Really? Low-carb fights the pandemic?

Jun 3, 2020 | 17 comments

By Ted Kyle

Like a dog with a bone, Nina Teicholz is not ready to let it go. She has a point to make and a book to sell. It’s all about pushing everyone to eat a low-carb diet. No matter what the problem, we find her telling us that low-carb diets, with plenty of saturated fats, are the answer. Right now, everyone is distracted by the coronavirus pandemic. Teicholz has the answer. So in the Wall Street Journal, she recommends (you guessed it) “a low-carb strategy for fighting the pandemic.”

Perhaps she has a very special version of the Magic 8-Ball. Every time you shake it, no matter what the question, “low-carb diet” floats into the answer window.

True Believers Impervious to Facts

Recently, Kevin Hall and his colleagues at NIH released the results of a short term, very tightly controlled study of low-fat and low-carb diets. He found that some common assumptions about low-carb diets didn’t hold up too well in this study. For instance, it was not especially effective for suppressing appetite in comparison to the low-fat diet.

Low-carb fans dismissed it promptly. The study was only two weeks. Not enough time for low-carb magic to kick in.

Other, longer term studies, such as the DIETFITS study, keep showing the same thing. Low-carb diets are not magically superior to other diets over the long term. One size will never fit all. Results will vary from person to person. Yet low-carb believers won’t hear of it. They have the answer.

Tunnel Vison

Nonetheless, Teicholz persists with her arguments that broader acceptance of low-carb diets could have “flattened the still-rising curves” of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. If only people would listen, “it’s quite possible that our fight against the virus would today look very different.”

“Diet-related problems require diet-related solutions,” says Teicholz. But she glosses over the fact that relying exclusively on diet-related solutions for obesity has been an abysmal failure for decades. In both controlled studies and in real life experience, it’s never been enough to reverse this disease for more than a small portion of the people affected.

A Dog with a Bone, photograph © myri_bonnie / flickr

In a new commentary on Medscape, Yoni Freedhoff marvels at people telling us that diets could have prevented the pandemic or flattened the cure. Those people, he notes, omit any mention of the other tools, medicines and surgery, that are often necessary to treat obesity:

It’s quite an oversight, because no single diet has ever been shown to durably and reproducibly compete with drugs or surgery to date.

It’s time let go of our tunnel vision. Low-carb diets won’t prevent the next pandemic. They are not magic cures for obesity. They don’t have the power to prevent coronavirus infections. The way we eat and the way we care for people living with obesity is indeed profoundly important. But only if we are open to the facts and curious about learning more.

It’s time to toss that broken Magic 8-Ball and consider a broader range of answers to our health challenges.

Click here for the commentary from Teicholz and here for perspective from Freedhoff.

Ted Kyle is a pharmacist and healthcare innovation professional who serves on the Board of Directors for the Obesity Action Coalition and advises The Obesity Society on advocacy.

Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA

His widely-read daily commentary, published at, reaches an audience of more than 10,000 thought leaders in health and obesity.



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