently, a research project conducted by The Dietary Intervention Trial followed 322 moderately obese people – most of them men – that were assigned to three diet categories:  Low-fat, low-carb and Mediterranean.

At the end of the two year trial 259 people remained in the program. After two years the average weight loss was 6.4 pounds in the low-fat group, 10.3 pounds in the low-carb group and 10 pounds in the Mediterranean group.

A follow-up six years later showed that the participants that followed the Mediterranean diet weighed almost seven pounds less than they weighted six years earlier.  In the low-carb group the total was 3.7 pounds less and the low-fat group was 1.3 pounds.

Researcher, Dr. Dan Schwartzfuchs, concluded that the workplace intervention “had long-lasting, favorable post-intervention effects, particularly among participants that received the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets, despite a partial regain of weight.”

I don’t find it surprising that the participants on the Mediterranean program sustained better long-term weight loss.  The Mediterranean diet – if it’s even fair to call it a diet – is non-restrictive and focuses on filling your plate with whole foods that are fulfilling and provide plenty of nutrition. It is not based on deprivation, starvation, and doesn’t promise quick results in a short amount of time, all of which can set people up for failure.

A Dream Diet

The Mediterranean diet is one where you don’t have to track calories, carbs or grams of fat, and you get to indulge in moderate amounts of olive oil and red wine.

According to the Mayo-Clinic the basic components of the Mediterranean diet are:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating generous portions of plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Substituting olive and canola oils for butter and other unhealthy fats
  • Using herbs and spices in place of salt
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation

Benefits of Eating Mediterranean Style

Around the globe, different cultures embrace a style of eating that is based on tradition.  Italians are famous for their rich, hearty pasta dishes, the French for their breads and pastries.  My husband’s family are of Polish decent. Traditional dishes that are served at celebratory events include kugeli – a potato dish drenched in bacon and butter -, dumplings stuffed with farmer’s cheese and, of course, Polish sausage.  In America we eat a blend of dishes from all of these cultures with McDonalds, Taco Bell and Olive Garden thrown in.

The folks that live near the Mediterranean Sea follow a plant-based diet that’s plentiful in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices.  Studies have shown that this population live longer and suffer less than Americans from cancer and cardiovascular ailments.

The Harvard School of Public Health partnered with Oldways, a non-profit food think tank in Boston, to develop a Mediterranean diet food pyramid that provides a colorful visual of the foods that should be eaten in generous portions daily.

The beauty of this diet is that it focuses on what you should eat instead of what you shouldn’t.  If most of the foods you eat come from the bottom of the pyramid, you will be nourished and full and won’t be as likely to have cravings for the less nutritious, processed foods that are so plentiful in the American diet.

Is Weight Loss Inevitable?

Following the Mediterranean way of eating has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  A guarantee that you’ll lose weight isn’t built in.  In order to lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit.  A pound of weight is equal to 3,500 calories.  To lose a pound a week, a reduction of calories, an additional expenditure of energy, or a combination of both in that amount is required.

Meals that are designed around fish and vegetables as the main ingredient will, however, be naturally lower in calories than some other popular entrees like chicken alfredo with a side of garlic bread or a steak and baked potato.

Cooking Like You Live In The Mediterranean is Easy.

When you follow the Mediterranean plan you can find many recipes that are simple and easy to prepare.  One of my favorites is Pan-Sauteed Salmon Over Mediterranean Vegetables (found here).  I’ve added sautéed seasonal squash to the mushrooms and other vegetables.  This is a recipe where you can get creative and add your favorite vegetables which will provide a variety of nutrients and flavors. A quick Google search provides numerous web sites that highlight similar recipes.

What’s your favorite Mediterranean recipe?

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