Making Sense of Health News: Carbs vs. Fat

SemlerRecent news debating the “perfect diet” has many people wondering what exactly they are supposed to eat for weight management. High fat or low fat?  High carb or low carb? No wonder there is so much confusion!

By Linda Semler, MS, RD, LDN

For lifestyle coaches out there in the trenches, this is an issue your patients, participants, and colleagues are talking about. As a health professional you may be asked to weigh in on the topic.

As a long-time research dietitian who has helped many people design their own best practices for a healthy lifestyle, my advice is to take a deep breath, relax, and start a discussion with your participant that addresses two key areas:

  1. What are the participant’s personal goals? If the goal is weight loss, start with the goal of losing 5-10% of current body weight.
  2. What changes in food choices is the participant willing to make that will reduce calorie intake by 500 calories per day? Make sure the participant feels that these changes are realistic, doable, and sustainable.

Next, I suggest asking the participant to identify what s/he can see him/herself doing to improve the overall quality of the diet.   Suggest that the participant keep track of all foods and beverages consumed every day for one week and then answer the following questions:

  • Throughout each day, are you including healthy choices from all food groups? Eating a variety of foods from each group will provide many healthful nutrients and help avoid boredom from limited food choices.
  • Do your meals include a serving from at least three different food groups, one of which should be a low-fat protein food from the Dairy or Protein groups? Eating a low or non-fat protein food at each meal will help you feel full for a longer period of time.
  • What are your favorite low-fat protein choices? Legumes, fish, eggs, skinless poultry, low or non-fat dairy, and/or lean meats are all excellent choices. Interested in trying some meatless meals? For meatless meal suggestions and recipes, go to or
  • What are your carbs choices? Are most of your carbs coming from healthy carb choices such as fruits, vegetables, non-fat or low-fat dairy, legumes, and whole grains? If so, great! If many of your calories are coming from less healthy carb choices, how can see yourself decreasing added sugar and refined grains in your diet? Are you open to experimenting with ways to limit sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, candy, and alcohol and to replace processed grains with whole grains?
  • Where is most of the fat coming from in your diet? Is most of your fat coming from the healthier unsaturated oils such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado? If so, great! Is most of your fat coming from the less healthy saturated fats such as fried foods, baked goods, and high fat snack foods? What are some ways you could see yourself limiting these foods and/or replacing them with healthier options?

Carbs vs FatsDo you need some information about how to plan healthy meals?  Information can be found at the following websites:,, or

The bottom line:  There is no one perfect way to eat and no one diet that is best for every single person. Encourage your participants to do their own personal research project.  Experiment with eating protein at each meal.  Look at the amount of carbs in their diet and improve the quality of the ones they do eat.  See what they think and how they feel.  Decide if they want this way of eating to be part of their new healthy lifestyle that can be followed long-term.  Also, keep in mind that regular physical activity and good sleep habits are important for weight management, overall health and well-being. By discovering what works best for them, your participants will go a long way towards reaching and maintaining their personal weight and health goals.  Don’t get lost in the details, just meet the participants where they are right now and help them get started in the lifestyle change process.

As a lifestyle coach, what are your thoughts on this issue?  Is this something that you have been able to address with your patients/participants?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below. For more on lifestyle coaching and diabetes prevention, be sure to subscribe to our Diabetes Prevention Support Center blog here.

Healthy, well-balanced eating is one of the topics we cover during DPP Group Lifestyle Balance training workshops for lifestyle coaches.  The next one is scheduled in Pittsburgh on February 25 and 26, 2015!