People partial to low-carbohydrate diets shed more body fat and run a lower risk of heart disease compared to those who follow low-fat diets, according to a new study. The latest findings have challenged traditional diet plans that physicians have favored for decades.

Low-carbohydrate diets are a popular strategy for weight loss but their effect on cardiovascular health has been unclear. The new study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, says that a low-carbohydrate diet, while being a more potent tool to keep off the extra pounds, also helps reduce cardiovascular risk factors, when weighed against a low-fat diet.

“This study shows if you are overweight and have cardiovascular disease risk factors and haven't had success on other diets, certainly a low-carbohydrate diet is worth a try,” Lydia Bazzano of Tulane University in New Orleans and the study’s lead author, told Reuters.

Carbohydrates are found in food that includes sugar, fiber and starches from which the body gets energy. Some carbs, such as whole grains and fruits, are considered to be healthier than others that are found in white bread and other processed foods.

To compare the effects of a low-carbohydrate diet against a low-fat diet on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors, the researchers randomly assigned 148 men and women, who were about 47 years old on average and were obese but did not have cardiovascular disease or diabetes, to follow a low-carbohydrate diet (less than 40 grams a day) or a low-fat diet (less than 30 percent of daily calories from fat).

Both the low-carbohydrate and the low-fat groups, neither of which was given specific calorie or energy goals, met periodically with a dietitian. After a year, the study found that people on the low-carbohydrate diet had lost, on average, more weight, and had fewer cardiovascular risks than those on the low-fat diet.

“To my knowledge, this is one of the first long-term trials that’s given these diets without calorie restrictions,” Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts University in Medford near Boston, who was not involved in the study, told The Boston Globe. “It shows that in a free-living setting, cutting your carbs helps you lose weight without focusing on calories. And that’s really important because someone can change what they eat more easily than trying to cut down on their calories.”