SBS Radio App

Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience

  • (Getty Images)
Nearly two-thirds of Australian adults are overweight or obese. It is little wonder that 1 in 3 people go on a diet every year. We explore three popular weight-loss diets: Paleo, Atkins and the “Low Carb, High Fat” diet, and examine what they mean for the over fifties age group.
Amy Chien-Yu Wang

3 Oct 2017 - 4:27 PM  UPDATED 3 Oct 2017 - 4:27 PM

Dr Rod Taylor is an anaesthetist based in Melbourne. Outside of his day job, he’s a passionate advocate for the LCHF, or “Low-Carbohydrate, High-Fat” diet through a group he runs called “Low Carb Down Under”.

“I’ve been observing patients for now 40 years and I’ve been observing people get bigger and bigger, and waist lines expanding, and more of the diseases, which I think are a reflection of poor nutrition of the metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, heart disease, strokes. Really, we have such serious problems and they only appear to be getting worse.”  

Research conducted by consumer genetics firm myDNA shows that over a third of Australians attempt to diet every year as a result of the rising obesity problem. myDNA CEO Dr Lior Rauchberger explains.

“And even if they finish their diet, a further 29% admitted to putting on weight back after following that diet plan.”

The LCHF, Atkins and Paleo diets share the same characteristics of eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods.

Dr Rod Taylor is a firm believer that a low-carb, high-fat diet is the answer to better health and weight loss. He’s lost 10 kgs by simply cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrate from his diet.

“I discovered that there was really a significant body of scientific opinion recommending getting off sugar and refined carbohydrate. So I guess I’ve been doing it particularly for about 6 years now and I’m very happy with all my health markers including my blood lipids, my weight, more waist line, and other cardio active that one can have done to make sure that one is on a good track.”

Dr Taylor’s ‘low-carb, moderate protein, higher healthy fat’ diet starts with bacon and eggs with avocado for breakfast, fish and salad with cheese and nuts for lunch, and a serving of meat with plenty of vegetables for dinner.

“The average Australian’s having about 200 to 250 grams a day, and we’d be advocating 50 grams or less. Essentially cutting out the bread, the rice, pasta and the potatoes. For people over the age of 50, I’d say still highly recommend it to be in the best health you can to avoid the diseases of older age as much as possible, protein.” - Dr Rod Taylor  

The LCHF, Atkins and Paleo diets share the same characteristics of eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods. The Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman diet”, follows the eating habits of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. It promotes eating grass-fed meat, vegetables, fruit, berries, nuts and roots whilst avoiding dairy, sugar, legumes and grains. Nutrition Australia’s senior nutritionist Aloysa Hourigan explains.  

“It excludes normal dairy, focuses on the nut milks, and some other fermented milk drinks like kefir; but basically promotes more of the nut milks, especially coconut milk and almond milk would be two of the more popular ones; and they don’t promote unsaturated oils. They tend to encourage people not to use unsaturated oil at all so that would exclude olive oil. Instead they’d tell people to use ghee and coconut oil.”

Nutrition Australia’s senior nutritionist Aloysa Hourigan says a normal part of ageing is the loss of muscle mass, which requires adequate protein consumption and more carbohydrates.

However, Aloysa Hourigan isn’t convinced that the Paleo diet is all that beneficial for the bone health of an ageing person.

“It’s important to have enough calcium and other minerals in your diet that support bone health. Obviously dairy is normally our major source of that. You do get calcium in alternative milks. You can get calcium fortified milks but if doesn’t say calcium fortified milk on an alternative milk, like, say, almond milk, there won’t be very much calcium there. They’re much lower in protein compared to cow’s milk. You need to think about how am I going to get more calcium? These diets - the Paleo doesn’t promote enough calcium intake.”

The Atkins Diet had a huge following in the early 2000s, also promoting a low-carb, high-fat diet with a focus on meat. It contains full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, fatty seafood, eggs, and non-starchy vegetables. The Atkins Diet is split into four phases with the dieter initially eating less than 20 grams of carbohydrate per day for two weeks, then slowly adding nuts and fruit, and gradually increasing the amount of carbs.

“The Atkins diet is basically a LCHF diet as well. The Atkins diet limits the carb to about 20%. The energy of the diet coming from carb is still relatively low in comparison to the Australian dietary guidelines which tell us to eat somewhere between 45 to 55% of energy in our diet coming from carbohydrate sources.”

A 2014 research by Sydney’s ANZAC Research Institute found that a high-protein diet actually results in worse health outcomes with bad blood pressure, diabetes, and a shorter life span. Aloysa Hourigan has also witnessed complications in her older clients who’ve experimented with a low-carb, high-fat styled diet. She says eating more red meat can increase your chances of bowel cancer as well as other digestive disorders.

“None of these diets are really ideal and I think people may get some weight loss but I just worry about what people are aiming to achieve because if you’re trying to achieve better health, there’s very little evidence that any of these patterns are going to give you a good long-term outcome that way.”

She says a normal part of ageing is the loss of muscle mass, which requires adequate protein consumption and more carbohydrates.

“If you want that protein to be available to improve your muscle mass, you actually need to have a certain amount of carbohydrate there so that your body can use some carb for energy, which it prefers, and then, it can use the protein to look after your muscle mass and for other certain functions in your body. So if you only have a very high protein intake and low carbohydrate intake, some of the proteins might be used for as an energy source so you may not be left with as much protein as you think for helping muscle mass.”

Hourigan advises seeing your GP or an accredited practising dietician if you’ve got chronic health issues and are considering a diet change.

“If your kidney function’s impaired so it’s not working so well but it’s quite stable, you should certainly talk to your doctor before you make any big changes to your diet because it may not be good for you. It may not be a good thing. In fact, too much protein could be damaging. You would want to be sure you were not going to hurt your health further in any ways.”  

When all else fails, Dr Lior Rauchberger from myDNA suggests decoding your DNA to come up with a diet plan tailored to your needs.

“That might tell them the specific areas that is contributing to their weight gain and making it harder for them to lose weight. Some people might have a way they process carbohydrates, others might have a problem with fats, and understanding the genetics will help you optimise your own diet plan.”

You can find out how to lose weight in a healthy manner by checking out the Eat for Health website.