Healthy low-carb diet linked with slower long-term weight gain

January 14, 2024 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Healthy low-carb diet linked with slower long-term weight gain

Low-carbohydrate diets comprised mostly of plant-based proteins and fats with healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains were associated with slower long-term weight gain than low-carbohydrate diets made up mostly of animal proteins and fats with refined grains, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The new study dissects the low-carbohydrate diet and investigates how the composition of these diets can affect health over years, not just months.

While many studies have shown the benefits of cutting carbohydrates for short-term weight loss, little research has been conducted on low-carbohydrate diets' effect on long-term weight maintenance and the role of macronutrient quality.

About the study

Using data from the Nurses' Health Study, Nurses' Health Study II and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the researchers analyzed the diets and weights of 123,332 healthy adults from as early as 1986 to as recently as 2018. 

Each participant provided self-reports of their diets and weights every four years. 

The researchers scored participants' diets based on how well they adhered to five categories of low-carbohydrate diet:

  • total low-carbohydrate diet (TLCD), emphasizing overall lower carbohydrate intake
  • animal-based low-carbohydrate diet (ALCD), emphasizing animal-based proteins and fats
  • vegetable-based low-carbohydrate diet (VLCD), emphasizing plant-based proteins and fats
  • healthy low-carbohydrate diet (HLCD), emphasizing plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and fewer refined carbohydrates
  • unhealthy low-carbohydrate diet (ULCD), emphasizing animal-based proteins, unhealthy fats, and carbohydrates coming from unhealthy sources such as processed breads and cereals

The findings, takeaway

Diets comprised of plant-based proteins and fats and healthy carbohydrates were significantly associated with slower long-term weight gain. 

Participants who increased their adherence to TLCD, ALCD, and ULCD on average gained more weight compared to those who increased their adherence to HLCD over time. 

These associations were most pronounced among participants who were younger (<55 years old), overweight or obese, and/or less physically active. 

"The key takeaway here is that not all low-carbohydrate diets are created equal when it comes to managing weight in the long-term," said senior author Qi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition. 

Source: JAMA Network Open, December 27, 2023

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