July 02, 2015

The typical American diet versus a high-fat/low-carb diet — study takes aim at prevailing nutritional wisdom

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dietFor decades, the thought process behind “eating right” has been to focus on consuming a low-fat diet. But nutritional researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say, when it comes to affecting body composition, this might be all wrong.

Nutrition Obesity Research Center researchers Kevin Fontaine, Ph.D., and Amy Goss, Ph.D., are testing effects of diet quality on different outcomes. They are enrolling participants who are 60 years or older and obese, meaning they have a BMI of 30-plus. The participants will take part in a two-month dietary intervention in which they will be randomized to either a lower-carbohydrate/higher-fat diet or a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet group.

“We’re looking at a diet low in carbohydrates and higher in fat compared to a low-fat, higher-carbohydrate diet — the typical American diet — which is traditionally thought of as healthier,” said Fontaine.

Goss and her mentor, Barbara Gower, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for Research in the UAB School of Health Professions, have had previous success with this type of diet in two different study populations — healthy overweight/obese adults younger than 65 years and women with polycystic ovary syndrome. They think consumption of a similar dietary pattern, e.g., less pasta and bread and more whole foods like eggs, may be beneficial to the metabolic health of older adults with obesity.

They are enrolling participants who are 60 years or older and obese, meaning they have a BMI of 30-plus. The participants will take part in a two-month dietary intervention in which they will be randomized to either a lower-carbohydrate/higher-fat diet or a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet group.

“We saw phenomenal results in these study groups’ consuming a reduced-carbohydrate diet,” Goss said. “They depleted body fat, maintained lean mass, lost visceral fat — the kind associated with disease — and had improvements in insulin sensitivity, likely lowering risk of type 2 diabetes.”

In this latest study, the researchers will do rigorous assessments of the participants at baseline, including a DEXA scan and MRI, to get a clear picture of their body composition, Fontaine says. The participants will be split into one of the two diet plans and will be given nutritional counseling. The high-fat group will receive eggs and will be told to eat two or three per day, while the high-carbohydrate group will receive items like carbohydrate-rich breakfast bars.

While the participants will know what diet they were assigned to, the data collection and analysts will be blinded to what diet the participants are on.

“Our emphasis won’t be on losing weight, but on nutritional intervention to improve health function and quality of life,” Fontaine said. “But weight loss might also be a result.”

The study is funded by the American Egg Board. To join this study, call 205-975-7202.

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