The battle of the low carb vs. balanced diets

Everyone has been Banting (or rather ranting) about these low carb diets. So Rochez O’Grady answers the million-dollar question: does it produce results? And if it does, are they better than a healthy balanced diet?

It’s been plastered all over the news – low carbohydrate diets result in similar weight losses when compared to their balanced counterparts. This was after the study (Scan the QR Code to read the study), was released by the University of Stellenbosch in June this year. The study group showed 19 clinical trials that focused on weight loss and heart disease risk factors. It included 3209 overweight or obese patients, some with diabetes.

What did the study find?

  • If daily calories are restricted, with overweight and obese people with or without diabetes, weight loss takes place, whichever diet was followed.
  • It is the total energy consumption that is the main factor, not which diet you are on.
  • Up to the 2 year follow-up date there was no or little change in heart disease risk factors and diabetes between the diets.
  • Long-term effects of a low-carb diet are unknown, with the longest current follow-up data being 2 years.

So where does this leave you?

Let’s look at what is meant by a low carbohydrate diet. This term is very broad, but by definition is seen as any diet that has less than 45% of its total energy from carbs. But some low carb diets go up to a restriction of just 5% of total energy from carbs.

Low carb diets cut down on total energy intake by avoiding some or all:

  • Starches (e.g. bread, rice, pasta etc)
  • Starchy vegetables (e.g. pumpkin, potato, sweet potato, peas, corn etc)
  • Fruits
  • Sugar and sugar-containing foods and beverages

In which degree, these foods are cut out of the diet depends on what low carb diet you are on. So where is the rest of your energy coming from if not from carbs?

  • Liberal amounts of fat – up to 70% of total energy (typical ‘Banting’ of LCHF diet)
  • Liberal amounts of protein
  • A combination of the two.

These food groups reduce hunger therefore we eat less, which means naturally restrict energy intake.

So what is a balanced diet?

Energy intake is reduced by decreasing portion size, and cutting down on energy dense foods. But keeping carbs, protein and fat within the following recommended ranges:

  • Carbohydrates: 45 – 65%
  • Protein: 10 – 35%
  • Fat: 20 – 35%

Balanced diets bulk up with plenty of vegetables. The types of carbs recommended are all unrefined, which are high in fibre. Fats recommended are from plant sources (e.g. avos or nuts) or fatty fish (e.g. salmon or trout). Lean protein is recommended for a balance diet.

Which diet is best for you?

Dieticians look at more than just diets. Our consultations involve a thorough medical background investigation, body composition analysis, current lifestyle analysis, an in-depth dietary history, and an evaluation of past weight loss successes and/or failures.

By doing this, we are in a position to help you determine exactly what will suit your body and lifestyle. It is more about a lifestyle and behaviour change. This means that no diet, which is an external locus of control, can help you make the change. It is about you and how to access that internal locus of control to make the changes that will become a healthy lifestyle.

An important role would be for dieticians to access your internal locus of control, and help improve your relationship with food. The focus should not be on the symptom, which might be to lose a few kilos, but rather on the cause that is preventing behaviour change.

If you are still feeling like you are in the mist and really confused, the best suggestion would be to go and see a Registered Dietician, who could offer you some professional advice and help.

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