Low-fat vs low-carb diet: Which is better for weight loss?

The world of wellness is abuzz with what’s better for weight loss, a low-fat or low-carb diet? Let’s finally break it down for you!
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Losing weight cuts cancer risk. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Vikas Singh Updated: 30 Oct 2023, 13:21 pm IST
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To make any progress on your weight loss journey, a quest for finding a suitable diet is important, and often interesting. Options like a low-fat diet and a low-carb diet make one thing apparent – moderation.

But let’s answer what’s better: a low-fat or a low-carb diet? In short, a low-calorie diet is better for weight loss. A variety of micronutrients rest in carbohydrates and fats, and while the goal of weight loss is to get rid of the extra fat in the body, at no point should you compromise on your micronutrient needs – your vitamins and minerals. Under this purview, let’s understand the pros and cons of both diets.

Understanding low-fat and low-carb diet

Calories you derive from your food fuel your daily activities, and the amount of energy you need to go about your day is your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). As you consume fewer calories than you need to perform all your activities in a day, your body, among others, starts to fuel itself using fat.

As your body starts putting fat to use, this signifies a good start to your weight loss journey. The significance of a calorie-deficit diet cannot be stressed enough when it comes to losing weight, and fats and carbohydrates are the two biggest players to achieve this goal, as they are the richest sources of calories in your meal.

1. Every gram of carbohydrate amounts to four calories.
2. Every gram of fat amounts to nine calories.

The difference in calories among fats and carbohydrates is stark and it feels like a no-brainer to launch into a low-fat diet, but not so fast.

The caloric load that each macronutrient carries is significantly different from the other. The difference comes from their varying benefits.

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White rice is a source of empty calories. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Benefits of fat and low-fat diet

A low-fat diet entails that you need to consume less fat than what is typically needed as part of your balanced diet. A balanced meal provides 20-35 percent of the total calories from fat, and a low-fat diet would mean shrinking the portion of fat in your plate to anywhere between 10-15 percent.

Fat is loaded with calories, as every gram of fat contains 9 calories. Therefore, a low-fat diet seems like an obvious pick to lose weight, but fat also packs micronutrients that are indispensable. Its omega-3 and omega-6 (essential fatty acid) content aid in lowering inflammation. Fat is vital for eye and brain health. It also aids in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, D, and K.

Following a low-fat diet may compromise some of these benefits.


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Getting started with a low-fat diet

Fats are important for maintaining good health and fitness. Essential fatty acids is fat that our body cannot produce and relies on sources outside. Therefore, it is important that as you bring your daily fat intake below 20% of your portion, at no point should you deprive your body of these fatty acids.

Reducing the portion of fat in your diet will demand limiting the use of oil, ghee, butter, or any other visible fat to less than two teaspoons per day. This will also mean avoiding processed foods that are often high in trans fats, which increase cholesterol (LDL) that gets deposited in the inner linings of the arteries.

There are invisible sources of fats that make up your diets like nuts, and dairy like milk, cottage cheese, etc. These invisible fats need to be curbed to follow a low-fat diet.

While sources of fat like salmon, mackerel, etc. are good sources of omega-3 fat and can provide essential fatty acids, for someone who is a vegetarian, these needs should be fulfilled by eating a mix of green leafy vegetables and seeds. Your low-fat diet should not only help you lose weight, but also provide the benefits fat has to offer.

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Make sure your plate is full of colours! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Benefits of carbohydrates and a low-carb diet

Carbs are the go-to energy source for your body. Your body stores carbohydrates as glycogen, which is stored in muscles and liver, and later used as a source of energy. Your body spares protein by using glucose as an energy source, and protein remains in charge of building your muscles.

A balanced diet entails carbohydrates to remain between 45-65 percent portion of your meal. A low-carbohydrate diet would mean keeping your carbohydrates portion in meals below 45 percent or between 10-25 percent.

A low-carb diet is typically preferred because, in the initial stages, it creates an illusion of weight loss. This is partly due to glycogen. Every glycogen molecule is bound to three molecules of water. As a result, reduced glycogen stores reflect on weight by causing a loss in water weight, and encourage you to continue with the low-carb diet. But this is merely an indication that your body is likely using protein to fuel your activities.

Getting started with a low-carb diet

As you cut down on carbohydrates, your body starts using protein as its source of energy, depleting your lean body muscles. This results in a loss of strength.

Picking the right carbohydrates is key. You could start by eliminating processed foods like savory snacks and aerated drinks, which contribute to fatty liver and raise your blood glucose levels to unhealthy heights (ultimately leading to diabetes and heart diseases).

Pick the right carbohydrates: whole foods like legumes, beans, sprouts, etc., and green vegetables, as they are rich in fibre. They do not cause a sudden spike in your blood glucose levels and are rich in vitamins and minerals. Whole fruits, and not juice, are healthy choices, too. Fibre and micronutrients are often lost in the process of juicing the fruit, which turns an otherwise nutritional fruit into a sugary drink.

weight loss
It’s time you pay attention to the benefits of legumes. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Follow this thumb rule

One thumb rule for picking between low-fat and low-carb diets can be to map their precautionary measures. Identify a diet plan for which you can follow necessary caution, and ensure that your micronutrients needs do not take a hit.

Similar to how we like to have options while picking food items, picking just one diet may not be sustainable. Your preferences will have a great influence. A single diet plan will require you to compensate for your caloric needs, and this is where protein can come in handy.

Also, adding some exercises to your routine will help you balance your calories, and build strength. What you need is a balanced approach in which you can maintain a caloric deficit diet, so that you can consistently and effectively achieve your goal of losing weight.

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About the Author

Vikas, CEO and Founder of Fitpage, is a certified Running and Endurance coach from United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA). He is a Certified Sports Nutrition Coach from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and holds a degree in Science of Exercise, from the University of Colorado.His vision revolves around improving the cardiovascular health of millions through the platform. ...Read More

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