It can be supremely frustrating trying to figure out what type of meal plan works best for you. There are so many fads and trends, all battling against solid advice and reputable research. Finding the right nutritional balance can be overwhelming—fast. It’s enough to make a guy give up and revert to continuously snacking on bags of baby carrots. But a recent study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has shed a little more light on this diet dilemma by pitting perennially dueling macros—carbs and fats—against each other. What’s better: keto or a low-fat, plant-based diet?
In the small but controlled four-week study, researchers analyzed 20 diabetes-free adults and found those who ate a low-fat, higher-carb plant-based diet consumed fewer daily calories—550 to 700 fewer—compared to subjects on a low-carb, higher-fat animal-based plan, or a ketogenic diet. And, even though the subjects on the low-fat, high-carb diet consumed less overall, they ended up with higher insulin and blood glucose levels. Possibly a result of three-quarters of their meals containing carbohydrates.
None of the subjects gained any weight even though all had access to three meals a day, plus snacks, and could eat as much as they wanted. There were also, between the two diets, no differences in hunger, enjoyment of meals, or satiety. And though both groups also lost weight, only the participants on the low-fat diet burned off a good amount of body fat (plus the high-fat subjects didn’t gain any fat).
The study macro breakdown for the plant-based, low-fat diet folks was 10 percent fat and 75 percent carbs, while the animal-based, low-carb people ate 10 percent carbs and 76 percent fat. Each meal included about 14 percent protein. All meals were minimally processed with about the same amounts of veggies.
“Interestingly, our findings suggest benefits to both diets, at least in the short-term. While the low-fat, plant-based diet helps curb appetite, the animal-based, low-carb diet resulted in lower and more steady insulin and glucose levels,” said study lead Kevin Hall, Ph.D., a senior investigator at the NIH.
“Despite eating food with an abundance of high-glycemic carbohydrates that resulted in pronounced swings in blood glucose and insulin, people eating the plant-based, low-fat diet showed a significant reduction in calorie intake and loss of body fat, which challenges the idea that high-carb diets per se lead people to overeat. On the other hand, the animal-based, low-carb diet did not result in weight gain despite being high in fat,” he said.
Though the study doesn’t provide a solid answer to whether or not you should eat carbs over fat or vice versa, it does help show that consuming too many carbs daily can mess with your insulin levels, which over the long term, could lead to pre-diabietes or worse. And that, as has been shown before, eating high levels of fat doesn’t neccssairly lead to weight can or increase in fat stores.
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