Contrary to the theories of the low-carb/no carb manifesto, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, first published in 1972 (and the similar books that followed), there’s nothing inherently fattening about carbohydrates, says Jean Harvey-Berino, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the department of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Vermont and co-author of The EatingWell Diet (Countryman, 2007). “It’s eating too many calories, period, that makes you fat.”
There’s no question that loading up on sugary and refined-carbohydrate-rich foods, such as white bread, pasta and doughnuts, can raise your risk of developing health problems like heart disease and diabetes. But if you cut out so-called “good-carb” foods, such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, you’re missing out on your body’s main source of fuel as well as vital nutrients and fiber. What’s more, for many people, a low-carb diet may be harder to stick with in the long run.
When a handful of major studies recently compared low-carb diets with low-fat diets and other approaches to losing weight, notes Harvey-Berino, they found that in the first few months, those following the low-carb diets tended to lose slightly more weight. “That’s because low-carb diets are more restrictive,” she explains. “Anything that limits your choices will help you lose weight initially.” But after a year or as much as three years, weight-loss differences between the diets tend to even out. One recent report noted that although there was a greater weight loss initially, low-carb dieters tended to regain more weight by the end of three years when compared with low-fat dieters.
But Harvey-Berino acknowledges that low-carb eating can help many people manage their weight—especially if you’re “one of those people who has a hard time staying in control when you eat carbohydrate-rich foods.” No matter how you slice it, the best diet is one you can stick to, she adds. “If you can stick with an Atkins-like regimen, then go for it.”