Low-Carb Eating May Be Best for Weight Loss, Heart Health

Study shows heart benefits to cutting down the carbs

heart shaped slice of brown bread

If you’re looking for a heart-healthy weight-loss diet to try, it appears that low-carbohydrate might be more effective than low-fat.

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A recent study found that a low-carb diet is better for losing weight and reducing cardiovascular disease risk than a low-fat one. 

Researchers at Tulane University randomly assigned 148 men and women to follow either a low-carbohydrate diet or a low-fat diet. None of the participants had heart disease or diabetes when the study began.

Participants assigned to the low-carbohydrate diet were told to maintain an intake of digestible carbohydrate – meaning total carbohydrate minus total fiber – of less than 40 grams daily. Those assigned to the low-fat diet were told to maintain less than 30 percent of their daily energy intake from fat, with less than 7 percent coming from saturated fat and 55 percent from carbohydrates. Neither diet included a specific calorie or energy goal. And the participants in each group were asked to avoid changing their physical activity levels during the study. 

After a year,  people on the low-carb diet had greater decreases in weight, fat mass and other cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as cholesterol levels, than those on the low-fat diet.

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Those in the low-carb group lost an average of almost 8 pounds more than those in the low-fat group and blood levels of certain fats that are predictors of risk for heart disease, also decreased more in the low-carb group.

The researchers say that the underlying mechanisms that may account for the differences in weight loss by diet are not fully known. But another recent study indicates that low-carbohydrate diets may have a more favorable effect than low-fat diets on how your body burns calories.

The researchers say that low-carb diets have been a popular strategy for weight loss, but their cardiovascular effects have been unknown until now.

“A low-carb diet is effective way to lose weight and improve cardiovascular risk factors. However, the diet is difficult to maintain long-term,” says registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD.  Ms. Patton, a registered dietitian in Cleveland Clinic’s Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation Section, did not take part in the study.

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“Once you transition off  a low-carb diet, follow a Mediterranean diet for a heart-healthy approach to reducing cardiovascular risk factors,” Ms. Patton says.

Complete findings for the study, “Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial,” appear in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

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