Remembering Kevin Moore

Australian Researchers Conclude That A High-Fat, Low-Carb Diet Puts You In A Permanent Bad Mood! Grrrrrr!

Calvin has been reading up on the latest studies about low-carb diets

In Lesson #19 of my new book 21 Life Lessons From Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb, I state that “you can’t always trust or believe the negative studies on low-carb.” And today I have yet another prime example of this to share with you out of the research world that got big headlines when it released. Here’s a two-minute segment about it on CBS-TV’s “The Early Show”:

Now that the weight loss and physical health benefits of livin’ la vida low-carb are undeniable, the attention is now being turned towards mental and emotional health. Ohhh, this is gonna be a fun one!

Dr. Grant D. Brinkworth says high-fat, low-carb diets make you moody

Lead researcher Dr. Grant D. Brinkworth, research scientist and project leader at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Food and Nutritional Sciences in Adelaide, South Australia, observed 106 overweight and obese adults with an average age of 50 and placed them on one of the following isocaloric diets for a period of one year (the ratio in parenthesis indicates the fat/protein/carbohydrate):


Calories for both groups were restricted to between 1,433-1,672 daily and they both produced an average weight loss of 30.2 pounds at the end of the one-year study period. After eight weeks on their respective diets, each study participant showed improvements in their mood. However, according to Dr. Brinkworth and his fellow CSIRO researchers, the mood improvements in the high-fat, low-carb group regressed back to where they started prior to the study.

This study was published in the November 9, 2009 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

The conclusion of the researchers is that although the weight loss results were exactly the same, the improvements in mood with the high-carb, low-fat group were much more significant than the high-fat, low-carb group.

“Both an energy-reduced, very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet and a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet are equally effective for achieving weight loss in overweight and obese individuals,” Dr. Brinkworth explained. “The conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat weight-loss diet was shown to have more positive effects on mood compared to the very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.”

Oh REALLY?! What about previous research that shows eating fat improves mental health? Or how about this CSIRO study published in September 2007 that found mood improvements were identical with both the high-carb, low-fat diet and the high-fat, low-carb diet. How does this study by Dr. Brinkworth explain previous evidence that runs diametrically opposed to his from the exact same research institute?

And I don’t know if any of these researchers have ever been on a high-carb, low-fat diet before, but I have in 1999 and it’s just about the most miserable experience of my entire life! Despite losing 170 pounds in just nine months eating that way, I was the most cranky, irritable, angry person you would have ever wanted to meet despite all those supposed “serotonin-boosting” carbohydrates I was eating with virtually zero fat in my diet. Your brain thrives on a high-fat diet which is what makes it so preferred over a carb-based diet when it comes to both physical and mental health. I rebelled against my “healthy” eating and gained back all of my weight and then some eating like that. It did NOT work for me or my mood one iota. Just ask my wife Christine.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out this hilarious spoof post about Dr. Brinkworth’s study by Tom Naughton who has an imaginary conversation with me. This guy is a riot! And the never dull Dr. James E. Carlson gives his own unique twist of an opinion about the study, too. I can’t wait to see both of these guys on the upcoming 3rd Annual Low-Carb Cruise to the Bahamas in March 2010.

I was both pleasantly surprised and quite frankly honored to see in this U.S. News & World Report story that my trademark phrase was used along with Atkins and Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. In a quote by Dr. Ewald Horvath, interim chairman of psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, he noted three popular low-carb diets that may sound familiar to you.

Health organizations, such as the American Heart Association, tend to advocate higher-carb, low-fat diets. But many overweight and obese people are propelled toward the high-fat diets such as Atkins, “Livin’ La Vida” and “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” perhaps because of quick initial weight loss, Horvath said.

Now that’s just too funny! Although “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” is not a diet and I’d bet Gary Taubes would say the same about his book, I’m flattered that this Dr. Horvath would mention a part of the catch phrase I use for my blog, books, podcast, and YouTube videos in the same company as Atkins and Taubes. And it’s a VERY good thing that “many overweight and obese people are propelled towards the high-fat diets” because it will do amazing things for not just their weight, but their health, too. I can also guarantee you that their mood will be so uplifted by the changes that are happening to them that they’ll make this silly study completely irrelevant when all is said and done.

Not surprisingly, Atkins Nutritionals took exception to the conclusions of the CSIRO study stating that the low-carb diet used in this study contained an excessive amount of protein and an unnecessary limit on salt. Atkins spokeswoman Colette Heimowitz had some interesting observations to make about Dr. Brinkworth’s research.

The first lesson is that the prescribed protein intake referred to in this study as a protein intake of 35% of daily food consumed (on average 130 g of protein) is suitable only for the first or Induction phase of Atkins. This prescription, however, becomes inappropriate as people move out of the weight loss phase and into ongoing maintenance, when total food intake must increase to maintain a steady weight. In the six months of weight stability at the end of this study, participants were reportedly still consuming 35% of their daily food intake in the form of protein – for an 80 kg subject that translates to 200-250 grams of protein per day.

This would push the upper limit of human protein tolerance – too high for the weight maintenance phase and liable to lead to a change in mood. Aboriginal hunting cultures such as the Inuit had descriptive terms for the discomfort and unpleasant mood that results from over-consuming protein, and this time-tested observation appears to have been re-discovered in the current study.

Furthermore, Christy Boling Turer, MD, a health services research fellow at the VA Medical Center, in Durham, N.C., notes that twice as many people in the low carb group were being treated for depression at the beginning of the Brinkworth study. According to Turer, that fact, as well as the high dropout rate, suggests that “these data should be viewed cautiously.”

The second lesson is that carbohydrate restriction has long been known to cause a sustained increase in the excretion of salt by the kidneys (natriuresis). If this is counter-balanced by the prescription of a modest daily sodium supplement of 2 grams per day (definitely not a high salt intake), well-being and physical performance are maintained despite the carbohydrate restriction. Without it, fatigue, lethargy, and headache are common. As both patients and dietitians typically believe in the benefits of restricting salt intake, it is likely that many of the mood and well-being symptoms reported in this study could have been ameliorated by a daily pinch of salt.

In addition, a 2007 study by a different group of researchers showed that after 24 weeks, people on low fat or low carb diets both showed improvements in mood, but the improvements were greater in the low carb group. Eric C. Westman, MD, of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C., who helped conduct the 2007 research, says the two studies have one key difference. In his study, people on a low carbohydrate diet were allowed to eat as much as they wanted.

“The main difference between their methodology and our study methodology was that they restricted the amount that people could eat and we did not,” Dr. Westman says. “That’s an important thing to focus on because…if you’re told you can’t eat as much as you want, this may put some damper on the mood, so to speak.”

A low carbohydrate diet can be safe and sustainable if managed with a modicum of care through both the weight loss and maintenance phases, which differ in a number of aspects. However the over consumption of protein and inappropriate sodium restriction, as apparently practiced in this study, indicate that we ignore these lessons of history at our peril.

Dr. Westman makes a good point. Dieter’s remorse about what they could be having may play a psychological effect on their mood. That’s why most low-carbers don’t count calories or portion sizes. We simply count the carbs, eat to satiety delicious real whole foods, and let the body take care of the rest. A high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet is indeed a great way to go when you want to lose weight, improve your health, and yes, even improve your mood. You cannot underestimate the impact that losing weight can have on lifting your spirits and putting your mood in the right place. It’s idiotic research like this that is intended only to discourage people from healthy low-carb living. And that’s enough to make me cranky! Hee hee!

Let Dr. Grant D. Brinkworth know what you think about his study by e-mailing him your thoughts directly at grant.brinkworth@csiro.au.

  • donny

    Hi Jimmy.

    I blame chocolate-frosted sugar bombs.

    In the first eight weeks of the study, the carbs were supposed to stay below 20 grams. After that, below 40 grams.

    Also, according to the study,

    “The participants met individually with a qualified dietitian fortnightly during the first 8 weeks of the study and then monthly thereafter.”

    Also, during the first eight weeks, thirty percent of the food was provided to the subjects; after that, they received 40 dollar food vouchers every month. This represents yet another loosening up of the diet. And the forty dollars is an incentive for subjects to stay in the study, even if they were having trouble staying on the diet.

    At the eight week period, the low carb dieters did every bit as well as the low fat dieters, at least as far as mood goes. Once the prescribed diet, and the visits with the dietician, loosened up, they did worse.

    Now, I don’t know if any of this significantly altered the study outcome. But how can I assume it didn’t?

    It had to have some kind of impact, Donny. And I would contend the very moment they stopped eating low-carb like they did during those first eight weeks that they were no longer on a low-carb diet. People like to say the Atkins diet failed them when the reality is they failed it by not continuing to follow it.


  • I’m such a ravenous beast when consuming carbs, that I can’t be anything but unhappy. I’m way happier as a low-carber not to mention the fact that I feel 1,000 times better.

    Even if in the small chance that this study was true… different strokes for different folks! Low-carb works for us!