Randomized Controlled Trials in Nutrition

This is a collection of high quality research studies in nutrition, about some of the topics we cover on this website.

All of these studies are published in respected, peer-reviewed journals.

A Randomized Controlled Trial is a type of experiment that is considered to be the gold standard for a clinical trial.

Participants in such a study are randomized into two or more groups, where each group gets a different type of treatment.

All of the studies on this page are randomized controlled trials in humans, unless otherwise noted!

Low-Carbohydrate vs. Low-Fat Diets

A low carb diet is based on foods that contain a low amount of carbohydrate. Foods that are high in sugars and starches are replaced with foods that are high in protein and fat.

A low fat diet, is based on foods that contain a low amount of fat, typically under 30% of total calories. Foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains are emphasized.

The studies below are controlled trials where people are randomized to either a low-carb or a low-fat diet. The outcomes measured are usually body weight and risk factors for disease.

  1. Krebs NF, et al. Efficacy and safety of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for weight loss in severely obese adolescents. J Pediatr. 2010 Aug;157(2):252-8.
  2. Hernandez, et al. Lack of suppression of circulating free fatty acids and hypercholesterolemia during weight loss on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. Am J Clin Nutr March 2010 vol. 91 no. 3 578-585.
  3. Brinkworth GD, et al. Long-term effects of a very-low-carbohydrate weight loss diet compared with an isocaloric low-fat diet after 12 mo. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):23-32.
  4. Volek JS, et al. Carbohydrate restriction has a more favorable impact on the metabolic syndrome than a low fat diet. Lipids. 2009 Apr;44(4):297-309.
  5. Tay J, et al. Metabolic effects of weight loss on a very-low-carbohydrate diet compared with an isocaloric high-carbohydrate diet in abdominally obese subjects. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Jan 1;51(1):59-67.
  6. Keogh JB, et al. Effects of weight loss from a very-low-carbohydrate diet on endothelial function and markers of cardiovascular disease risk in subjects with abdominal obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Mar;87(3):567-76.
  7. Shai I, et al. Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. N Engl J Med. 2008 Jul 17;359(3):229-41.
  8. Dyson PA, et al. A low-carbohydrate diet is more effective in reducing body weight than healthy eating in both diabetic and non-diabetic subjects. Diabet Med. 2007 Dec;24(12):1430-5.
  9. Halyburton AK, et al. Low- and high-carbohydrate weight-loss diets have similar effects on mood but not cognitive performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Sep;86(3):580-7.
  10. Gardner CD, et al. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A TO Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2007 Mar 7;297(9):969-77.
  11. McClernon FJ, et al. The effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet on mood, hunger, and other self-reported symptoms. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Jan;15(1):182-7.
  12. Nickols-Richardson SM, et al. Perceived hunger is lower and weight loss is greater in overweight premenopausal women consuming a low-carbohydrate/high-protein vs high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 Sep;105(9):1433-7.
  13. Meckling KA, et al. Comparison of a low-fat diet to a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss, body composition, and risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease in free-living, overweight men and women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jun;89(6):2717-23.
  14. JS Volek, et al. Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004; 1: 13.
  15. Yancy WS Jr, et al. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2004 May 18;140(10):769-77.
  16. Aude YW, et al. The national cholesterol education program diet vs a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and monounsaturated fat: a randomized trial. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Oct 25;164(19):2141-6.
  17. Brehm BJ, et al. A randomized trial comparing a very low carbohydrate diet and a calorie-restricted low fat diet on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Apr;88(4):1617-23.
  18. Sondike SB, et al. Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor in overweight adolescents. J Pediatr. 2003 Mar;142(3):253-8.
  19. Samaha FF, et al. A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity. N Engl J Med. 2003 May 22;348(21):2074-81.
  20. Foster GD, et al. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. N Engl J Med. 2003 May 22;348(21):2082-90.
  21. Low-Carb and Type II Diabetes:

  22. Guldbrand, et al. In type 2 diabetes, randomization to advice to follow a low-carbohydrate diet transiently improves glycaemic control compared with advice to follow a low-fat diet producing a similar weight loss. Diabetologia. 2012 Aug;55(8):2118-27.
  23. Westman EC, et al. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008 Dec 19;5:36.
  24. Daly ME, et al. Short-term effects of severe dietary carbohydrate-restriction advice in Type 2 diabetes – a randomized controlled trial. Diabet Med. 2006 Jan;23(1):15-20.

Main Results: Low-carb diets usually lead to more weight loss than low-fat diets, even when the low-fat groups are calorie restricted while the low-carb groups are not.

Low-carbohydrate diets also significantly improve major risk factors for diseases like cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

Meta-Analyses of Low-Carb Diet Studies

These studies are meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate diets.

  1. Santos F, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors. Obesity Reviews, 13: 1048–1066.
  2. Hession M, et al. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obesity Reviews, 10: 36–50.
  3. Westman EC, et al. Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr August 2007 86: 2 276-284
Main Results: Same as above. Low-carb diets lead to more weight loss and further improvements in metabolic health compared to the low-fat diet that is usually recommended by nutritionists and governments around the world.

The Paleolithic Diet

Randomized controlled trials of the paleolithic diet (commonly known as the paleo diet or caveman diet).

  1. Jönsson T, et al. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovascular Diabetology 2009, 8:35.
  2. Lindeberg S, et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia. 2007 Sep;50(9):1795-807.
Main Results: The paleo diet has favorable effects on body weight and major risk factors. However, the studies available are very small so the results must be taken with a grain of salt.

Vitamin D3 Supplementation

A deficiency in Vitamin D is very common today, especially in countries where there is little sun throughout most of the year.

Vitamin D3 and cancer:

  1. Lappe JM, et al. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun;85(6):1586-91.
  2. Vitamin D, fractures and falls:

  3. Meta-analysis: Bischoff-Ferrari HA, et al. Fracture prevention with vitamin D supplementation: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JAMA. 2005 May 11;293(18):2257-64.
  4. Trivedi DP, et al. Effect of four monthly oral vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplementation on fractures and mortality in men and women living in the community: randomised double blind controlled trial. BMJ 2003;326:469.
  5. Broe KE, et al. A higher dose of vitamin d reduces the risk of falls in nursing home residents: a randomized, multiple-dose study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2007 Feb;55(2):234-9.
  6. Vitamin D3 and Influenza A Infections:

  7. Urashima M, et al. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr May 2010.
Main Results: Vitamin D supplementation reduces risk of falls and fractures in the elderly at higher doses. May reduce risk of cancer and respiratory infections.

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There is no cherry picking here. All relevant studies are included. If you find something that should be included in this list, post it in the comments below.

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