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Low-Fat or Low-Carb: Is One the Magic Formula for Healthy Weight Loss?

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This sample health essay will explore the pros and cons of low-carb and low-fat dieting, as well as an overview of the best dieting practices to stay healthy.

Modern dieting strategies

Nearly $33 billion dollars is spent each year on weight loss products in the United States, purchased by more than 45 million individuals looking to find the key to shedding the extra pounds (Boston Medical Center). Despite this expenditure, The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that over 74% of men, 64% of women and 33% of children in the United States are classified as overweight or obese.

There have been countless dieting trends over the years and with diets like the apple cider vinegar diet and the master cleanses that have raised the eyebrows of medical professionals and dieticians (Goudreau). Dr. David Edelson, the medical director of the HealthBridge weight loss facility acknowledges that he has seen it all in his time at the facility, stating, “every time a diet craze hits the market, people want to give it a shot. It’s the American way. We want it fast. We want it now. And we don’t want it to be difficult” (Goudreau).

One of the main rivalries in diet trends has consistently been the battle between carbohydrates and fats as the key contributor to weight gain or weight loss. Even scientists and medical professionals have been at odds with a substantial amount of the research being published on the subject disagreeing as to the answer (Eunjung-Cha). However, there are some basic facts about the body and its digestive functions that are inescapable and utilizing the knowledge of these facts should shed some light on the question: which is better for your total health low-carb or low-fat diets?

Carbohydrates and dieting

Carbs are responsible for providing the energy that helps maintain a healthy body and mind, carbohydrates are broken down by the digestive system to form glucose which fuels the body. Glucose, known as blood sugar, is used for energy and any excess is relocated to the muscles and liver for later use. According to the Mayo Clinic, carbohydrates are often linked to weight gain despite their health benefits and individuals often misunderstand how to utilize carbohydrates within a healthy diet. There are three main types of carbohydrate:

  1. Fiber
  2. Starch
  3. Sugar

Classified as a complex carbohydrate, fiber is a naturally occurring substance that is present in plant-based foods. Fiber can be found in many vegetables, fruits, beans, oats and grains and can be either soluble or insoluble. No form of fiber can be digested by the human body and instead, it aids in the passage of foods through the digestive system.

Fiber adds bulk to the diet, but virtually no calories, slowing down the rate at which food leaves the stomach and potentially curbing appetite (Jampolis). Fiber is not associated with weight gain due to its lack of nutritional value, however, according to Dr. Melina Jampolis it can be a positive influence on long-term weight loss.

Also a complex carbohydrate, starch is the combination of numerous sugar molecules and as such take longer to digest than normal sugars (Bruso). Vegetables such as potatoes and corn are high in starch and also contain fiber and sugar. Some starches are resistant to digestion and act as dietary fiber, these are found in bread and cooked pasta. A balanced diet will include starchy carbohydrates, however, it is best to opt for those that also contain high amounts of natural fiber.

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is easily broken down by the body and produces immediate energy. There are many types of sugar and they each have differing combinations of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. The three most common sugar compounds are glucose, fructose, and lactose.

Fats and dieting techniques

Despite the negative connotation associated, fats are a needed part of the human diet and are healthy in moderation. When digested, some fats contain byproducts that are not otherwise found or produced within the body, making them essential to the digestive process of other food groups (Chen). Although carbohydrates are the body’s primary form of energy, fat also provides energy by sustaining movement after the initial boost from carbohydrates has expired.

As the highest form of caloric intake, fats have nine calories per gram, making them over two times as dense as carbohydrates and protein. The consumption of fat can be designated into two categories that have distinctly different traits and functions within the body, they are saturated and unsaturated fatty acids (Aubrey). Saturated fats are one of the primary causes of childhood obesity.

Saturated Fats versus Unsaturated Fats

Meat and dairy products are the typical carriers of saturated fats into the body as well foods cooked or fried in animal fats. The recommended amount of saturated fat within a balanced diet is less than unsaturated fats. This is due to the saturated fats contributing to increased cholesterol within the blood. Unsaturated fats are separated into two categories: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fat and they are considered better for your body because of their positive effect on cholesterol level. These types of fats are plant-based and include nuts, oils, and olives.

Healthy weight-loss

The rise of fast food has hurt Americans' health, and now they are looking for a quick fix. It is not surprising that weight-loss is a key topic of research, media, and consumer products. Trends in dieting have varied over the years, but fad diets have been a constant on the weight-loss landscape for centuries (Goudreau). These diets are designed to encourage weight-loss and seldom focus on changing the lifestyle or unhealthy habits of participants (Avena).

In an analysis of why people cling to the notion of a quick-fix, Dr. Nicole Avena found that individuals who trend towards these types of programs are not only looking for the quick, but looking follow specific instructions under the assumption that if someone is telling them exactly what to do it will be easier to follow and maintain discipline.

Low-carbohydrate diets

The idea of lowering the carbohydrate intake comes from the biological function that breaks down certain carbohydrates into sugar, which is either used as energy immediately, or stored short term in the liver, and all excess is converted to fat, leading to weight gain. Low-level carbohydrates theoretically mean a lack of available sugar for energy, forcing the body to break down fat to acquire energy.

The diet can be effective if the missing carbohydrates are correctly replaced with some complex carbohydrates, such as insoluble fiber, which aid in digestion but have no caloric value. In short-term studies, the low-carb diet is superior to the low-fat diet as it can contribute to the loss of water weight and lean muscle tissue, which weighs more than fat (Eng et al.).d over time a moderate carbohydrate is known to be just as successful.

Programs such as the Zone Diet, Paleo Diet, and the Atkins Diet Plan are all based on the low-carbohydrate model (Kellott). Registered Dietician Lyndel Costain notes that these diets work in the short-term, but depending on the types of carbohydrates you are eliminating the side effects can be unpleasant and over time a moderate carbohydrate is known to be just as successful.

Low-fat diets

The concept behind a low-fat diet is in the lowering of total caloric intake. Because fat contains more than twice the amount of calories than carbohydrates, the reduction of fatty foods in the diet theoretically means the less calories consumed. However, due to this fact, fat containing foods are often the most filling and the replacement of such foods with carbohydrates can offset a portion of the reduction in calories. It is for this reason that low-fat diets do not function to contribute to weight-loss as quickly as low-carbohydrate diets. However, a low-fat diet can be effectively used to maintain weight long term if consistently followed.

Health implications

The reality of the way the human body functions is that in order to achieve maximum efficiency, eliminating any one food category is not recommended (Boston Medical Center). Although the concept behind low-fat or low-carbohydrate diets can be beneficial if done in moderation, programs such as the Paleo Diet, which allows dieters to only eat foods available in pre-historic times, take things to a level which can be unhealthy long-term (University of California-Davis). These fad diets can cause eating disorders rather than solve the underlying condition.

In addition, through the years, both fats and carbohydrates have been targeted as the culprit in conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.]As an example, Walter Willet, the chairman of the Harvard School of Public Health’s department of nutrition, recalls the 1990’s when fat was considered the enemy of health and because of that, diets of the day encouraged people to increase their intake of carbohydrates (Aubrey). Willet reports that, although the public was trying to be healthier by eliminating fat from their diet:

“we were finding that if people seemed to replace saturated fat- the kind of fat found in cheese, eggs, meat, butter- with carbohydrate, there was no reduction in heart disease” (Aubrey).

Summary

Considering the research available and the long history of debate it would seem that there are positive and negative attributes of both low-carb and low-fat diets. Based on that it is possible a conclusive answer on which diet is better may never be established. Although scientists may still be arguing about the answer long into the future, there is no argument that a balanced diet filled with carbohydrates and fats, in moderation, along with physical activity is the best way to lose weight, improve health and maintain a long term lifestyle of positive food choices.

Works Cited

Aubrey, A. 'Rethinking Fat: The Case For Adding Some Into Your Diet'. National Public Radio. N.p., 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Avena, N. 'The Truth behind Fad Diets'. Psychology Today. N.p., 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Boston Medical Center. 'Tools for Ideal Weight Control | Nutrition & Weight Management | Boston Medical Center, BMC'. N.p., 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Bray, G. Patient Information: Weight Loss Treatments-Beyond The Basics. Washington D.C.: Up To Date, 2013. Print.

Bruso, J. 'What Are Considered Starches?'. Healthy Eating. N.p., 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 'Healthy Weight | DNPAO | CDC'. N.p., 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Chen, M. 'Dietary Fats Explained: Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia'. National Library of Medicine. N.p., 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Costain, L. 'Low Carb Diets'. Weight Loss. N.p., 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Eng, C et al. 'Low-Carb Eating May Be Best For Weight Loss, Heart Health - Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic'. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. N.p., 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Eunjung-Cha, A. 'Scientists (Sort Of) Settle Debate on Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat Diets'. Washington Post. N.p., 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Goudreau, J. 'World's Weirdest Diets'. Forbes. N.p., 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Jampolis, M. 'What Exactly Does Fiber Do?'. CNN. N.p., 2012. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Kellott, J. 'Low Carbohydrate - How Do Low Carb Diets Work?'. Weight Loss Resources. N.p., 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 'Overweight and Obesity Statistics'. N.p., 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

Sacks, Frank M. et al. 'Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates'. New England Journal of Medicine (2009): 360:859. Web.

University of California - Davis. 'Is The Paleo Diet Safe?'. N.p., 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

 
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