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Do Carbs Make You Fat? So Says New Research

July 3, 2012

“Carb” is still a dirty word for many people who’ve tried to lose weight in the past decade. At the height of its craze in 2004, 1 in every 11 Americans was on Atkins, the famous low-carb, high-protein diet that had people throwing out bagels, apples, and beans in favor of eggs, steak, and cheese.

Just a year later, the diet’s popularity plummeted, and in 2005, Atkins Nutritionals filed for bankruptcy protection. Since then, the diet has been the subject of heated controversy, and scientists still disagree on whether low-carb eating is an effective or even safe way to maintain a healthy weight.

New research is reigniting the debate. In the New York Times editorial “What Really Makes Us Fat”, Integrative Nutrition guest speaker Gary Taubes discusses a recent study published by Dr. David Ludwig in the Journal of the American Medical Association that challenges the conventional wisdom “a calorie is a calorie.”

Dr. Ludwig’s team first put 21 overweight and obese young adults on a strict diet until they lost 10 to 15 percent of their body weight. The participants were then put on three separate diets, all with the same caloric intake: high carbohydrate and low fat; moderate carbohydrate (low-glycemic); and a very low-carbohydrate.

The researchers found that cutting carbs sped up metabolism: participants on the Atkins-type diet burned 300 more calories a day than on the high-carbohydrate diet, making it far easier for them to maintain weight loss.

Yet the low-carbohydrate diet also negatively impacted hormone levels and caused inflammation, leading Dr. Ludwig to name the low-glycemic diet the overall winner with a ratio of 40 percent calories from whole carbohydrates, 40 percent from fats, and 20 percent from proteins.

In light of this new research, Taubes argues that calories from carbs are indeed “worse” than calories from other sources, and blames the obesity epidemic at least in part on government dietary guidelines and medical organizations who have been advising the public to eat low-fat, carbohydrate-rich diets for years.

Others have been quick to criticize Taube’s conclusions, including Integrative Nutrition visiting teacher Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI has long feuded with Taubes and other proponents of the Atkins diet, and yesterday tweeted:

@CSPI As usual @garytaubes jumps to conclusions. This was a 4-week study on 21 people

@CSPI More re @garytaubes: In a 2-yr study on 800 people, fat, carbs, and protein had no impact on calorie burning

What’s your stance in the carbohydrate controversy?