THE LOW-DOWN ON THE LOW CARBOHYDRATE HIGH FAT DIET

Banting. A word that is on everyone’s tongue at the moment. Walking into the grocery store, health shops, local markets, the term ‘Banting friendly’ is everywhere! So it’s obviously trending and you’re considering trying it out. But what are your reasons? You’ve heard that it works magic for weight-loss? You want to lower your cholesterol? You want to be trendy? Many people I know say that they are ‘Banting’ but they don’t really stick to the high fat part of it. So are they really Banting? Here we discuss what it means to follow a low carb high fat diet and the effects thereof.

DEFINITION

In order to follow a low carb high fat diet, we first need to define what that is. This is where most of the controversy comes in, as there does not seem to be a clear definition. Some sources say that this should be less than 45% of your total energy intake for the day1. The problem with this is that this amount can change depending on your total calorie intake. If you are consuming 2000 calories a day, 40% of this would be 200g of carbs. Whereas if you are consuming 2500 Calories a day, 40% would be 250g of carbs. That could mean the difference of 3 slices of bread, give or take. Other sources recommend 50 – 150g of carbs per day2.

EFFECTS OF A LOW CARB HIGH FAT DIET

In order to determine the effects that this diet would have, it is best to look at a study that summarises the findings of many different studies. Here we look at a systematic review that included 19 clinical trials with 3209 overweight / obese people. They compared the effects of a low carb diet with a diet that had the same amount of calories, but had a balance of carbs, protein and fat3. This study showed that similar amounts of weight was lost in those on the low carb diet and those who had a balanced intake of macronutrients over 2 years. Furthermore, there was little or no difference in risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) or diabetes over this time3. What can we take from this study if we want to lose weight, keep the weight off, and be healthy? Various organisations such as the Association for Dietetics in South Africa came together with a joint statement and this is summarised in the table below1.

FINDINGS COMMENTS
Low carb diets are not more effective than balanced diets when it comes to weight-loss
  • Decreasing overall calorie intake over a period of time will lead to weight-loss As there was no difference between low carb and a balanced diet in terms of weight-loss, it is clear that the reduction in total calories is what leads to weight-loss.
  • Adhering to a reduced-calorie diet is key for successful weight-loss. The most important issue is maintaining the weight-loss, rather than losing the weight. We all know that sticking to a diet with reduced calorie intake, regardless of the type of diet, is difficult. So choose one that you will be able to adhere to in the long-term, by adopting eating habits that make maintaining weight-loss easy and that are linked to better health.
The long-term safety and effects on health of low carb diets remains uncertain
  • There was little or no difference in the effect on heart disease and diabetes risk factors with low carb and balanced diets over 2 years in this review. This review only provided evidence for the effects after 2 years of following a low-carb diet, and the effects in the long-term are still unknown.
  • The short and long-term safety of any diet recommended to the general public is important. A balanced diet that includes quality food choices along with a healthy lifestyle over the long-term is associated with a decrease in risk for chronic diseases of lifestyle, such as heart disease and diabetes. The health effects of a low carb diet in the long-term is still unknown. A few studies have however indicated an increased risk of heart disease and death. Thus, based on the current evidence available, low carb high fat diets cannot be recommended to the public as part of a long-term healthy lifestyle.
  • A study lasting 2 years is too short to provide a clear-cut picture of the long-term effects of a diet. Chronic diseases of lifestyle come about after many years of exposure to risk factors. An unhealthy diet is only one risk factor for these conditions, where others include: smoking, high alcohol intake, obesity and physical inactivity. Diet alone is not responsible for developing these conditions.
  • Losing weight itself improves risk factors of heart disease and diabetes.. Weight-loss generally improves risk factors for heart disease and diabetes in the short term, no matter how the weight is lost. The improvement in these risk factors requires a healthy lifestyle in order to be sustained and thus reduce long-term risk.

A HEALTHY DIET

While the quantity of calories consumed in the diet affects weight-loss, the quality (types of carbs, fats and proteins) of the diet affects health1. Different types of fat and carbs have different effects on health. For example, the risk for heart disease can be decreased by limiting saturated and trans-fat (animal and processed fats) and replacing them with unsaturated fat (plant oils). Whereas replacing saturated fat with refined carbs is found to have harmful effects. So basically we want to cut down on refined carbs (pastries, chips, sweetened beverages) and saturated / trans-fat and increase the intake of whole-grain products (wild rice, whole oats, whole-grain bread) and healthy sources of fat (avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil). Furthermore, it is our dietary pattern (combination of foods and nutrients we eat) that influences our health, not one specific nutrient or food group by itself1. If you would like to maintain weight-loss and optimise health, it is not only important to control what and how much you eat, but to also engage in about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

AFFORDABILITY AND SUSTAINABILITY

So we have looked at the health benefits of following a specific diet, but we also need to look at the affordability and sustainability of this. Most South Africans consume a diet that is based on carb-rich staple foods that are affordable. Beyond how a low carb high fat diet affects your health, this diet is likely to be more expensive to follow. This makes it impractical for the majority of South Africans to follow, especially for those who already face food insecurity. Therefore we cannot push for this dietary pattern at a population-level. Furthermore, the cultivation of meat products when compared to carb-rich staple foods, becomes a larger burden for the environment and global food supply1.

CONCLUSION

So what can we take from all of this info? Before you jump onto the Banting-bandwagon, first consider the fact that there is currently no long-term evidence supporting its safety. There is also no difference in weight-loss between a balanced diet and a low-carb diet after 2 years, granted that you achieve a reduction in total energy for the day. So when choosing a diet to follow, look at your total dietary pattern and not specific nutrients per se. Choose something that you will enjoy eating (because let’s face it food is life), and that you will be able to sustain in the long-term, be it taste-wise or budget-wise. If you still want to go around telling everyone that you are “Banting”, but secretly you don’t actually stick to the high fat part, that’s cool too.

WHERE DOES FUTURELIFE® FIT IN?
FUTURELIFE® HIGH PROTEIN Smart food™ could be considered to form part of the low carbohydrate diet approach. FUTURELIFE® HIGH PROTEIN Smart food™ is a high protein convenient meal for an on the go breakfast or snack.
How much carbohydrates do the FUTURELIFE® Smart Food powdered products contain per recommended portion size?
Meal/Breakfast (50g) Snack (25g)
• FUTURELIFE® Smart food™ 21.5g 10.75g
• FUTURELIFE® ZERO 27.5g 13.25g
• FUTURELIFE® HIGH PROTEIN Smart food™ 18g 9g
As you can see, FUTURELIFE® HIGH PROTEIN Smart food™ falls well within low carbohydrate recommendations. Our FUTURELIFE® High Protein LITE SmartBar and FUTURELIFE® Crunch Bar also provide lower carbohydrate options.

REFERENCES

  1. Association for Dietetics in South Africa, Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa, Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, Nutrition Society of South Africa and Professional Board for Dietetics and Nutrition of the HPCSA. Low carbohydrate diets are not more effective for weight loss than balanced diets,. 2014.
  2. Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. Eric C Westman, Richard D Feinman, John C Mavropoulos, Mary C Vernon, Jeff S Volek, James A Wortman, William S Yancy, and Stephen D Phinney. s.l. : American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007, Vol. 86.
  3. Low Carbohydrate versus Isoenergetic Balanced Diets for Reducing Weight and Cardiovascular Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Celeste E. Naude, Anel Schoonees, Marjanne Senekal, Taryn Young and Paul Garner. 7, s.l. : PLOS ONE, 2014, Vol. 9.