Background: Some popular weight loss diets restricting carbohydrates (CHO) claim to be more effective, and have additional health benefits in preventing cardiovascular disease compared to balanced weight loss diets.
Methods and findings: We compared the effects of low CHO and isoenergetic balanced weight loss diets in overweight and obese adults assessed in randomised controlled trials (minimum follow-up of 12 weeks), and summarised the effects on weight, as well as cardiovascular and diabetes risk. Dietary criteria were derived from existing macronutrient recommendations. We searched Medline, EMBASE and CENTRAL (19 March 2014). Analysis was stratified by outcomes at 3-6 months and 1-2 years, and participants with diabetes were analysed separately. We evaluated dietary adherence and used GRADE to assess the quality of evidence. We calculated mean differences (MD) and performed random-effects meta-analysis. Nineteen trials were included (n = 3209); 3 had adequate allocation concealment. In non-diabetic participants, our analysis showed little or no difference in mean weight loss in the two groups at 3-6 months (MD 0.74 kg, 95%CI -1.49 to 0.01 kg; I2 = 53%; n = 1745, 14 trials; moderate quality evidence) and 1-2 years (MD 0.48 kg, 95%CI -1.44 kg to 0.49 kg; I2 = 12%; n = 1025; 7 trials, moderate quality evidence). Furthermore, little or no difference was detected at 3-6 months and 1-2 years for blood pressure, LDL, HDL and total cholesterol, triglycerides and fasting blood glucose (>914 participants). In diabetic participants, findings showed a similar pattern.
Conclusions: Trials show weight loss in the short-term irrespective of whether the diet is low CHO or balanced. There is probably little or no difference in weight loss and changes in cardiovascular risk factors up to two years of follow-up when overweight and obese adults, with or without type 2 diabetes, are randomised to low CHO diets and isoenergetic balanced weight loss diets.