Is low carb or low fat better for losing weight and getting fit?
The field of diet and nutrition is never short of things to debate. One of the biggest issues is low carb vs low fat diets. Let’s look at what is actually meant by high fat/low carb and high carb/low fat, and which approach is best for your health and fitness goals.
What does low carb and low fat mean?
If you’re thinking about using a low carb or a low fat diet, you first need to identify what the terms mean. There is no single definition of low fat or low carb for dietary purposes. From a health point of view, we all need some dietary fat (fat is important for brain function, energy, hormones, and healthy cells). And, whilst we don’t need carbohydrate as such, we do need dietary fibre which is found in carbohydrate foods.
So whilst one person might call 25g fat “low fat”, another might not consider their diet low fat unless they have eliminated every bit of excess fat from their intake. Similarly 100g carbs might be “low carb” for some people, whilst others might need to eliminate sources like rice, bread, pasta, and fruit to consider themselves “low carb”.
Is low carb better than low fat?
The question of which diet is “better” depends on your goal. Better for health isn’t always better for weight loss, physique goals, or sports performance. What we do know is that we all need at least a small amount of dietary fat for vital physical functions, and that carbohydrate is a quick source of energy.
The only factor that influences weight loss or fat loss are calories. As long as you are eating the correct amount of calories for your goal, you can get those calories from any combination of macronutrients.
Should you eat more carbs or more fats?
Aside from those facts, it comes down to personal preference. Do you feel full and satiated with more fat sources, or more carbohydrate sources? How do carbs or fats affect your training performance and energy levels? Do you prefer meals higher in carbohydrate foods or fat foods?
Fat or carbohydrates best for building muscle
Many people feel that a high carbohydrate diet is best for building muscle, but there is no scientific evidence to back this up. The most important macronutrient for gaining muscle mass (and retaining it on a calorie controlled diet) is protein. Many people find they can train harder on a higher carbohydrate diet, but if that’s not the case for you then find a macronutrient intake that works.
The factors that influence muscle gain are: adequate total calorie intake, adequate protein intake, protein frequency, training frequency, and training intensity.
Does low carb help you lose weight?
Low carbohydrate diets are often linked to weight loss, but there is no evidence that reducing carbohydrates leads to greater weight loss (if calories are equal). The only thing that causes weight loss is a calorie deficit. If reducing carbohydrates helps you achieve and stick to a calorie deficit, then go ahead. But there’s nothing inherently fattening about carbohydrates.
The factors that influences weight loss are: a caloric deficit, consistency, food choices that support helpful food behaviours.
What is a balanced diet?
Many people choose to eat a balanced diet rather than going low carb or low fat. This means eating all three macronutrients and not making a concerted effort to cut or limit fats or carbohydrates. A balanced diet should also be high in wholefoods (for health) and food variety (for enjoyment).
List of healthy fats foods
Oily fish – salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel
Nuts and seeds
Whole eggs/egg yolks
What are healthy carbs to eat
Rice and other wholegrains
Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Beans and pulses
How to choose the healthiest diet
The takeaway point? There is no evidence to show that radically cutting dietary fats or carbohydrate from your diet is healthy. If it helps you adhere to a diet that fits your goals, crack on. But remember that a healthy diet includes some dietary fat, and some fibre.
Why not experiment with the best way of eating for your energy levels, health, sports performance, and mental clarity? Just don’t be afraid to change your mind about how you eat. Your diet isn’t your identity and it’s important to do what’s best for your long-term health.