In the past, prevailing nutritional guidance has focused on calories. It seems logical – we know obesity is correlated with poor health and is driven by excess calorie consumption.
But newer research suggests that calories aren’t necessarily determining our health status, and that focusing on food quality may be more beneficial for overall well-being.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that focusing less on the quantity of your food and more on the quality of your food may be a successful strategy for improving health.
This study has been widely discussed, and for a good reason. Not only did it take the unconventional approach of eschewing calorie-counting, but the results also showed that the ratios of fat and carbohydrates in your diet, coupled with your genetic predispositions, may not make a difference when it comes to health and weight loss.
The participants in the study were divided into two groups: a low-fat diet group and a low-carb diet group. Both groups were told to eat nutritionally-dense, minimally-processed foods. For instance, the low-fat group was instructed to eat foods like beans, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, and low-fat dairy products. The low-carb group was instructed to eat foods like nut butters, grass-fed meat, olive oil, avocados, and vegetables. Neither group was instructed to count calories – they were simply told to eat whole foods, cook at home as much as possible, and eat until they are satiated.
To add, each group was subdivided by their DNA into people who genetically tolerated carbohydrates better and those who didn’t, based on their insulin response. The aim was to see if people with a lower tolerance to carbohydrates fared better on the low-carb diet.
Both groups’ health status improved, including a reduction in health markers like blood sugar and blood pressure. However, there were no differences between the two groups or any of the subgroups. In other words, general healthy eating patterns, on average, improved everyone’s health regardless of the type of diet or their genotype.
While this was a short-term study, these findings are significant given the growing trend of low-carb diets and genetic testing.
What’s the takeaway?
Diet quality, not quantity or type, seems to be more important for health. Focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods, preparing meals at home, and listening to your hunger/fullness cues seem to benefit most people’s health.