To continue with my blog trend topic of food and health, I decided that I wanted to tackle something that is most likely on everyone’s mind with Thanksgiving being right around the corner—weight gain. But what foods actually make you gain weight, and why? Is eating two plates of mashed potatoes and corn just as bad as eating two plates of turkey and ham? Should I just avoid everything at the table because it is too “fattening?” Personally, I don’t want to be stressed this holiday season, especially when it comes to something so enjoyable like food, so I want to explore what foods that have been actually tested have a significant effect on both weight gain and weight loss.
According to an article on NPR released this past September, a study has been published that adds evidence to the argument that cutting back on carbs, not fat can lead to more weight loss. Researchers from Tulane University conducted a randomized experimental study that tracked two groups of dieters for one year. The 148 participants consisted of men and women, ages ranging from their early 20s to mid-70s, and included a mix of African-Americans and Caucasians. I understood the intention of the testers of trying to get a broad perspective of how these different diets many vary from one another, but I feel as if there could have been more blocking involved in order to gain better clarity of the effects of the diet on different characteristics. For example, testers could have blocked participants by age because as we grow older, our body systems begin to slow including our metabolisms. Also, I thought it was mildly confusing because each group was meant to be the other group’s control (those who decreased their carb intake kept their fat intake the same and vice versa).
The results showed that the low-carb group, which reduced their carb consumption to about 28% of their daily calories, lost almost three times as much weight as the low-fat dieters, who received about 40 to 45% of their calories from carbs. For lunch and dinner, the low-carb dieters ate lots of vegetables, salads and protein, including fish, chicken and some red meat. They had generous portions of healthy fats such as olive oils, canola and other plant-based oils. The low-carb group lost an average of 12 pounds even thought they were taking in the same amount of calories as the low-fat diet. This doesn’t prove that having a diet with a lower carb intake will reduce one’s weight, but it suggest that there is a strong correlation between the two. I found this very insightful because I have heard many arguments claiming that the most important part was the amount of calories that are taken in rather than the ratio of foods that make up one’s caloric intake. This experiment also rules out the possibility of reverse causation since they did not pick up the diet because they lost the weight. There is the possibility that chanced played a part in this experiment, but I highly doubt it due to the nature of the testing.
There is a common misconception that foods that are high in fat will make you fat, which is easy enough to understand. However, according to WebMD, there are two different types of fats that had different effects on the body: saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats, like the ones found in vegetable oils, have been found to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Saturated fats do the exact opposite: raise cholesterol, clog arteries, and increase the risk for heart disease. Both of these mentioned risks are relative since there isn’t established beforehand how likely it is for someone to contract heart disease, since it is also different for everyone due to lifestyle and genetic disposition. Carbs are believed to make us fat because it over stimulates the release of insulin, which directs more calories into storage in fat cells, and provides little nutritional value, making us feel unsatisfied after we are done consuming.
All together, I believe this was a well-done experiment that provided some light to an area that was previously misunderstood. So is it sensible for the common person to change to a low-carb diet? Not necessarily. Each person has a unique metabolism that is affected differently by different foods. People need to consider their own health and lifestyle before taking on a diet change. If you have suffered from chronic health issues regarding weight, this may be something to consider, but if you don’t have any apparent problems with your health or weight this change might not be worth the time and energy necessary.