Low-carb diet again trumps low-fat on weight loss and other things

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While some see body weight as simply a function of the balance of the calories going into and out of the body, there is little doubt in my mind that this stance is becoming increasingly untenable. It is clear that body fat regulation is influenced by many factors, including levels of key hormones. A central player here is insulin – which encourages fat deposition. But other hormones worthy of mention include what are termed ‘adipokines’ (secreted by fat cells). One important adipokine is leptin. In March, I wrote a blog post dedicated to this substance which was inspired by the work of Dr Stephan Guyenet who writes the blog Whole Health Source.

Another adipokine that has received increasing attention in recent years is adiponectin. Like leptin, adiponectin has generally beneficial effects in the body. It, for instance, has anti-inflammatory effects and helps maintain ‘insulin sensitivity’. Both of these effects would be expected to translate into a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The actions of adiponectin in the body are believed to offer protection again these conditions, as well as others including obesity, ‘fatty liver’ and metabolic syndrome. In short: adiponectin is a good thing.

When individuals lose weight, adiponectin levels tend to rise. Generally speaking, the more adiponectin levels rise, the better. Remember, higher adiponectin levels are associated with beneficial effects and protection from chronic disease.

I was interested to read a recent study in which obese women were randomised to a diet either low in fat or low in carbohydrate [1]. After 4-6 months, weight loss on the low-carb diet was significantly greater than on the low-fat regime (average loss of about 9 kg vs about 5 kg). Fat loss was also much better on the low-carb regime (about 5.5 kg vs about 2.5 kg). This study reflects wider evidence which deomnstrates that, overall, low-carbohydrate diets trump low-fat ones in terms of weight loss.

However, in this study, adiponectin levels were also assessed. Importantly, these rose significantly in those eating the low-carb diet. This was not the case for those eating ‘low-fat’. It’s perhaps worth bearing in mind that compared to low-fat eating, low-carb regimes improve a range of other disease markers including blood pressure, triglyceride levels, ‘healthy’ HDL cholesterol levels and blood sugar control.


1. Summer SS, et al. Adiponectin Changes in Relation to the Macronutrient Composition of a Weight-Loss Diet. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2011 Mar 31. [Epub ahead of print]

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