Food fight!! High carb or high fat? The answer is that it really depends, many factors play a role. But most importantly, we need to abandon the notion that there is one diet that fits all. As you know; fat loss is caused by an energy deficit. Whatever diet makes achieving this the easiest is what you should shoot for. What speaks to you, doesn’t speak to everyone else. You need to consider also that whatever diet you want to adopt should also be sustainable if you plan on keeping the weight off.
This issue gets contaminated a little by the fact that people may use certain dietary approaches for different purposes. The two extremes are: an elite athlete who wants to perform well in an endurance event and a more sedentary person trying to eat to lose weight or be healthier. These are completely different purposes and it would be wrong to assume that two completely different problems should be solved with one common magic diet that doesn’t really exist.
Now before I start writing, the main take home message is as I mentioned before; if a particular nutrition theory -like Paleo or vegetarianism- worked for you, that’s awesome. You should be happy you found something that helped you reach your goals.
But to suggest that everyone else should follow the same program because it worked for you, at one point in your life, under a particular set of circumstances is unfair and unrealistic.
It is possible to be healthy and fit whether you eat mostly meat or mostly veggies, mostly fat or mostly carbs, many times a day or just a few times, and so on. When done properly, whether it is vegan, paleo or whatever it is – it should be based on food quality and nutrient rich foods, energy levels, awareness towards nutrient deficiencies and allergies. A good diet should make you feel rejuvenated no matter what the approach is.
However, if you are into the niche diets such as Ketogenic, Paleo, raw diets and so on, you need to either choose, high fat or high carb diets. You can only increase your fat intake once you lower your carbs, and vice versa. You can’t do both at the same time; Big sweet + Big fat = Big problem!!
High carb diets have benefits, if you are someone who prioritizes muscle and strength. Exercise is highly glycolytic and carbohydrates elicit huge benefits when it comes to training. You will also be eating more foods on a high carb diet because they are not as calorically dense as fat. Lastly, our bodies preferred source of energy is glucose which is why going low carb without being in ketosis can really be annoying and not sustainable.
With high fat diets such as the Ketogenic diet, you can see benefits such as lack of hunger overtime. Becoming fat adapted is pretty hard but once your body is in ketosis, it can make adhering to a caloric deficit really easy. Especially if you combine it with IF (intermittent fasting). Personally, I think Ketogenic and IF (can work great for someone who is more sedentary and not so keen on intense and daily workouts. Also, the good thing about Ketosis is that it has gained so much attention due to its therapeutic purposes and it can actually reverse type 2 diabetes if done properly.
Another difference is that on a low carb or Ketogenic diet people experience faster weight loss in the first few weeks compared to a normal meal plan. It all boils down to water weight. Each gram of carbs retains 2.4-3g of water, so reducing carbohydrates result in a quick drop in body weight. This drop in your weigh will keep you placebo-ly happy.
I think you should see what works for you personally. Do not follow the trend just because the internet or your friends advise so. Listen to yourself own body cues and see what works well with you.
Both the HCLF (High Carb Low Fat) and HFLC (High Fat Low Carb) approaches have individual merits but they can’t be combined. Think about it…are there any super sweet, high fat plants in nature? No. Health issues like weight gain and blood-sugar disorders like hypoglycemia and diabetes come when high fats and high carbohydrates are consumed together for a long period of time; not in the same recipe or same meal specifically but in the same over all diet. You either need to focus on whole food, vegan high carbs or vegan high fats. You can’t do both and expect stellar results unless you are an elite athlete who can eat anything and everything and must consume copious amount of calories to fuel their activity. and that’s not the majority of us.
A very precious piece of advice – do not to go for low fat products in whatever diet you choose to follow. When fat is removed, so is much of the nutrition and it is generally replaced with some form of carbohydrate. For example, low fat cream cheese has 15% carbs whereas regular spreadable cream cheese has only 4%. You will go through a period of reading every label, but you will soon recognize the brands and the foods to buy.
Buy the least processed, freshest, closest to nature foods as you can. If it has a long expiry date, ask yourself why? Food shouldn’t last months or years, buy food that rots, buy food that your grandmother would choose. Simple rules, simple food.
Zein Nimri is an AFPA certified sports nutritionist, NESTA kids nutritionist, long distance runner, cyclist and traveller with big dreams. Follow her on Instagram @Zeinutritionist she is currently an Eating Disorder Recovery Coach.