Which is the Best Diet?

julosstock (sxc.hu)

Many diets tell you to restrict certain nutrients or foods—or they tell you to load up on just one or a few.

For instance, the Atkins Diet advises you to avoid food high in carbs and eat foods composed primarily of protein, fat and fiber.

The Paleo Diet encourages you to avoid dairy and grains.

And the Grapefruit Diet suggests that you eat few carbs, a moderate amount of protein…and a whole lot of grapefruit.

For people with certain chronic health conditions, a limited diet may be beneficial, but what if you don’t have any major health problems and you’re simply trying to shed a few pounds? With so much conflicting advice, how are you supposed to know what to put on your plate?

A new study weighed the benefits of multiple types of diets and came up with a solution—and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how simple it is.

EAT UP, SLIM DOWN

One thing I like about this study is that it followed participants for two years—well past that initial but misleading burst of success that many diets produce. There were 811 overweight or obese men and women. Researchers gave each participant a diet plan that would reduce his or her calorie intake by 750 calories per day, and subjects were randomly assigned to one of four diets…

1) Low-fat/average-protein

2) Low-fat/high-protein

3) High-fat/average protein

4) High-fat/high-protein

Participants prepared and ate their own foods, but researchers periodically met and spoke with them—and gave them blood tests—to see whether they were following their diets.

The results: At the six-month mark, most people in all four groups were adhering to their diets and had lost, on average, 12% of their fat and 3.5% of their lean body mass (a healthful ratio). But by the two-year mark, adherence to all four diets was poor. About the same number of participants in each diet group had deviated from their diets, and these people had gained back, on average, 40% of what they had lost by the six-month measurement. Only the participants in each of the four groups who had adhered to their diets for the full two years were able to keep off the weight that they had lost at the six-month measurement.

In other words, the amount of weight lost and kept off didn’t depend on the composition of the diet—it depended only on whether or not the dieter stuck with the reduced-calorie game plan.

A DIET “DO”

Is it really that simple, I wondered—are all of the arguments (and all of the books!) about which diet is “best” simply pointless? To explore this, I called endocrinologist George Bray, MD, chief of clinical obesity and metabolism at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge and one of the study’s coauthors.

The reason that no diet seemed to be more effective than another may be due to the fact that no matter what you eat, a calorie is still a calorie, said Dr. Bray. You need to either burn off or not eat 3,500 calories to lose one pound of weight, he said, and this study showed that ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether those calories come from fat, protein or carbs.

As far as adherence to a diet goes, Dr. Bray said, what’s at work is simple inertia. Humans don’t want to change their behavior—or at least not easily. So when you’re checking out different diets, don’t just pay attention to how much weight it says you’ll lose—also pay attention to how long you think that you’ll realistically be able to stay on the diet. Do you love meat? Then why subject yourself to a diet that eliminates it? Do you adore carbs? Then what in the world are you doing on a diet that forbids pasta?

Eat less and you’ll lose weight. I think this is good news—what do you think?

Source: George A. Bray, MD, endocrinologist, chief, division of clinical obesity and metabolism, professor of clinical research, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

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