To progress on your weight loss journey, the search for a proper diet is important and often interesting. Options like a low-fat diet and a low-carb diet make one thing apparent – moderation.
But let’s answer which is better: a low-fat or low-carb diet? In short, a low-calorie diet is best for weight loss. A variety of micronutrients rest on carbs and fat, and while the goal of weight loss is to get rid of extra fat in the body, at no point should you compromise your micronutrient needs – your vitamins and minerals. From this point of view, let’s understand the pros and cons of both diets.
Understanding the low-fat, low-carb diet
The calories you get from your food fuel your daily activities, and the amount of energy you need for your day is your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). As you consume fewer calories than you need to do all your activities in a day, your body, among others, starts to feed itself using fat.
As your body starts to use fat, this is a good start to your weight loss journey. The importance of a calorie deficit diet cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to losing weight, and fats and carbohydrates are the two biggest players in achieving this goal as they are the richest sources of calories in your meal.
1. Each gram of carbohydrate equals four calories.
2. Each gram of fat equals nine calories.
The difference in calories between fats and carbs is stark and seems like a no-brainer to start a low-fat diet, but not that fast.
The caloric load that each macronutrient carries is significantly different from the other. The difference comes from their varied benefits.
Benefits of a high-fat and low-fat diet
A low-fat diet implies that you need to consume less fat than what is normally needed as part of your balanced diet. A balanced meal provides 20-35% of total calories from fat, and a low-fat diet would mean decreasing the portion of fat on your plate to somewhere between 10 and 15%.
Fat is loaded with calories, as each gram of fat contains 9 calories. So a low-fat diet seems like an obvious choice for losing weight, but fat also contains essential micronutrients. Its content of omega-3 and omega-6 (essential fatty acids) helps in reducing inflammation. Fat is vital for eye and brain health. It also helps in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, D and K.
Following a low-fat diet can compromise some of these benefits.
Starting with a low-fat diet
Fats are important for maintaining good health and fitness. Essential fatty acids are fats that our bodies cannot produce and rely on external sources. Therefore, it is important that when you reduce your daily fat intake below 20% of your portion, at no point should you deprive your body of these fatty acids.
Reducing the portion of fat in your diet will require limiting the use of oil, ghee, butter or any other visible fat to less than two teaspoons per day. This also means avoiding processed foods that are often high in trans fats, which raise the cholesterol (LDL) that builds up in the inner linings of the arteries.
There are invisible sources of fats that make up your diets like nuts and dairy like milk, cottage cheese, etc. These invisible fats need to be controlled in order to follow a low-fat diet.
While fat sources like salmon, mackerel, etc. are good sources of omega-3 fat and can provide essential fatty acids, for someone who is a vegetarian these needs should be met by eating a mixture of green leafy vegetables and seeds. Your low-fat diet should not only help you lose weight, it should also provide you with the benefits that fat has to offer.
Benefits of carbohydrates and a low carb diet
Carbohydrates are the source of energy for your body. Your body stores carbohydrates as glycogen, which is stored in your muscles and liver and later used as a source of energy. Your body saves protein by using glucose as an energy source, and protein remains responsible for building your muscles.
A balanced diet requires carbohydrates to remain between 45% and 65% of your meal portion. A low carb diet would mean keeping your carbohydrate serving in meals below 45% or between 10-25%.
A low carb diet is usually preferred because, in the early stages, it creates an illusion of weight loss. This is partially due to glycogen. Each glycogen molecule is bound to three water molecules. As a result, the reduced glycogen stores reflect on the weight, causing a loss of water weight and encouraging you to continue the low-carb diet. But that’s just an indication that your body is probably using protein to fuel its activities.
Starting with a low carb diet
As you cut down on carbs, your body starts using protein as an energy source, depleting your lean body muscles. This results in a loss of strength.
Choosing the right carbohydrates is critical. You can start by eliminating processed foods like salty snacks and carbonated drinks, which contribute to fatty liver and raise blood glucose levels to unhealthy levels (ultimately leading to diabetes and heart disease).
Choose the right carbohydrates: whole foods such as legumes, beans, sprouts, etc., and green vegetables as they are rich in fiber. They do not cause a sudden spike in blood glucose levels and are rich in vitamins and minerals. Whole fruits, not juices, are also healthy choices. Fiber and micronutrients are often lost in the fruit juice process, which turns a nutritional fruit into a sugary beverage.
Follow this general rule
A rule of thumb for choosing between low-fat and low-carb diets might be to map out your precautionary measures. Identify a diet plan that you can follow the necessary care for and make sure your micronutrient needs are not affected.
Similar to how we like to have options when choosing foods, choosing just one diet may not be sustainable. Your preferences will have a big influence. A single diet plan will require you to offset your caloric needs, and this is where protein can come in handy.
Also, adding some exercise to your routine will help you balance your calories and build strength. What you need is a balanced approach in which you can maintain a calorie deficit diet so that you can consistently and effectively achieve your weight loss goal.