From veganism to low-calorie diets, the Mediterranean regime and even intermittent fasting, there are all kinds of diets promising fast or gradual weight loss, depending on individual needs. But which approach is really effective long term, without damaging health?
Researchers in the US have studied the subject, concluding that low-carbohydrate diets high in proteins, fats and carbohydrates from healthy, plant-based sources were linked to slower long-term weight gain.
“Our study goes beyond the simple question of, ‘To carb or not to carb?’” said lead author Binkai Liu, research assistant in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“It dissects the low-carbohydrate diet and provides a nuanced look at how the composition of these diets can affect health over years, not just weeks or months.”
To reach these conclusions, the researchers set out to evaluate different types of low-carbohydrate diets, whose benefits for weight loss are already known, but only in the short term.
The team of scientists analysed the diet and weight of 123,332 healthy adults, between 1986 and 2018, from three large studies (Nurses’ Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study II and Health Professionals Follow-up Study).
All the people included in these studies were asked to provide information on their diet and weight every four years, and the researchers scored participants’ diets based on how well they adhered to five categories of low-carbohydrate diet. These included diets emphasizing animal – or plant-based – fats and proteins, as well as lower overall carbohydrate intake.
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What the researchers found
Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the research reveals that the diets most effective in reducing long-term weight gain were those focused on plant-based proteins and fats, and on “healthy” carbohydrates – in other words, a diet including plant-based proteins, healthy fats and fewer processed carbohydrates.
The researchers point out that participants who followed three of the other diets, including the one emphasizing animal proteins and fats, gained more weight on average than the others over the years. They also point out that these findings were all the more compelling in participants aged under 55 who were overweight or obese, and less physically active.
More fruit, vegetables and pulses
According to this research, diets based on pulses (lentils, beans), wholegrain cereals or soy products, as well as vegetable oils, avocados and seeds – among other things – combined with fruit and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, are the most effective in the long term.
It should be noted, however, that the scientists’ conclusions were a little more ambiguous regarding the vegetable-based low-carbohydrate diet emphasizing plant proteins and fats: only participants from the Nurses’ Health Study II reported significantly less weight gain in the long term. This paves the way for further studies on the subject.
“The key takeaway here is that not all low-carbohydrate diets are created equal when it comes to managing weight in the long-term,” said senior author Qi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition.
“Our findings could shake up the way we think about popular low-carbohydrate diets and suggest that public health initiatives should continue to promote dietary patterns that emphasize healthful foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.”
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