Low-Carb Diets Beat Low-Fat for Heart Health, Weight Loss

Low carb diets reduced body fat and cardiovascular risk factors more after one year in diverse population

Dieters often hear conflicting information about what they shouldn't eat — is it fat or carbohydrates? New research suggests the low-carb camp may lose more weight and have better heart health.

The new study looked at how low-carb and low-fat diets affected weight loss and heart disease risk factors like cholesterol in both black and white patients.

After one year on their diets, the low-carb group saw greater decreases in heart disease risk factors than the low-fat group.

Ask a nutritionist how you can limit your carb intake.

Under the direction of Lydia Bazzano, PhD, MPH, and colleagues, 148 obese men and women — roughly half black, half white — set out on low-carb or low-fat diets for a year.

"Few randomized, controlled trials thus far have examined the effects of carbohydrate restriction on [heart disease] risk factors in a diverse population with a significant proportion of black persons," the authors wrote.

The low-carb group had to limit daily carb intake to 40 grams. The low-fat group had to take less than 30 percent of its daily calories from fat.

At the end of the year, the low-carb group had lost about 8 pounds more than the low-fat dieters, for a total of nearly 12 pounds.

"It may be more effective, at least in the short run, to focus on limiting carbohydrates in order to accelerate weight loss," said Jeffrey M. Schussler, MD, FACC, FSCAI, an interventional cardiologist at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital and Baylor Medical Center at Dallas. "This, in turn, seems to help reduce cardiovascular events. Whether this is sustainable in the long run remains to be seen."

"Our study found that a low-carbohydrate diet induced greater weight loss and reductions in cardiovascular risk factors at 12 months than a low-fat diet among black and white obese adults who did not have diabetes, [heart disease], or kidney disease at [the start of the study]," the authors wrote.

Also, the low-carb group had better cholesterol levels overall and had gained more muscle mass during the study. They also had less C-reactive protein, which suggests less inflammation.

The authors noted that outcomes could change over a longer period of time.

The study was published Sept. 1 in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.