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It is a question asked again and again by clients seeking weight loss: Is a low-carb or low-fat diet best for results? As a trainer, you may have a personal preference between a low-carb and low-fat diet based on what has worked for you or other clients. The truth is, each client is unique and requires a customized nutrition plan and fitness program to achieve the exceptional results they expect. Customizing your client’s program depends not only on professionally designed meal plans, but also on understanding the pros and cons of these popular diets and how they may or may not work for your clients and their goals. 

Low-carb Diet

Do visions of bacon, cheese and other low-carb favorites dance in your head at the mention of a low-carb diet? This popular diet took the world by storm a few decades back, ousting the low-fat diet from the top spot. While some of the first low-carb diets were highly restrictive, people the world over embraced the trend thanks in part to a heavy reliance on previously banned foods and rapid initial weight loss. 

Over the years, the term “low-carb diet” has come to refer to a variety of eating plans from Atkins to Paleo, which generally restrict carbohydrate intake to 60 to 130 grams of carbohydrates per day (though some ultra-low-carb diets restrict even further). These eating plans often favor lean proteins such as fish and poultry and healthier carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and some whole grains. 

Numerous studies have taken a closer look at low-carb diets and many of the results have been promising for those seeking a smaller number on the scale and for those with goals of better overall health. 

Weight Loss

With often rapid weight-loss results, it’s no surprise that many clients and trainers look to a low-carb diet. Several studies have supported this as a benefit of low-carb diets during the first six months of following the nutrition plan.

Health Benefits

While many clients may focus solely on the weight-loss benefits, research has also found that low-carb diets can offer significant health benefits beyond weight loss. According to one study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, those following a low-carbohydrate diet were found to have reduced cardiovascular risk factors including lower triglycerides.

The Downside

This can be a highly restrictive diet, often cutting out entire food groups. Not only do clients run the risk of nutritional deficiencies, these more restrictive diets are often difficult to maintain over the long term and may result in weight gain down the road. 

Low-fat Diet

The low-fat diet was one of the top diets for decades. It was almost a given that a client with goals of weight loss or improving heart health would adopt a low-fat diet. While the low-carb diet has become more and more popular, a low-fat diet may also be a good option based on your clients’ goals, preferences and lifestyles. 

Like low-carb diets, several diets recommended by health professionals and trainers are considered “low fat,” each with varying limits on fat consumption. For example, the Ornish Diet falls within the range of 11 to 16 percent of total calories from fat. The current dietary guidelines for the general population recommend that 20 to 35 percent of calories come from fat. Low-fat diets have been studied extensively over the years and, like low-carb diets, offer several benefits to clients with health and weight-loss goals.

Weight Loss

While those following a low-carb diet see more significant weight loss over the first three to six months, studies show that by the 12-month mark, weight-loss results are similar between low-carb and low-fat diets. This slow-and-steady weight loss may be a better option for some clients and may prove to be more sustainable over the long term.

Health Benefits

An overall reduction in dietary fat often naturally results in a reduction of less-healthy fats such as artificial trans fats and saturated fats, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. While recent research suggests the saturated fat link may be more complicated than previously thought, the bottom line is that nutrition experts overwhelmingly recommend a diet that limits saturated fat in favor of healthier unsaturated and omega-3 fats. This reduction in saturated and artificial trans fats, plus a wealth of quality foods such as lean protein, veggies, whole grains, fruit and nuts, also help reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

The Downside

While this diet can help clients lose weight and lower cholesterol, it may result in clients cutting too much fat out of their diets. Dietary fat in the form of unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids is an essential component to a healthy and satisfying diet. Consuming too little fat may lead to potential health risks and even overeating as the body attempts to take in adequate amounts of fat. 

Ultimately, the eating plan you and your client choose to support his or her success is one that is easily incorporated into everyday life and is sustainable over the long run. Whether the best choice is a low carb, low fat or another diet all together, working closely with a nutrition professional on its design and customization can help amplify client results and boost your bottom line.

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