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Low-fat versus low carb diet facts emerge: How ketogenic weight loss works

Say cheese: Low carb diets work.
Say cheese: Low carb diets work.Getty Images

Myth or fact: Low-fat diets are best for weight loss and diabetes? In recent months, several studies have emerged indicating that it's a low-carb diet high in fat that's actually most successful for those battling the bulge, diabetes and related conditions, reported Yahoo Shine on July 22.

"Since the 1980s, women have been advised by health authorities to reduce their consumption of fat in order to prevent breast cancer," says Nina Teicholz, author of "The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet." But, she notes, the evidence for that advice does not exist.

"As far back as 1987, the epidemiologist Walter Willett at the Harvard School of Public Health had found fat consumption not to be positively linked to breast cancer among the nearly ninety thousand nurses whom he had been following for five years in the Nurses' Health Study," she noted. Instead, the reverse was true. Nurses who consumed more saturated fat were less apt to develop cancer.

Now the message seems to be getting across that it's sugar, not saturated fat, that's the enemy when it comes to weight loss and disease. But many Americans appear to be so fed up (literally) with confusing diet advice that they're focusing only on protein rather than following a specific plan, reported the Washington Post on July 22.

The latest Gallup poll shows that 51 percent of adults want to lose weight. Only one-fourth of them, however, have set specific goals to succeed. Instead, they're beefing up their protein and gobbling up new products such as protein-enriched cereals.

More than 70 percent of adults have vowed to include more protein in their meals, according to the NPD Group. In response, snacks featuring high protein labels have increased by 49 percent, reports Mintel, a Chicago research firm.

But low carb diet experts caution that focusing only on eating more protein isn't the solution to weight loss and health. And when it comes to increasingly popular high fat low carb ketogenic diets, too much protein can cause problems for achieving nutritional ketosis, said Emily Maguire of Low Carb Genesis in an exclusive interview on July 24.

"A low carbohydrate ketogenic diet (LCKD) is a diet that looks to restricting your carbohydrates to a certain level that will result in the body being able to burn ketone bodies for energy," she explained. To achieve that state of nutritional ketosis, total carbohydrates usually must be lower than 50 grams.

"What is also unique to a LCKD is that the protein content must also be of a moderate level (the exact amount is very individualized), rather than a high protein intake," Emily clarified. "Too high a protein intake can actually hinder the body’s ability to tap into its fat stores for energy."

Defining nutritional ketosis "as the state that the body gets into when you are effectively and efficiently burning and utilizing fat for energy in the place of glucose," Emily emphasizes that one of the challenges is the variation. For example, someone who is "extremely insulin resistant" may need 30 grams.

In contrast, an active person, such as an endurance athlete, might be able to consume 80 grams. The amount of protein also varies, because it is based on the individual's requirements.

"The kind of level that I start with is 1-1.5g/kg of body weight, but generally for people to reach nutritional ketosis it will be at the lower end," said Emily. "The fat proportion of the diet will always make up the greatest dietary intake when following a ketogenic diet."

A common myth that can cause problems: You need to restrict fat as well as carbohydrates on a ketogenic diet. The result could be fatigue.

In terms of percentages, Emily suggests starting with five to 10 percent from carbohydrates, 10 to 20 percent from protein, 70 to 85 percent from fat. And despite the eagerness with which so many dieters are hopping on the protein bandwagon: "Protein quite often will be at the lower end of 10 percent."

One of the most popular types of ketogenic diets is the Atkins plan. It takes dieters through phases, beginning with a plan designed to accelerate weight loss by reducing carbohydrates strictly while encouraging healthy fats and moderate protein.