Low carb, or low fat? Should you go Atkins, Zone or Paleo? Or does it even matter which diet you choose when you want to lose weight? Most weight loss experts say that shedding pounds comes down to a simple formula: calories in versus calories out. In other words, if you burn more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight.
However, the question of exactly how to cut calories — in a healthy, sustainable way — has often perplexed dieters. To find the best diets for weight loss, Live Science conducted a months-long search for information. We spoke with many weight loss experts and dove deep into the most well-regarded studies on the topic done to date. We wanted to know what these studies found and, ultimately, determine the best approaches to healthy eating for weight loss.
We found that the calorie equation reigns supreme as the most important aspect of losing weight, but also that there’s still plenty of room to choose a diet that fits your personal preferences. For example, Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Live Science that “the No. 1 factor is still a calorie deficit, so the question is, what kind of styles or what kind of foods can help people achieve a calorie deficit, and what can sustain the calorie deficit?”
“The best food someone on a diet should eat? The same foods they should eat when they’re not on a diet, but just less of them,” said Dr. Frank Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention, also at Harvard’s School of Public Health. All of the experts we spoke with agreed that those foods should include the staples of a “healthy” diet — fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. These foods are important not only for achieving or maintaining a healthy body weight but also for good health in general.
In this article, we’ll highlight some of the most popular diets people turn to in order to lose weight, and explain what the science really says about how well they work. But before we delve into the diets, it’s important to break down the macronutrients of the foods we eat — carbohydrates, fats and protein — and the roles they play in the body. Of course, individual food can contain more than one more macronutrient.