Is the eternal debate of low-carb versus low-fat diets clouding the real crux of effective weight loss?
The truth is, successful weight management isn’t strictly about cutting carbs or fats but about understanding and harnessing the power of satiety. This article delves into the science of personalized satiety, shedding light on how aligning diet with individual satiety signals can pave the way for sustainable weight loss and improved health.
By analyzing a massive dataset spanning three hundred thousand days of food intake, we offer a unique lens into how tailoring your diet—be it low-carb or low-fat—can satisfy your hunger, keep the pounds off, and bring you closer to your health goals.
Discover the art and science of optimizing satiety to make the most of your dietary choices.
Is low-carb or low-fat better for weight loss?
This is one of the most hotly debated topics controversies in nutrition. There are plenty of passionate people on either side of the low-carb vs low-fat divide.
But the reality is that many people lose weight by limiting either fat or carbs.
Many studies also support this, like Dr Christopher Gardner’s 2018 Stanford DIETFITS trial, have shown a similar distribution of weight loss for low-carb and low-fat.
So, if either a lower carb or lower fat diet can help people lose weight, it’s more interesting to consider “What are the factors that ensure people will be successful on a low-carb or low-fat diet.”
As shown in the chart below of non-fibre carbohydrates vs calorie intake, we tend to eat the most when our diet contains approximately 40% non-fibre carbohydrates. Reducing either fat or carbs aligns with a 30% lower calorie intake.
I recently heard Dr Chris Gardner say his dream study would investigate how we could ‘personalise satiety’ within your preferred dietary approach to remove the ‘punitive aspect of the weight loss diet so you’re enjoying the foods you eat and not hungry’.
To help Optimisers personalise their satiety on either a low-carb or low-fat diet, let’s dig into the unique factors that make the low-fat or a low-carbohydrate diets work and how we can optimise either for the best results.
I hope the nutrition nerds will find the personalised approach to optimising satiety based on the analysis of three hundred thousand days of data fascinating.
Diet Quality Matters!
Back in 2018, the DIETFITS randomised clinical trial, partly sponsored by Gary Taubes and Peter Attia’s Nutrition Science Initiative (NUSI), was ground-breaking news.
- They randomised 609 overweight adults to a healthy low-carb or low-fat diet for 12 months.
- Rather than going extremely low carb or low fat, the researchers encouraged study participants to emphasise diet quality to create the best version of their diet they could.
- On average, the low-carb dieters lost a little more (6.0 kg) than the low-fat dieters (5.3 kg), but the difference was not statistically significant.
Rather than ‘which diet won,’ the more interesting observation from the study was that both diets produced massive weight loss for some people while others gained weight with the same advice.
In interviews after the study was released, Dr Gardner said the people who improved their diet quality and changed their relationship with food tended to lose the most weight. In addition, they tended to be the ones that started going to their local farmers’ market on the weekend to buy the freshest, tastiest ingredients to create their healthy version of a low-carb or low-fat diet.
While not specifically quantified in the study, nutrient density might be the differentiating factor determining whether you will thrive on a low-carb or low-fat diet.
According to Professors Raubenheimer and Simpson, animals – including humans – have specific appetites for protein, carbohydrates, fat and at least two micronutrients – salt and calcium.
Like protein leverage, we eat less when these appetites are satisfied with fewer calories (i.e. foods and meals with a higher nutrient density). But, intriguingly, they noted that appetites for other micronutrients exist.
As you’ll see, with enough data, we can identify the ‘other nutrients’ that we crave on different dietary approaches. Then, once we identify the key nutrients that align with greater satiety, we can optimise our food choices to satisfy our cravings with less energy and thus increase satiety.
This analysis is based on three hundred thousand days of food intake from free-living people.
To build this massive dataset, I’ve combined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) with data from three and a half thousand people who have used Nutrient Optimiser over the past five years. Some of these people have participated in our Macros Masterclass or Micros Masterclass, but many more have taken our 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge to identify the nutritional gaps in their current diet.
Neither of these data sets is from controlled metabolic ward studies, so not every morsel is perfectly weighed and measured. The NHANES data is based on diet recall of what participants ate yesterday. Meanwhile, the Optimiser data is based on food tracking their food over weeks and months.
But, as you’ll see, the sheer volume of data reveals clear, highly statistically significant trends that give us a robust understanding of the parameters that align with eating more vs eating less.
Just over half the data is from the average American (i.e. NHANES data), while the other half is from nutrition enthusiasts regularly tracking their food, so we get a broad spread of macros, micros and dietary patterns.
To understand the unique factors influencing satiety with different dietary extremes, I’ve segmented the data into four batches, with one hundred thousand days of data each. The calories and macros of each subset are shown in the table below. As you can see, the high protein is a clear winner over low protein in terms of calories consumed, but the low-fat vs low-carb race battle is much closer.
|Calories||Protein||Fat||Net carb||Fibre||Energy Density|
In this article, we’ll focus on the low-fat and low-carb data. For more details on the low protein vs high protein analysis, check out the article Why Protein Leverage Breaks where we look at the unique satiety factors that can be used for people who chose a very low protein diet.
Multivariate analysis (MVA) enables the identification of the variables in food that align with eating more vs eating less when all factors are considered. It also weeds out the parameters that don’t have a statistically significant relationship with calorie intake.
While many people feel that other factors — like carbs, fat, sugar, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat, etc. — might play a role in satiety, the following factors remain statistically significant after EVERYTHING ELSE is knocked out.
The results of the multivariate analysis in the table below are sorted from highest to lowest, with the parameters with the largest impact on calorie intake at the top. Protein % is by far the dominant factor for a lower-carb diet.
|Folate (mcg/2000 cal)||-3.3%||167||1056||-49|
|Potassium (mg/2000 cal)||-3.3%||1975||6124||-48|
|Sodium (mg/2000 cal)||-1.5%||1523||5451||-22|
|Calcium (mg/2000 cal)||-1.3%||471||1943||-19|
Increasing protein % from 22 to 46% aligns with a 30% reduction in calories (i.e. an average of 444 calories). However, focusing on foods with more fibre, folate, potassium, sodium, and calcium align with an additional 14% reduction in calories.
The chart below shows how protein leverage works with the low-carb diet – it’s pretty much a linear relationship — we eat fewer calories when protein % is higher.
But it’s not just protein leverage. There appears to be a statistically significant nutrient leverage effect for other micronutrients, like potassium. Fibre, sodium, calcium and folate also have a similar, near-linear response — foods containing more of these nutrients per calorie align with eating less.
High Satiety Foods (Low Carb)
The MVA yields regression coefficients that allow us to estimate how much we would eat of any food or meal based on their macronutrient and micronutrient profile. We can then rank those foods from 0 to 100% to create a satiety score specifically tailored to the needs of people on a lower-carb diet. We are effectively reverse-engineering the foods and meals of those who eat the least so you can imitate them.
The tables below show the foods with a satiety score greater than 50% using the low-carb satiety factors. The foods towards the top of these lists will give you the best chance of satisfying your cravings and losing weight on a low-carb diet.
While non-starchy veggies provide the highest satiety per calorie, seafood and low-fat dairy also rank well. Once you get your fill of plant-based foods, you can move on to meat, seafood and dairy to get the protein and energy you need.
|Beef Steak (Sirloin)||60%|
|Chicken Thigh (Skinless)||59%|
|Chicken Drumstick (Skinless)||59%|
|Chicken Breast (Skinless)||59%|
|Chicken Drumstick (With Skin)||58%|
|Chicken Thigh (Skin Eaten)||58%|
|Chicken Breast (Skin Eaten)||56%|
|Ground Beef (85% Lean)||53%|
|Beef Steak (Rib Eye, Fat Eaten)||52%|
|Pork Chops (Loin)||51%|
|Cottage cheese (Low-fat)||87%|
|Greek Yogurt (Non-Fat)||81%|
|Mozzarella (Part Skim)||62%|
High-Satiety, Low-Carb Recipes
But we don’t just eat individual foods; we combine them to make meals. The image below shows some examples of our NutriBooster recipes that rank using the low-carb satiety criteria.
For more lower-carb, high-satiety recipes, check out our Blood Sugar & Fat Loss NutriBooster recipes here.
Next, let’s look at the 100,000 days of lower fat data. The results of the multivariate analysis show that protein % is still the dominant factor in the satiety equation for the low-fat data, but less so than for the low-carb scenario.
|Energy density (g/2000 cal)||-19.2%||448||3972||-317|
|Calcium (mg/2000 cal)||-7.6%||513||1741||-126|
|Potassium (mg/2000 cal)||-3.7%||1863||4864||-60|
|Iron (mg/2000 cal)||-3.3%||10||27||-54|
|Vitamin C (mg/2000 cal)||-2.1%||24||298||-34|
While energy density doesn’t have a statistically significant relationship with satiety for the low-carb data, it has a major impact for the low-fat data.
The chart below shows that on the far left, a very high-fat, low-carb diet isn’t particularly satiating. However, when we reduce fat, a high protein, low-carb, low-fat diet aligns with the lowest calorie intake.
To reduce energy density and increase satiety, you can also prioritise foods containing more calcium, fibre, potassium, iron and vitamin C.
Interestingly, while calcium and potassium are common satiety factors across all approaches, iron and vitamin C only feature in the low-fat and low-protein scenarios. This may be because iron is more easily obtained in meat, which is more common on a lower-carb and high-protein diet.
While many processed foods contain supplemental vitamins, the nutrients that dominate the satiety equation tend to be the larger ones that are rarely fortified or in supplements. So you can’t just supplement your way to satiety.
High Satiety Foods (Low Fat)
Again, we can reverse engineer the success factors for people on a low-carb diet.
The tables below show the foods with a satiety score greater than 50% using the low-fat satiety factors. The foods towards the top of these lists will give you the best chance of satisfying your cravings and losing weight on a low-fat diet. [BW2]
While non-starchy veggies provide the highest satiety and feature in both lists, fruit and starchy vegetables feature in the low-fat foods list.
|Red Bell Peppers||59%|
Animal & Seafood
|Greek Yogurt (Non-Fat)||74%|
|Cottage cheese (low-fat)||65%|
You can also download a longer printable version of the foods optimised for higher satiety on a low-fat diet in our Optimising Nutrition Community here.
High-Satiety, Low-Fat Recipes
Again, we can use the satiety factors to rank our NutriBooster recipes, as shown in the examples below.
For more low-fat meals, check out our Low Fat NutriBooster recipes here.
How to Personalise Your Satiety
- For a lower-carb diet, protein % is the dominant satiety factor, while potassium, fibre, calcium and sodium play a support role.
- If you prefer a lower-carb diet, you should prioritise non-starchy vegetables, lower-fat dairy, seafood and meat, ideally with less added dietary fat to allow fat loss from your body.
- In our Macros Masterclass, we guide Optimisers through dialling back energy from fat and carbs while prioritising protein to increase their protein % and thus satiety gradually.
- For lower-fat diets, protein % still dominates, but energy density plays a major role, along with calcium, fibre, potassium, iron and vitamin C — which will supercharge your satiety.
- Rather than adding water to everything and drinking shakes, once you’ve got adequate protein, the best way to reduce the energy density of your diet is to focus on plant-based foods that contain more of your priority nutrients.
- In our Micros Masterclass, we guide Optimisers to identify their priority nutrients and show them how to identify the foods and meals that contain more of them.
- Focusing on foods and meals containing more of these “leveraging” nutrients leads to a lower energy density and a higher protein %, thus greater satiety.
- We tend to eat the most when our diet contains a similar blend of fat and carbs with low protein and fibre. This is the basic formula for energy-dense, nutrient-poor, ultra-profitable, ultra-processed foods.
- When we move away from the fat+carb danger zone, different factors dominate the satiety equation for people on a low-carb versus low-fat diet.
- Focusing on foods and meals containing more of these nutrients leads to a lower energy density and a higher protein %, thus greater satiety.
- We can tailor satiety to our preferred way of eating by prioritising foods and meals that contain specific nutrients.