Cape Town - People wanting to shed weight don’t need to avoid carbohydrates, a study suggests.
New research by Stellenbosch University has tackled claims that low-carbohydrate diets result in more weight loss.
The study, due to be published in online medical journal Plos One, showed that people who ate a balanced diet, which included carbohydrates, experienced similar weight loss as those on the low-carb, high-fat diets known as Banting.
Researchers who analysed 19 studies that included more than 3 200 overweight and obese people also found that there was no difference in the effect on heart disease and diabetes risk factors with low-carb diets and balanced diets over a two-year period.
The latest study is set to trigger debate among those who follow a popular protein-rich diet led by Cape Town sport scientist and UCT professor Tim Noakes.
He has been criticised by dieticians, heart specialists and fellow sports scientists who say his high-fat diet could result in heart problems and high cholesterol later in life. They argue that while users of the diet have short-term outcomes such as getting slimmer, there is no verified data to support its long-term use.
Lead researcher In the latest study Dr Celeste Naudé said there remained uncertainty about effects of eating a low-carb diet over the long term on diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases, as there were no eligible studies longer than two years.
“This systematic review shows that when the amount of energy consumed by people following the low-carbohydrate and balanced diets was similar there was no difference in weight loss after three to six months and after one to two years in those with and without diabetes,” she said.
While the latest research received a nod from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, with its head Dr Vash Mungal-Singh saying it cleared up “misperceptions” that low-carb diets were more effective in weight loss, Noakes remained unrepentant, saying it did not attempt to acknowledge the true benefit of a low-carb diet – which was to reduce hunger.
Noakes said the diets prescribed by researchers during studies were not low-carbohydrate as study subjects were given high amounts of carbs.
“That is why we see subjects in the real world (not in the clinical trials) losing 80kg or more when they restrict their carbohydrate intakes to 25g a day and cut out all sugar. Failing to do either will not produce the same outcome.
“But subjects in these trials are not advised to do this; nor do they have any intrinsic motivation to make these changes, which are not easy but without which it is not possible to produce significant changes in health and body mass,” he said.