Let’s get real. When people talk about the “ideal diet,” they’re less concerned about nutrition and far more focused on weight loss.
Heck, if someone’s weight remains stable into adulthood, they practically brag about how they can “eat anything they want,” right?
So dietary questions really revolve around weight loss, not health.
And that’s where fat comes in — not the “padding” most of us carry around on our waist, hips and thighs, but the nutrient we consume in greater or lesser quantities, depending on our choice of foods.
To choose an optimal diet, which means optimal weight control, should we cut down on fat — the most concentrated source of calories — or cut down on carbs?
Don’t look to popular advice from any of the legion of self-proclaimed diet gurus. They’re all over the board.
For example, a typical online “report” titled, “Ten foods to help you lose weight” recommended (among other choices) grapefruit, salsa, cabbage, black beans and dark chocolate. What kind of diet is that? The common denominator is that those foods either fill you up with fiber (beans) or water (grapefruit) so you eat less, or replace higher fat foods with low-fat ones (salsa), so you cut down on calories.
In the end, it’s all about cutting out fat, and thus cutting out calories.
Meat vs. no meat
But is that the best way to go? When weight loss is the goal (and it always is), does reducing fat calories make a difference?
A new research analysis conducted at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggests that low fat diets are not the best way to lose weight. The researchers reviewed some 53 studies of more than 68,000 participants and concluded that low-fat diets did not lead to greater weight loss.
Quick aside: What’s a low-fat diet? For most people it means cut out the meat and substitute starch. Cereal instead of eggs for breakfast. Salad instead of a burger for lunch. Chicken instead of beef for dinner. That’s the popular understanding of “low-fat.” So when the choice is low-fat or not, it’s really a meat-or-no-meat decision.
That said, let’s get to the clincher: The researchers found that higher fat diets that are low in carbohydrates were significantly more likely to lead to long-term weight loss, compared with a low-fat approach.
But of course, nutritional analyses tend to be inconclusive. Anyone who actually bothered to read the study would be asking the obvious question: If I want to lose weight, should I be eating less fat?
Don’t ask a bunch of researchers.
According to a TIME news story on the study, “The key takeaway here is it’s likely not going to be fats versus carbs when it comes to weight loss,” Deirdre Tobias, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and one of the principal study authors, told the magazine. “We need to think of foods and healthy patterns rather than thinking about individual nutrients.”
Right. That will be the takeaway for exactly no one.
“I’m not concerned about weight loss; I’m just thinking about individual nutrients.”
That sentence has never been uttered by modern consumers.
Unless they’re drawing a paycheck from Harvard University or Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Truth is, even all those PhD researchers with the fancy titles couched their findings in all kinds of blah, blah, blah about “short duration trials” and “confounding variables.”
But the bottom line is that after cutting through the disclaimers, this study concluded — and I quote — that “public health guidelines should stop recommending low-fat diets for weight loss.”
That’s my takeaway, and it translates to “Keep eating animal foods to maintain optimal body weight.”
Oh, and you might want to consider some exercise on the side, as well.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.