Low carb winning because of the meat lobby?

In Sweden it’s getting very popular to eat real low carb food (i.e. low-carb). Thus, the media went all crazy here today with the news that the meat lobby is behind it all.

Two reporters had investigated the studies showing better weight loss (and improved risk factors) on low carb diets. They claimed that these studies had something in common: they were sponsored by the meat industry. Presumably in an attempt to fool us into eating more meat.

True or another conspiracy theory?

Not necessarily a high meat diet

First of all LCHF does not necessarily mean more meat. LCHF means eating less sugar and starch, replacing the calories with more fat (e.g. butter or olive oil).

Some people even eat a vegetarian version of LCHF, although that is not so common.

Some truth

It is true that some of the studies where low carb shows the best effects are partially sponsored by organizations with financial interests at stake. It would be strange otherwise.

For example, when debating these studies on the internet it does not take long before someone points out that the Shai-study, one of the biggest and best on low carb, had the Atkins research foundation as one of three financial supporters.

But there are a lot of studies showing better results with low carb now. Not all of them are sponsored by diet gurus or the meat industry. Here is a list of studies showing significantly more weight loss (and usually better risk factors) for low carb with no such financial connection.

Independent studies showing significantly more weight loss with low carb

These are usually financed with (American) tax dollars:

  1. Brehm BJ, et al. A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2003;88:1617–1623.
  2. Samaha FF, et al. A Low-Carbohydrate as Compared with a Low-Fat Diet in Severe Obesity. N Engl J Med 2003;348:2074–81.
  3. Sondike SB, et al. Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor in overweight adolescents. J Pediatr. 2003 Mar;142(3):253–8.
  4. Nichols-Richardsson SM, et al. Perceived Hunger Is Lower and Weight Loss Is Greater in Overweight Premenopausal Women Consuming a Low-Carbohydrate/High- Protein vs High-Carbohydrate/Low-Fat Diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105:1433–1437.
  5. Daly ME, et al. Short-term effects of severe dietary carbohydrate-restriction advice in Type 2 diabetes–a randomized controlled trial. Diabet Med. 2006 Jan;23(1):15–20.
  6. Halyburton AK, et al. Low- and high-carbohydrate weight-loss diets have similar effects on mood but not cognitive performance. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:580-7.
  7. Gardner CD, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and learn Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women. The a to z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2007;297:969–977.
  8. Summer SS, et al. Adiponectin Changes in Relation to the Macronutrient Composition of a Weight-Loss DietObesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Mar 31.

Still winning, 8–0

Please correct me if you find any mistake in the list above. As far as I can see, low carb seems to win studies no matter who finances them.

On the other hand I have still not seen a single study showing significantly less weight loss on low carb. Wonder why?

Progress after all

The debate is still moving ahead in Sweden. Not long ago people claimed that there were no science at all behind low carb. Then they said that the studies that did exist showed no advantage.

Now the media admits that many modern studies demonstrate superior results from low carb – but it’s blamed on a conspiracy by the meat industry.

Perhaps it’s time to face the facts soon.


LCHF for beginners

Low carb winning 14 – 0

The American obesity epidemic 1989 – 2010

Why Americans are obese: Nonfat yogurt


  1. gandhi quote
    "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win." So we are on phase three. :)
  2. Peter
    RCT's were designed for testing pills. They work less properly on nutrition. It's easier for patient to pop a pill or placebo than it is to get them eat as they were told to, unless they don't have to motivation for it.

    The online site for Harvard Public School of Health address this issue by pointing out than in the Garner study, f.e, the (alleged) followers of Ornish diet had fat intake of 30% as opposed to the +-10% which was suppose to be the case.

    However, in this RCT (source underneath) The high-carb/low-fat Ornish diet won everyone, even Atkins (-3,3kg for Ornish, -2,1 for Atkins).

    The good news is that these high-carb vegeterian diets are way more environmental friendly as oppose to Atkins. Most Atkins advocates cannot afford the "quality stuff", then end up supporting the soy-fed fuelled factory farms which make up 95% of meat supply in the US and EU. In addition the adherents to high-carb veg diets do not have to bear the burden of the "I am scum of the earth for eating meat despite its 2011"-stigma that usually comes along.

    Dansinger ML, Gleason JA, Griffith JL, Selker HP, Schaefer EJ. Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2005 Jan 5;293:43-53.

  3. Dr J
    Pete - you should understand that the trials you are citing are "effectiveness" studies where many factors can influence compliance. In most of these studies, the implementation of the low-carb arm is botched resulting in reduced compliance. Coupled with an "intention to treat" analysis, this waters down the actual efficacy of a low-carb diet. Chris Gardner, for instance, gave out four diet books and then checked to see how everyone fared. Yes, the Ornish people didn't go as low on fat as they were supposed to. Neither did the Atkins people go as low on carbs as prescribed. Bottom line, you cannot look at the conclusions without also looking carefully at what the subjects actually ate and how the analysis was done.

    Furthermore, since a LCHF diet doesn't necessitate that dietary protein or fat must come from animal sources, I am not sure why vegan proponents are so anti-low-carb.

  4. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, MD Team Diet Doctor
    In the study you cite there was no statistically significant difference in weight loss between the diets. It was basically a dead heat.
  5. Galina L.
    I understand that weight loss is an important issue, but lets not forget it is one of few benefits of LC. Normalizing of one's blood pressure , for example, could be very important too. What about benefits of ketogenic diet for mental health? There are just two examples, I can give a list of issues (from allergies to mood disorders) that can be improved or managed by seriously restricting carbohydrates while eating adequate protein and fat while not being hungry. Bearing the stigma of not being a vegetarian ? Ha! Anytime! With pleasure! How it could be important when health is involved? If some narrow group of people consider everybody who thinks differently than them a scam - so what? It is impossible to please everyone.
  6. moreporkplease
    It's the 2007 A-to-Z study by Gardner at Stanford that I think is the most convincing. Gardner himself is a devout vegan, correct? Since we understand in the real world of imperfect real people and real foods, compliance is never going to be 100% with anything, it's best to see what folks actually do, and what will offer the best health outcome.

    We can't really be political about this. I don't care if you're vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore - everyone can do low-carb. The question is what gives us the best health outcomes with the best (imperfect) compliance at a decent cost.

    And I think the A-to-Z gives us a huge chunk of that answer. Now we can stop letting the perfect destroy the merely good. :)

  7. Dr J
    @ moreporkplease - (BTW I have an excellent marinated pork chop recipe) Yes, Chris was a vegetarian and actually thought the study would show the Atkins diet was bad. Being a good scientist (and a heck of a nice guy, too) he followed the data. Interestingly, his subsequent attempts to get funding to further explore the benefits of low-carb were for naught.
  8. Absolutely a low-carb does not need to be full of meat. Mine is not.

    Counting fresh and processed red meats together, my consumption of those foods has declined on my low carb diet. (That's mostly because I now avoid processed meats except when I can get them nitrite free.)

    My consumption of poultry is about the same as before.

    The big increases have been in eggs, fish, nuts and non-starchy veggies. And a bit counter-intuitively, I am eating more berries this summer than any summer in my life.

    The biggest drops from my diet have been in dairy, grains and sugar -- and especially the last two. I have cut at least 1000 calories per day in grain-based and/or sugar-containing foods.

    OK, I'm in no danger of being mistaken for a vegan, but my diet is reasonably balanced. It's a long way from a red meat orgy.

  9. moreporkplease
    Ty, Dr. J!

    "Yes, Chris was a vegetarian. . ."

    Has he since become an omnivore, based on his own science? That would be interesting. Pity that he seems to have suffered retaliation for his scientific integrity. That's rather shocking, actually - I mean, he is a Stanford professor! He has to be honest in that position.

  10. FrankG
    I'm reminded of an example of scientific integrity that Richard Dawkins tells: where a senior Professor at his University attended a presentation by a younger man who proceeded to disprove and dismantle a theory which had been central to the senior man's academic career... the basis of his life's work in effect. At the end of the lecture the senior man walked down to the front of the hall, shook the presenter's hand and thanked-him while the audience applauded.

    The Scientific Method is not supposed to be about dogmatically holding onto beliefs but about exploring, and asking questions... if the answers to those questions don't lead to yet more questions, you're not doing it right :-)

    Gary Taubes in an interview, also mentioned how when he was studying physics: any presentation would end with a flurry of intense cross-examination and counter-evidence... applying scrutiny to the theory being presented. But when he started attending nutritional lectures he was amazed that they ended with a polite round of applause and congenial back-slapping.

    And one of my favourite quotes from Jacob Bronowski regarding university students "It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it. "

  11. Nina
    What tosh. Who funded the film?

    Back to low carb and the latest from Dr Davis.

    Well received in the UK:



  12. This post by the Doc inspired one by me on my own blog: http://www.lifeaftercarbs.com/2011/09/low-carb-omnivores-of-the-world...

    It focuses on the idea that LCHF is not necessarily a "high meat" diet.

  13. Jordan M.
    This is done with the meta analyses that show that saturated fat is not bad for you- people claim a lot of the funding is from milk companies, meat companies, etc. when you have the NCEP guidelines being made by 8 doctors with substantial statin connections and a ninth who probably is just ignored by the other 8.

    @ Doc,
    What do you think about the NCEP guidelines making LDL <70 a goal? At best we'll have 110mg/dl of cholesterol. Yay for increased suicide rates.

  14. Peter
    "Yes, the Ornish people didn't go as low on fat as they were supposed to"

    They went 300% more fat than they were supposed to. The idea is to do oil-free, whole-vegan fare. It seems that Atkins diet is so much more easier for Westerner to adapt than go for diet that represent different eating paradigm for many. That's why there's a bias for Atkins. Gee, I doubt Esselstyn could have reversed coronary heart disease with 30% of fat.



    I would say +1 kilo is significant for many individual. Also keep in mind that the Ornish folk do not deplete their glycogen stores which tie lot of water, unlike the adherents to Atkins diet.

    If LCHF would work long-term Jimmy Moore would not be fat, and neither would Taubes, Sears, Kendrich and Cordain be borderline obese. Have you ever seen chubby low-fat, plant-based diet promoter? It's simple. People are fooled when they deplete their glycogen and go through lot of water loss.

  15. Maggan A

    This man lost 50% of his weight with strict LCHF. Do you belive it was all water?


  16. Dr J
    As far as I know, Chris Gardner is still vegetarian.

    The water loss with LC is not just that which is linked to glycogen. LC has a potent diuretic effect. There are 3 ways a high carb diet raises blood pressure. Both insulin and fructose act independently to cause the kidney to retain sodium. Fructose metabolism also generates uric acid which interferes with NO mediation of vascular tone. This is why, when you cut the carbs, you will lose water and will experience a drop in blood pressure. Both of these are good outcomes, btw, and not typical of an Ornish type low-fat/high-carb diet.

    It's not just about weight, it's about cardiometabolic health.

    Taubes obese - rubbish! He was a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth and still has a fighter's physique. If you think he is obese, I suggest you challenge him to a couple of rounds in the ring to settle the matter. I would pay to watch that!

  17. I looked at as many pictures of Moore, Taubes, Sears, Kendrik and Cordain I could find on Google images. None of these guys are fat. Most of them however, need to see a tailor instead of buying shirts from the department store. Tucking a too-large shirt into your pants and having puff out is a common look among academics.
  18. Michael
    "Some people even eat a vegetarian version of LCHF, although that is not so common."

    So they simply replace the protein and fat from meat by protein powders and coconut milk shakes?

  19. Funderaren
    Michael I think egg is a good solution to vegeterians.
  20. FrankG
    Animals are not the only source of protein... there are many plant sources of protein (of fat as well) although these tend to be classed as "incomplete" -- which I understand means you need to eat several different types of plant sources to get the "complete" proteins that you could get from eating a steak. Maybe this is why I am not a vegetarian... it sounds like a lot more work :-)
  21. Jay

    "I would say +1 kilo is significant for many individual."

    "Significant" and "Statistically Significant" do not mean the same thing. The +1 kilo you refer to was not "statistically significant" (meaning the weight loss could've been due to chance).

  22. Tomk
    What do you think about the report in the British media that red meat increases the chance of an early death?


  23. There was a study in the NY Times reporting that Harvard did a study saying red meat will kill you. I just want to know who is funding these "studies." I expect behind these red-meat-is-bad-for-you studies is a whole lot of agri-business dollars.
  24. Zepp

    "Yeah, based on this study it definitely appears that eating read meat causes smoking, drinking and avoiding exercise. Who knew?"


  25. Sandy Campbell
    I have been dieting for a year and 3 months and have lost 70 lbs.. but I slowed to a crawl... I lowered my carbs from 100 to 50, raised the protien up to 100, left the fat 29 grams and calories around 1000... off I went again... -3.5 in a week... I plan to alternate this percentage every other week because I only have 25 more to loose.... :)

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