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Is a Low-Fat or Low-Carb Diet Better For Weight Loss?

Written By: Amanda Oliver

Amanda Oliver has more than a decade of experience in commerce and media, specifically in product testing and service journalism in the lifestyle, health and wellness, and outdoor space. Amanda is currently the Executive Editor of Commerce at Field & Stream. She is also an RYT-200 yoga teacher and NASM CPT personal trainer.

Expert Reviewed By: Stephanie Nelson, RD

Stephanie Nelson (MS, RD) is a Registered Dietitian and is MyFitnessPal’s in-house nutrition expert and nutrition scientist. Passionate for promoting healthy lifestyles, Stephanie graduated from San Diego State University with a focus on research and disease prevention.

Is a Low-Fat or Low-Carb Diet Better For Weight Loss? | MyFitnessPal
In This Article

Do carbs make you gain weight? Is eating a low-fat diet the only way to, well, lose fat? The perfect diet for weight loss is still a hot debate.

In fact, if you Google “how to lose weight”, you’ll get bombarded with hundreds (if not thousands) of results, from fad diets and TikTok trends to scientific research and doctor-recommended plans. Some advocate for low-carb or low-fat diets, and others prefer high-carb or high-protein. Some people swear by intermittent fasting, which lets you eat whatever you want—junk food included—as long as it’s within a certain window of time. Others are advocates of a plant-based diet, with its meatless burgers and veggie bowls. And still others say high-fat keto is the key, loading up their plates with cheese, bacon, and avocado.

But according to a recent study, weight loss may be less about the macros you do (or don’t eat) and more about the quality of your food. With the help of registered dietitian Stephanie Nelson, RD, we broke down exactly what the study found, along with what it means for your own health journey.

The study results

In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, participants were assigned to either a healthy low-carbohydrate diet or a healthy low-fat diet to follow for 12 months. After the year was up, researchers found virtually no difference in weight loss between the two groups based solely upon which diet they were following.

However, there was a difference when comparing diet quality—which is how close a person got to the recommended amount of fruit, vegetables, etc.—along with how well each participant adhered to their assigned diets.

“Regardless of low-carb or low-fat, people lost the most weight when they had a high quality diet and stuck to the macro pattern they were assigned to,” Stephanie explained. Your macro pattern is the specific breakdown of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) that help you reach your specific goals. If you aren’t sure what your ideal macro distribution is, you can use our free macro calculator as a starting point.

Stephanie added that both factors also affected more than just weight. “They also saw improvements in fasting glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol.”

What it means for you

If you’re trying to lose weight or even if you’re just trying to be a little healthier, these findings likely have some implications for your diet. First, no matter which diet you choose to follow—whether it’s high-carb, low-carb, high-protein, low-fat, whatever macro breakdown you choose—make sure it’s a way of eating that is sustainable for your lifestyle and your needs. As Stephanie summarizes from the study, “An extreme diet in either direction did not help weight loss, even if you had genetic factors that we thought might predict your success.”

Second, focus on the quality of what you’re eating. That means a heavier focus on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and other whole foods. “The bottom line is to choose a macro pattern that you can stick to, and allows you to get enough fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and lean meats. That’s the secret to successful, long-term weight loss.”

How to track the quality of your diet

Beyond adding spinach to your morning egg scramble or swapping your afternoon cookies for an apple, how can you check that you’re eating a higher quality diet?

One easy way is to use the Weekly Digest feature in the MyFitnessPal app. (Learn how here!) Every week, you’ll get an easy-to-read summary of your eating patterns. The Food Insights section shows how your intake of the main food groups—fruits, vegetables, sweets and snacks, alcohol, and protein—stacked up to your goals or the recommended amounts.

Is a Low-Fat or a Low-Carb Diet Better For Weight Loss? | MyFitnessPal

“Finding balance in your diet can be tricky,” Stephanie says. “Food Insights in the Weekly Digest makes it easier for you to take clear, actionable steps toward better food choices.”

Ready to get your own Food Insights? Download MyFitnessPal and enter your food and drinks every day. Your Weekly Digest will show you where you excelled and where you can do better. Because progress and consistency are the keys to success!

About the Authors

Meet the people behind the post

Written By: Amanda Oliver

Amanda Oliver has more than a decade of experience in commerce and media, specifically in product testing and service journalism in the lifestyle, health and wellness, and outdoor space. Amanda is currently the Executive Editor of Commerce at Field & Stream. She is also an RYT-200 yoga teacher and NASM CPT personal trainer.

Expert Reviewed By: Stephanie Nelson, RD

Stephanie Nelson (MS, RD) is a Registered Dietitian and is MyFitnessPal’s in-house nutrition expert and nutrition scientist. Passionate for promoting healthy lifestyles, Stephanie graduated from San Diego State University with a focus on research and disease prevention.

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