Intrigued by meat-centric meal plans like the Atkins and Paleo diets, but unsure if they stack up against the trendy low-fat diets that dominated the last decade? This new review might help.
Mayo Clinic researchers in Arizona analyzed 72 separate studies that discussed possible negative side effects, as well as the overall safety, of low-carb diets spanning from January 2005 to April 2016. The analysis, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, also found some interesting trends among dieters who ditched carbs over fat.
Forty-one trials that evaluated the effects of low-carb and low-fat diets on weight loss demonstrated that people experience greater immediate weight loss results with low-carb plans compared with low-fat, though they even out in the long term; weight loss for both eating regimens is fairly even after a year.
More specifically, men and women who adhered to low-carb diets like Atkins, Keto, and Paleo for six months lost between 2.5 to nearly 9 more pounds than those who followed a low fat diet at a 6-month checkpoint. The researchers note: "The best conclusion to draw is that adhering to a short-term low-carb diet appears to be safe and may be associated with weight reduction," lead study author Heather Fields, MD, said in a press release.
The reason they say it's "safe" for the short term? Many dieters who adopt low-carb nutrition plans end up eating a greater amount of meat—some protein sources that are sub-par in terms of nutrition and could contribute to some cancers, researchers say. To mitigate that risk, "We encourage patient[s] to eat real food and avoid highly processed foods, especially processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, hot dogs, and ham when following any particular diet," Fields said.
Ultimately, though, researchers concluded low-carb diets didn't negatively impact dieters' blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol, compared with other diets.
Some things to keep in mind: Most studies reviewed didn't disclose the quality or source of proteins and fats consumed in both diets; researchers didn't address whether participants were losing weight in the form of muscle, water, or fat; results were partially dependent on dietary recall, which can be fraught with errors; and there's limited in-depth research available to give you the full picture.
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"As an osteopathic physician, I tell patients there is no one size fits all approach for health," Tiffany Lowe-Payne, DO, said in a press release. "Factors like the patient's genetics and personal history should be considered, along with the diet programs they've tried before and, most importantly, their ability to stick to them."