Study Reveals Impact of Low-Carb Diet Quality on Long-Term Weight Management

by Ella

New research suggests that the quality of food plays a crucial role in the success of low-carb diets in achieving sustainable weight loss.

A recent study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health sheds light on the long-term effects of various low-carb diets, emphasizing that not all low-carb approaches yield the same results when it comes to weight management.


The study compared five types of low-carb diets, revealing that individuals who followed an unhealthy, meat-based low-carb diet experienced weight gain over time compared to those who adhered to a healthier, plant-based version. The senior author of the study, Dr. Qi Sun, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology, highlighted the importance of considering the quality of food in low-carb diets for successful weight control.


Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine, expressed the novelty of the research in examining the lasting effects of different low-carb variants on weight loss. While acknowledging the observational nature of the study, Katz emphasized that associations observed were potent, dose-responsive, and tethered to plausible mechanisms.


The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, analyzed data from over 67,000 participants in three longitudinal studies conducted between 1986 and 2018. Participants, under the age of 65 and with no preexisting chronic conditions, reported weight loss or gain at four-year intervals.


The research identified various low-carb diets, ranging from those primarily using animal protein and fat to those focusing on vegetable-sourced protein and fat. Unsurprisingly, diets emphasizing high-quality macronutrients from healthy plant-based foods were associated with less weight gain, while those emphasizing animal-sourced proteins and fats or refined carbohydrates were linked to more weight gain.

The study highlighted that adopting a ‘low-carb’ diet, in general, was not associated with lasting weight loss over a span of four years. However, those adopting a plant-based and/or high-quality low-carb diet experienced sustained weight loss, showcasing the significance of food quality in any diet.

Dr. Sun, the study’s senior author and director of the Nutritional Biomarker Laboratory at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, emphasized the importance of choosing a diet that prioritizes fresh fruits, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and other healthy ingredients.

In conclusion, the research underscores the nuanced nature of low-carb diets and emphasizes that focusing on the quality of food is key to achieving lasting weight management success.



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