Background: Reduced calorie, low fat diet is currently recommended diet for overweight and obese adults. Prior data suggest that low carbohydrate diets may also be a viable option for those who are overweight and obese.
Purpose: Compare the effects of low carbohydrate versus low fats diet on weight and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease risk in overweight and obese patients.
Data sources: Systematic literature review via PubMed (1966-2014).
Study selection: Randomized controlled trials with ≥8 weeks follow up, comparing low carbohydrate (≤120gm carbohydrates/day) and low fat diet (≤30% energy from fat/day).
Data extraction: Data were extracted and prepared for analysis using double data entry. Prior to identification of candidate publications, the outcomes of change in weight and metabolic factors were selected as defined by Cochrane Collaboration. Assessment of the effects of diets on predicted risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease risk was added during the data collection phase.
Data synthesis: 1797 patients were included from 17 trials with <1 year follow up in 12. Compared with low fat diet, low carbohydrate was associated with significantly greater reduction in weight (Δ = -2.0 kg, 95% CI: -3.1, -0.9) and significantly lower predicted risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease events (p<0.03). Frequentist and Bayesian results were concordant. The probability of greater weight loss associated with low carbohydrate was >99% while the reduction in predicted risk favoring low carbohydrate was >98%.
Limitations: Lack of patient-level data and heterogeneity in dropout rates and outcomes reported.
Conclusions: This trial-level meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing LoCHO diets with LoFAT diets in strictly adherent populations demonstrates that each diet was associated with significant weight loss and reduction in predicted risk of ASCVD events. However, LoCHO diet was associated with modest but significantly greater improvements in weight loss and predicted ASCVD risk in studies from 8 weeks to 24 months in duration. These results suggest that future evaluations of dietary guidelines should consider low carbohydrate diets as effective and safe intervention for weight management in the overweight and obese, although long-term effects require further investigation.