Gaining back unwanted pounds after a period of weight reduction is an all-too-common problem, and it’s not only about flagging willpower. Even when people follow their diet program and use routine to a T, it isn’t uncommon for his or her bodies to adjust to those missing pounds by slowing down their metabolism and burning fewer calories. This may lead to slowed progress, or perhaps a reversal from weight loss to weight gain.
Now, a new study suggests that reducing carbs may boost metabolism and help people burn more calories, according to new information published yesterday in BMJ. The study authors say their findings challenge the belief that all calories work the same in the body-and suggest that the dreaded weight regain after dieting may be avoided by sticking with a low-carb diet plan.
The study included 164 overweight individuals who had just lost 10 to 14% of the body weight throughout an initial 10-week dieting period. Those people were split up into groups and were allotted to either a low-, moderate-, or high-carbohydrate diet for an additional 20 weeks. Total calorie consumption in all three groups was adjusted throughout the study so that none of the participants gained or lost significant amounts of weight.
Over those 20 weeks, the research authors kept track of participants’ energy expenditure, or even the total number of calories they were burning. And they discovered that, at the same average bodyweight, those found on the low-carb diet burned about 250 calories more per day than those around the high-carb diet.
“If this difference persists-and we had no drop-off during the 20 weeks in our study-the effect would result in about a 20-pound weight loss after 3 years, with no change in calorie intake,” said Cara Ebbeling, PhD, co-author of the study and co-director from the Asics Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, inside a pr release.
So why the big difference in results? David Ludwig, MD, Ebbeling’s co-author and co-director, ventured one possible explanation. Processed carbohydrates-which “flooded our diets during the low-fat era”-raise levels of insulin, he said within the press release, which drives fat cells to keep excess calories. This increases hunger and slows metabolism, that is “a recipe for putting on weight.”
Cutting back on carbs, however, permits the body’s metabolism to hurry look out onto normal levels, the authors suggest. Additionally they discovered that ghrelin, a hormone considered to reduce fat burning capacity, was significantly lower around the low- in comparison to the high-carb diet.
This certainly sounds encouraging, especially for anyone who’s achieved a weight-loss goal only to see their hard-earned results fade (and their waistline expand) next months. Which isn’t the very first time that low-carb diets have gotten a thumbs-up to lose weight: Lots of other research-and anecdotal evidence-suggests that these types of diets (like Atkins or even the extremely popular ketogenic diet) can deliver real results.
But then again, we’ve also heard the alternative: That low-carb diets aren’t effective long-term, that they can affect mood making people feel stressed, and that you can absolutely eat carbs (even pasta!) but still slim down. So before you decide that quitting bread and loading up on meat is the response to keeping off unwanted pounds, it’s important to consider all the facts.
First, this study wasn’t looking at just any low-carb eating plan; it featured a very specific regimen of pre-formulated meals, with fat, protein, and carbohydrate content calculated towards the exact gram. So it’s natural that people attempting to follow a similar diet, without the assistance of scientists and ready-made dinners, might possibly not have the same success rates in the real world.
Second, the carbs provided to all three groups counseled me top quality, based on the study: They consisted of whole grain products (rather than highly processed ones) and minimal sugars-so no candy or pastries, for instance.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health‘s contributing nutrition editor, says it’s important to remember that low-carb doesn’t automatically mean healthy. “I think at this point we can all agree that low-fat diets aren’t optimal for health, specially when the carb sources are processed and refined,” she says. However, she adds, “just as not every calories are the same, not every low-carb diets are created equal.”
Even on low-carb diets, she says, there should be room for healthy carbohydrates-like non-starchy veggies, berries and other fresh fruit, and small servings of whole grain products, pulses, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes. “Think a half cup, concerning the size half a tennis ball per meal, instead of none,” she says.
Fitting during these healthy foods will make sure you’re getting protective antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, she says. Plus, “whole, plant-based foods support a proper gut microbiome, which is vital for immunity, mood, and digestive health,” she adds.
The study authors are hopeful their findings might have major implications for the management of obesity. But more scientific studies are needed, they say, to check different types of low-carb diets-including extreme carbohydrate restriction for example within the keto plan. Whether or not the benefits suggested within this study are confirmed, they wrote in their paper, still more work would be necessary “for optimal translation to public health.”
For now, Sass says, the most important aspects of long-term weight loss-and long-term health-remain unchanged. “It’s vital that you locate an approach that’s realistic, sustainable, and enables you to feel well mentally and physically,” she says.