Are low-carbohydrate diets the best for losing weight and keeping it off?

For many people, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets like the Atkins diet are the best choice for losing weight. But for years, most weight loss experts have cautioned that these diets increase the risk for heart disease and are unlikely to work for long-term weight management. In recent years a number of weight loss experts have stated that low-carbohydrate diets really are the most effective diets to promote weight loss, citing research published in medical journals to support their case. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

I cite two studies in my column. The first examined the effect of several popular diets, including the Atkins diet, on weight loss over a one year period of time.  The results showed that subjects following the low-carbohydrate diet lost the greatest amount of weight during the one year study.  The second, more recent study, looked at the effect of three diets of varying carbohydrate, fat, and protein content on metabolic rate, a predictor of weight regain. The thinking is that if metabolic rate is maintained closer to normal, weight gain is less likely to occur. (Metabolic rate typically declines following weight loss, which may be a factor in regaining weight following a diet).

Does this mean that low-carbohydrate diets have won the diet war? I think it is too soon to tell. In my column I discuss several factors that are important to consider when evaluating these studies. Further research about the long-term effects of these diets on body weight, heart disease risk, and other health outcomes in free-living subjects is needed before a winner can be declared. In particular, the long-term health risks of following a low-carbohydrate diet cannot be ignored, as this recent study shows.

One thing is for sure: Based on recent research, low-carbohydrate diets should not be dismissed as a fad, and further research should help us understand the safety and efficacy of these popular diets.

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