Renegade Health Radio: Low Carb vs. Low Fat, the Latest Research

Monday Sep 15 | BY |
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In this podcast:
In this episode we discuss the latest research on low carb vs. low fat:

  • A new study made headlines recently. Scientists found that low carb works better than low fat. But is there something behind the study that most people missed?
  • Hear why there are so many arguments among the low-fat and low-carb diet groups. Hint: could it be because they are more similar than they are different? (at 10:23)
  • Find out what really causes people issues with eating carbs and fat and why they aren’t as big of an issue eaten individually. (at 13:13)
  • How insulin can be the determining factor when it comes to how much fat you actually store on your body and how blood sugar affects this. (at 14:44)
  • Where most people end up running into issues on raw food diets and how this comes down to the simple equation of fat and carbohydrate. (at 16:30)
  • How unbalanced levels of insulin in the body can lead to everything from pimples, weight gain, and hormonal issues, and how you can manage your insulin levels. (at 18:00)
  • When sugar may not actually be fattening and what needs to be present with it to cause weight gain. (at 20:31)
  • Understand how calorie-dense combinations of fat and refined carbohydrates can act just like a drug on the brain. (at 21:30)
  • Hear how the sugar found in fruit is just not the same as refined sugar from a bag. The fruit-shaming can stop! (at 23:28)



Kevin: Renegade Health Radio. This is Kevin Gianni with Frederic Patenaude. We’re coming at you from Connecticut; from Stanford, Connecticut. We have a little retreat here. Fred, are you enjoying yourself?

Fred: Oh yeah, this is awesome. This is our first ever Renegade Health Retreat and the house we’re staying at with all the team is just a classic, New England expanded house. It’s very nice.

Kevin: Yes. And here we’re having classic Renegade Health type smoothies in the morning.

Fred: Yeah, I was really surprised to see you in action with the smoothie, because when you said you literally blend a head of lettuce, like Kevin actually takes a head of lettuce and puts it—without any chopping or anything—directly in the Vitamix and then just destroys the heck out of it with the shear strength of his hands and the power of the Vitamix, and it’s pretty impressive because, you know, most people…I actually cut up the lettuce or something. You just like take the head and just take this Vitamix and…

Kevin: [laughs] What a waste of time cutting up the head.

Fred: So it is a “green” smoothie.

Kevin: It is a green smoothie. It’s really green. It’s like, you know, what, three quarters of it is filled with lettuce, and then I stuff the fruit to, almost as like a condiment.

Fred: To mask the taste of the lettuce.

Kevin: Barely.

Fred: Barely. It is an awesome super food smoothie. You guys can try it.

Kevin: So today we are going to talk about sugar, fat, carbohydrates, and fat.

Fred: Yeah. Actually there was a study that probably, if you’re listening right now, you probably read about, if you’ve been following Health News, New York Times or…they covered it, pretty much all of the major media outlets in the world covered this study, because the headline is pretty sexy in a sense. It’s all of what we’ve heard about low carb and avoiding saturated fats is wrong, and now the study proves that a higher protein, lower carb approach works better.

But I took a closer look at the study. The study was published in Internal…the Annals of Internal Medicine, and it was financed by the National Institutes of Health. So, in the New York Times, they talked about this, and then I looked at the study itself and read some commentaries on that. So what they did, which is different than in other studies, is they took a group of racially diverse people of 150 men and women, and they gave them a diet to follow for a year. But the diet in both groups didn’t limit the number of calories. They were told to change the caloric ratio. For example, the first group was what you could call the lower carb group, so their diet was something like eggs for breakfast, tuna salad for lunch, some kind of protein for dinner, and vegetables. Now they could eat some carbohydrates, but they were told to kind of follow those guidelines. And they could use fats like canola oil and butter and so on.

The lower fat group had more grains, cereals and starches in their diet, and they were told to reduce their total fat intake to less than 30 percent of their calories. So that’s the difference.

In the end, what happened after the year is that the people in the lower carbohydrate group saw lower markers of inflammation and triglycerides, and their HDL rose, but—then this is the but that really gets me, and I’ll talk a little bit about what I think of the study—is that first of all, the diet in both groups didn’t change total cholesterol levels, didn’t change LDL levels, and didn’t change blood pressure results. So you could say that it’s not a very effective diet, because any diet pretty much that we could talk about at Renegade Health, would at least lower LDL levels, lower total cholesterol, and probably blood pressure. So we’re talking about two diets that didn’t really have major impacts in health, but they’re marked as, you know, one of the diets had a minor impact.

Of course, also, the other thing we should mention is that the people in the lower carb group lost more weight and lost less muscle mass at the end of the study. So you could say it was a better diet but, if you look at the lower fat group, what really gets me here is that it’s not a low fat diet. A diet that’s 30 percent fat, where people are told 30 percent or less, is not a low fat diet. In fact, they didn’t really receive any guidelines as to what kind of carbohydrates to eat. You could eat bagels and you could eat McDonald’s and still be in the low fat group as long as you kind of follow those guidelines.

Also, when you tell people what to eat, there’s a very good chance that they’re not exactly going to follow your guidelines. They’re going to follow along those lines. So I very much doubt that those people were following a very healthy diet, and in fact, when we look at a healthy low fat diet, we don’t get these kinds of results. You get results more like markers of inflammation drop, triglycerides drop, because you avoid sugars. You only eat whole carbohydrates. Blood pressure drops, total cholesterol drops, and LDL drops. So I don’t think it’s a relevant study.

But it made headlines because people like to hear that kind of information. I also don’t think it’s that relevant for the low carb group, because the diet, you know, we don’t know…were they told to avoid dairy? Were they told to avoid…how come the LDL levels didn’t drop? How come blood pressure didn’t drop? Well, people were probably only following something along the lines of the guidelines, but maybe not eating a super healthy diet, only healthier than what they were eating before.

I think you could say that if people follow basic guidelines that yes, they’re going to lose more weight with a standard low carb approach. I mean, we know that. That’s obvious. But it doesn’t say that this is necessarily the better diet, or it doesn’t say anything, because both diets didn’t really achieve amazing results, and then the low fat diet wasn’t actually a low fat diet.

Kevin: It’s kind of crazy when you think about how most researchers who are putting these studies together are looking at things in a very scientific and non-nutritional way. It always kind of irks me to think that one calorie of carbohydrate, which could be from sugar, versus one calorie from carbohydrate, which could be from brown rice or something like that, like that’s equated as the same thing regardless of the amount of nutrients that are in the grain of brown rice or whatever that calorie unit, calorie of brown rice, versus the lack of nutrients that are in that one calorie of sugar. So when these macronutrient studies come out they’re very…they’re generally just very lame.

Fred: Yeah, you could have a coffee with milk and a bagel from Starbucks and that would be technically the same as having a meal of let’s say, like a sweet potato and beans, and then something like that and vegetables in the morning, which are totally two different meals, but the ratio of fat and protein and so on would be similar. But as we know, it’s not the same thing.

Kevin: Yeah. You know what, as I am doing, well as I was doing research for the book, I came across some interesting information that I’d kind of known but I was never fully able to find enough research or fully able to dive into it to kind of look at this idea in a way that made a lot of sense. And it’s all around this low carb, high fat type diet. So like I would say, I am just going to say Paleo, and then I am going to say more like McDougall low carb, I’m sorry, high carb kind of thing. Not to say that it’s vegan or not, but I am just going to say McDougall just to kind of do Paleo and McDougall or something like that. You know, just so…or Ornish, whoever you choose.

I have been looking at these diets and I’ve been doing research into blue zones and other areas where people are eating for longevity. And for me, after delving into this stuff for the last six plus months and then the years before, I’ve really come to a really simple conclusion about diet and why there’s so much argument about either the Paleo type, or the high carb, Ornish type diet. And it really is simple.

They both work.

And there’s evidence on both sides that they do work. I mean, there are some evidence even from tribal people that this higher fat, higher protein type diet works. There’s also evidence from recent studies done on the Paleo diet, not like this one, but recent studies that show people have decreased cholesterol. Some people have increased cholesterol, but they have better HDL to LDL ratios. They have better blood pressure. They are less insulin sensitive, so they have lesser chance of type II diabetes. So that works on the Paleo side.

And then you definitely have to look at the work that Esselstyn and McDougall and Ornish and even these low—sorry—high carb, low protein, low fat guys talk about, too, even if you are eating animal food or not, it doesn’t matter. But their stuff works, too. Their stuff can lower cholesterol. Their diets can create a better HDL to LDL ratio, if you’re getting the right fats.

So they both work. And then you look at say, you know, a book like the China Study, and the China study, I’m not going to like—I am sure that there are errors both ways on people misinterpreting the China study—but when it comes down to it, what is correct is that their diet percentages, in terms of macronutrients, are about 80 percent carbohydrate—the rural Chinese—80 percent carbohydrate, 10 percent protein, 10 percent fat. And the rural Chinese tend to live longer. They definitely live longer than Chinese in the cities.

If you look across the board to the blue zones, they’re eating a higher carbohydrate diet, lower fat, lower protein, including the Okinawans, who at one point, were eating up to 85 percent of their caloric intake from sweet potatoes. And they live long. So, I mean, you are looking at this going, wait a minute. People who eat this Paleo type diet, and maybe it’s not a modern Paleo type, but maybe an older school type Paleo. They seem to get health benefits, and they have benefits of markers that all show or point to extended life. And then you look at these blue zone areas, and you’re like, wait a minute, well these people all are eating diets that clearly evidentially have shown long lifespan. And you’re like, what the heck gives?

What I’ve kind of found, and I found it just through looking at some different studies that have come up and some different strange genetic disorders, is that the thing that really messes people up is when they go high fat and high carbohydrate. So if you eat a high fat, high carbohydrate diet, that’s really what’s going to screw you up. Not necessarily one or the other. You could be in one or you can be in the other, but when you start to combine the two, that’s when things start to get really screwy.

Fred: And the standard American diet is high fat and high… especially refined carbohydrates. So you look at a meal and you have bread and you have potatoes and you have a lot of meat and you have cheese, which is loaded with fat. So essentially, you have a lot of everything, right, in what most people eat. And then, like you said, people…they can restrict the carbohydrates, or they can restrict the fats and protein generally at the same time, so that works.

Now how do you explain that, like physiologically, that effect, that the combination of the two creates big problems?

Kevin: So what…I am going to simplify it, because again, that’s how my mind kind of works. It comes down to insulin, really. And if you are eating a higher carbohydrate diet with lower fat, your body is efficient at spitting out insulin to regulate your blood sugar, and either use some of that extra glucose as fuel, or to store it away as fat. If you are eating a lot of fat or higher fat, low carbohydrate, your body is efficient in taking the fatty acids and using them as energy.

But when you put too much fatty acid in your body—so your triglycerides are high—and you put too much blood sugar, or sugar, into your bloodstream, your blood sugar, your glucose or your glucose levels are high, the insulin just becomes, your body becomes desensitized, and the insulin becomes less efficient. So your body is pumping out more insulin. There’s too much fat in the bloodstream. There’s too much sugar. It’s trying to get the sugar. It’s having trouble to get the sugar because of the excess fat, and your system just goes: [raspberry sound].

That’s the best way to describe it, right? It goes, wait a minute, this is crazy. And that’s where the insulin sensitivity starts to come in, and that causes a lot of health problems. It causes inflammation, and then once you have inflammation, that kind of leads down the line of any inflammatory disease, you know, ranging from autoimmune or diabetes or any of these kind of things that are kind of based in inflammation.

Fred: I think that’s kind of why the raw food diet—as it is commonly followed by a lot of people that are trying to implement it from books and what they read online—it doesn’t work, because you have to eliminate all sources of complex carbohydrates because they’re cooked. You know, a sweet potato is cooked and a potato is cooked and whole grains are cooked, so you cannot eat any of those things. And you get your calories from either sugar from fruit, or fat from nuts and seeds and oil, and it’s pretty difficult to get…eliminate one category altogether, because especially eliminating the fruit, right? Because that’s what tastes good. If you’re only eating salads with fat in it, you’re going to get pretty tired.

So inevitably, people combine these two in high amounts, so they eat a lot of fruit and then they eat a lot of fat and then they end up with all kinds of problems. And the approaches in raw foods that tend to work are the ones that lower the fat amounts, and also the ones that eliminate the fruit altogether, but that is pretty difficult to follow because you’re eating essentially grass and avocado all the time. I haven’t found many people following those diets successfully in the long term.

Kevin: When you look at kind of the first introduction to raw foods, at least for me, it was this super food smoothie, which was coconut oil and raw chocolate and avocado and agave nectar. This was when agave nectar was still like, it was okay. Goji berries, water, and macca or something like that. You know what I mean? Like that was the super food smoothie. And I mean you think about the amount of fat and the amount of sugar in that smoothie. Yeah, I can understand why…this happened very frequently with a few females, a few girls that I know, younger girls, in their 20s and 30s. They would go on this type of raw food diet and not only would they…would their faces start to kind of break out in pimples and things like that, but they’d gain weight. And you’d be like, wow, you’re really not eating…and you’d look at what they eat and you’d look at the caloric content of it and you’d be like, it’s not that much. You know what I mean? I understand that they’re eating a lot of fat, but it’s just not that much fat. And if you were to just break down the numbers and be like, well they’re exercising and they’re eating this much. They shouldn’t be gaining this type of weight.

And so after a period of time, they got off of that raw food, super food kind of diet. One of them, one of my friends is Korean, and she went just back to eating, just eating what her family traditionally makes, you know? A higher rice type diet, lots of vegetables, soups, and a tiny bit of meat. Within three or four months, her acne had almost disappeared. She lost like 20 pounds or something like that, and she looked fantastic. And I think it was a hormonal-insulin-endocrine type thing going on that I think was attributed—and again, this is theory—but I think it’s attributed directly to the amount of fat and the amount of sugar that she was adding into her diet that she just hadn’t seen before. And her genetics reacted very strongly to it. But I’ve also seen people of non-Asian descent have similar reactions, so it’s not just an Asian thing. It’s not just a white or black kind of thing. I think it’s a way that our bodies are wired when we eat a lot of fat and we eat a lot of sugar.

Fred: And I think the definition of a fattening food should be fat and sugar combined together. I mean, you need the two, right? I really don’t think that sugar by itself is fattening the way people think of it, because people will say, you know, you got to avoid sugar, you got to avoid sugar. And then they cut out all the foods that are fattening, but if you really look at what they’re cutting out—things like chocolate bars, protein bars, cakes, and so on, that pastries and all of those things are loaded with both fat and refined carbohydrates.

So I think…I mean, if you want the perfect fattening food, and I think it has been done experimentally with animals, it’s always a combination of refined carbohydrates—either flour or something like that, or sugar—and fat, because, I mean, that combination really works to increase the pleasure centers of the brain when you’re eating that food. It feels like a big reward. The research has shown that when we combine fat with sugar, we don’t register the calories in the fat anymore. So you can eat like a Mars bar and you can still be hungry after.

But if you eat sugar by itself or fat by itself, it’s kind of going to become like a little disgusting at some point. You’re like, I can’t take anymore of this, because it’s too sweet or it’s just that fatty taste, but when you combine them together, it’s just, I think, it’s like cocaine for the brain. You just want more and more. And I would say this is what makes people fat. If you cut out one of the two, you’re going to get better.

Kevin: Yeah, and I think just to close out this conversation, Fred, I am sure you’ll agree, is I think the fruit shaming has to stop. The fruit shaming around sugar. Like sugar being in fruit. And oh there’s fructose in fruit, and maybe you shouldn’t eat it. I think it has got to stop. I think a lot of the information comes from people eating crappy diets, and then they’re eating just bananas, which are hybridized to have more sugar, and even then, I am sure you can still eat a few bananas with a healthy diet and still turn out okay. I think the sugar is, you know, particularly when it comes to fruit, is not a one for one equation. And I hope that you agree with me on that.

Fred: Oh yeah. I definitely agree with you, Kevin. I mean, if there’s one thing that I still do from the raw food days, besides eating greens and green smoothies and things like that, it’s the fruit. Personally, I developed a taste for fruit, and I’d much rather eat fruit than eat any other kind of dessert, as long as it’s good fruit, good quality fruit. And I think the real problem with fruit is when you eat a lot of fruit and that’s all you’re eating and you’re not consuming adequate nutrients from other sources, but that’s not going to happen for like 99.5 percent of our listeners.

So what I found with fruit is because it contains fiber, and because it contains other nutrients, is that you eat fruit and you’re less hungry for other things. You eat a banana or whatever and it’s not going…research has shown that if you do that, you’re going to consume less of the rest of the meal after. But if you drink those calories in an orange juice or something, then it’s like your brain doesn’t register that you just had 150 calories. And then you can keep eating more on top of it. So definitely fruit by itself is not evil.

Kevin: Renegade Health Radio. Make sure you go to iTunes and put a comment if you like what we’ve been talking about today or if you like what we’ve been talking about in the past. Almost half a year now, or more than half a year; we’ve been doing this for a while. So go ahead and give us a comment. Your comments allow other people to be able to find our podcast here. Take care.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. Dee says:

    Great Podcast! ..I’ve come to the same conclusions when looking at the research in the Insulin-index (not the glycemic index)

    ..My question would be – in your opinion do you think a balanced diet could contain meals that are mainly carbs/protein and then have meals that are mainly Fat/protein within say the same day or feeding period?

    …I guess I”m wondering how responsive the body is to these types of meals within the same day? …does one or the other – ie Fat or Carbs – need to be favoured as part of the overall diet picture, or can we perhaps simulate an agrarian/hunter diet meaning individual days or individual meals that would favour one of these macronutrient groups over the other (each one paired with a sensible protein source etc)?

    Thanks again for the great podcast!!!

  2. Donata says:

    I am looking forward for the transcript!

  3. Carolyn says:

    Thank you for today’s podcast and your comments on eating fruit. My granddaughter loves fruit and my son seems to think that eating fruit will make her fat and lazy. I also love fruit and am a big fan of green smoothies.

  4. Jan says:

    Loved your podcast. How do you feel about adding whole fat yogurt to a green smoothie with friut in the mornings? Should I use non or low-fat instead or just skip it altogether?

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