The dieting world yells with contradictory advice: Carbs are evil; carbs are good for you. “Good fat” is healthy; “good fat” has tons of calories.
Harvard School of Public Health put four popular diets — high carb, high fat, low-fat and high protein — to the test to see which of them resulted in more weight-loss success. The study, one of the longest and the largest to compare diet plans, shows that reducing the overall amount of food people consume is the key to weight loss regardless of the diet they choose.
Any nutrition rich diet works when you reduce your calories
In 2009, after two years of monitoring the participants, the winner is – not low-carb, not low-fat, not high-protein, but – any diet. That is any diet that is low in calories and low in saturated fat while high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, AND a nutrition rich food plan that an individual can stick with.
“The key really is calories. It’s not the content of fat or carbohydrates, it’s just calories,” said Sacks. The findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Regardless of the diet, people lost similar amounts of weight if they were told to cut about 750 calories from their meals each day, but eat not less than 1,200 calories a day. No starvation diets and no quick fix. . After six months on any one of four diets, participants lost an average of 13.2 pounds.
“Pick a diet that you’re comfortable with and try to stick with it and not put so much food in your mouth,” Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at Harvard University’s School of Public Health in Boston, said in a telephone interview. “These results give people a wide range of dietary approaches to use when they’re losing weight. Really, people could experiment and try different sorts of diets as long as they’re heart healthy.”
Participants who attended counseling sessions lost the most
Study participants recorded their food and drink intake in a food diary. They also received individual counseling and were encouraged to attend group meetings over the two years. People who attended two-thirds or more of the diet counseling sessions lost an average of 22 pounds, compared with the average loss of 9 pounds at the end of two years.
Multiple Health Benefits
The analysis showed multiple benefits from their efforts: dieters’ bad cholesterol fell, as did their blood pressure, insulin and heart disease risk factors after six months and again after two years. The researchers also found that those who attended the most counseling sessions over two years lost the most weight.
“The success really is engaging in a program for weight loss,” Sacks said. “Some people can do it on their own, but people generally do better if they engage in a program of support and education.”
“Rather than focusing on diet types, future studies need to look at the impact of policy changes such as a ban on soft drinks in schools or displaying calories counts in restaurants,” said Martin Katan, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal.
The bottom line is that people need to avoid empty calories as found in soft drinks and refined grains so that the calories they do consume are full of nutritional benefits.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
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