Low fat or low carb? It may not matter-just follow a reduced calorie diet.

Guest article by Carl Sirecky

Low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets have both sold a lot of diet books. But new research suggests it may not matter whether you reduce fat or carbohydrates.

The important thing may be just to follow a restricted calorie diet. So long as you maintain healthy levels of nutrients and eat heart-healthy foods, the proportions you take in of fat, carbohydrates or protein may matter little.

That was the conclusion suggested by a study announced in February 2009 by the National Institutes of Health. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found similar weight loss after six months and two years among participants following four different diets with different proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, but all with reduced calories.

On average, participants lost 13 pounds over six months and maintained a weight loss of nine pounds after two years.

The NIH study follows earlier research that suggests that the restricted calorie diet may also extend life. That’s at least the effect that a restricted calorie diet appears to have had in studies on some animals, according to an article published by the Mayo Clinic in 2007.

A restricted calorie diet that includes all necessary nutrients has been found in studies to extend the lives of flies, worms and rats, according to the report. Studies on animals with longer life spans and humans hadn’t been performed, however, because of the decades those studies would take.

But studies of the restricted calorie diet’s effects on humans for short durations have shown positive changes in blood pressure, blood sugar, body fat percentage, cholesterol, heart rate, and weight.

This all may be good news and bad news for those of us struggling to lose weight. The research about the restricted calorie diet suggests that chasing new diet fads and following complicated regimens may be a waste of effort. But there may be no way around the hard part: To lose weight, you have to eat less.

Carl Sirecky is a professional writer and researcher in Northern California. He struggles to reduce his own calories.

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