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The great war in the science of nutrition on weight loss: low-fat diets vs low-carbohydrate diets

Good morning and welcome to the January cost, those weeks that follow the Christmas holidays and that are felt in your pocket and on the scale. It is the time to lose weight par excellence, the time to propose it as a goal for the new year.

Put to make that effort (lose weight is not easy, and keep it even less), it is best to do so based on what science has shown that works . Of course this is not always easy because some things have not been unequivocally demonstrated so far and the supporters of some ideas and others defend yours as the most appropriate, healthy or effective.

There is among others a nutritional war for several years among the defenders that to lose weight you have to reduce the consumption of fats and those who say that it is actually much better to reduce the consumption of hydrates . Keep reading and you will understand what this war is about.

What are fats?

Fats are one of the groups of essential nutrients for our body to function normally, since it is the storehouse from where our body extracts the energy it needs.

They are also necessary to maintain healthy hair and skin , and without them we could not absorb some vitamins called liposoluble. Lastly, fat plays a fundamental role in the preservation of body temperature .

Of course, not all fats are the same : all are composed of saturated or unsaturated fatty acids (which in turn differ in different subtypes), but each one has them in different proportions.

Why limit fats?

The monounsaturated fatty acids (abundant among others in olive oil) and polyunsaturated (in sunflower oil) are essential and beneficial, but saturated fatty acids (mainly present in fats of animal origin present in products such as butter, milk whole or fatty meats) tend to raise blood cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack.

This means that it is necessary to discern the type of fat we consume and limit some of those types to avoid health problems.

On the other hand, fats, also the good ones , are very dense in calories : they have 9 calories per gram, approximately double that of carbohydrates or proteins. That means that a high consumption of fats is a high calorie consumption, that if they do not burn they accumulate in our body and that they can give rise to problems of overweight and obesity.

What are hydrates?

The carbohydrates are also called carbohydrates or sugars, and are the basic fuel of our body : they provide the necessary energy immediately for the fulfillment of all the tasks of our body, against the fat that is the stored energy of which the body takes a hand when it has finished burning the hydrates that it had at hand at that moment.

The process also happens in reverse: when we consume many carbohydrates that we do not burn, these become fat that accumulates in our body when a greater energy intake is necessary.

Why limit hydrates?

There are also different types of carbohydrates depending on whether they are assimilated quickly (sugars) or slowly (starches). What we commonly call sugar is the first group, and is currently the number one public enemy, the main cause of the obesity and overweight epidemic in which we currently live.

You can also distinguish between refined and unrefined carbohydrates(whole carbohydrates ), and this distinction is especially important in terms of health and weight . Refined hydrates are those found in white sugar, white rice, flour and white cereal products, etc.

In this type of carbohydrates , everything that comes with the product(the husk of cereals, other components of sugar …) that are in the integral varieties and that provide nutrients that accompany the hydrates and that are very beneficial, such as fiber (which in fact is a great ally to lose weight).

The problem is that refined carbohydrates quickly convert glucose , which is especially problematic for people with diabetes or with insulin resistance. On the other hand, carbohydrates are easily stored in the form of glucose in our body, which increases the risk of overweight, obesity and diabetes .

So what’s better: less fat or less carbohydrates?

We are in a moment of resolution of this question, and the answer lately is veering from the recommendations of reducing fats to those of reducing hydrates .

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014, 148 obese adults were asked to reduce saturated fats (meat, butter and whole milk) or carbohydrates (white bread, sugary cereals and other processed foods). Neither of the two groups was given a specific caloric restriction, but both reduced between 500 and 700 calories a day.

After a year, those who had reduced the hydrates had lost about 5.4 kilos on average , while those who had restricted fat had reduced only 1.8 . In addition, they showed less cholesterol, less percentage of body fat and a greater proportion of muscle mass.

It’s not the only one. Another study published in 2017 in The Lancetconcluded that more people could benefit from reducing the amount of carbohydrates than reducing the amount of fat. They analyzed 135,000 people from 18 different countries, and according to their observations, people who eat a lot of carbohydrates had a 30% higher risk of dying during the study than people who eat a few carbohydrates , and people who eat a diet high in carbohydrates. Fats have a 23% lower chance of dying during the subsequent seven years of follow-up than people on low-fat diets.

Not everyone is clear about it

But before drawing sharp conclusions, we must bear in mind that not everyone is clear and the scientific results are not unanimous . A meta-analysis published in 2014 sought to draw conclusions from randomized tests on the results of different diets, and this is what he found: after 6 months, people who followed diets low in carbohydrates had lost an average of 8.6 kilos more than control group, who did not follow any diet, while those who followed a diet low in fat had lost 7.7 kilos more than those in the control group, but a year later, there were no discernible differences between what was lost by some and by others . In those studies, the question of cardiovascular health was not analyzed.

What then is the best diet to lose weight?

Well, the truth is that at the moment we can not give a clear answer to this question : there is no winning option in this war, at least for now. However, there are some recommendations that seem solid ground on which to begin to modify our eating habits.

1. All the nutrients are necessary

The first thing you have to be clear is that you should not totally dispense with any group of nutrients, neither carbohydrates nor fats , because they are all necessary for the organism. You can reduce or increase some amounts, and you can focus on one type of nutrient or another, but you should never eliminate them .

2. Fats are essential, but focus on the good

Consuming fats is essential for our body to function normally, so striving to eliminate them can damage health. Of course, focus on enhancing the consumption of healthy fats , vegetable (olive, sunflower, soy, nuts …) and blue fish among others. Here are some ideas for foods rich in healthy fats .

3. Also choose the type of suitable hydrates

At the time of consuming cereals, which are our main source of carbohydrates, it is much better to choose them in their integral variety : whole wheat bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice … When the whole grain is included, besides slowing the conversion of the hydrates in glucose, you will benefit from the other nutrients it contains, such as vitamins, healthy fatty acids and fiber. Oh, and limit the sugar!

4. More than going on a diet, change your habits

The concept of diet has something malignant . To begin with, because it applies the same parameters for each person, even though each one of us has different nutritional needs, and to continue because it means following strict instructions to modify our weight in a relatively short time.

Ok, and then what? Eating in this way in the long term is not feasible, and if we have not learned anything along the way, it is likely that we will go back to the old ways and end up recovering all the lost weight . Instead, it is much more effective in the long term to reeducate our eating habits and incorporate more or less subtle but sustainable long-term changes.

5. Pay attention and plan

In that sense, stop improvising meals and plan your diet so that it includes everything necessary in the most healthy amounts. Only with paying attention to what you eat and organizing a balanced diet you already have a great stretch of the road.

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