Best Diet For Weight Loss

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Living, Nutritiion

The Diet Wars Heat Up Again

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

best diet for weight loss

What is the best diet for weight loss? One week the headlines say that low-carbohydrate diets are better. The next week it’s low-fat diets that are better. There is even the occasional headline proclaiming that it doesn’t matter which diet you follow as long as you control your calories. It is no wonder that you are confused.

It is unusual, however, to have conflicting headlines within the same week, but that is exactly what happened last week. Let me take you behind the headlines to the actual clinical studies and help you sort through the conflicting headlines.

Are Low-Carbohydrate Diets Best For Weight Loss?

The manuscript behind this headline was published September 2nd in the Annals of Internal Medicine (Bazzano et al, Annals of Internal Medicine, 161: 309-318, 2014). This study was designed to determine which was the best diet for weight loss, low carb diet or low fat diet. The study recruited 148 overweight participants (mean age, 46.8, 88% female, 51% black) and randomly assigned them to either a low-fat diet or low-carbohydrate diet.

The participants on the low-fat diet were instructed to consume <30% of their calories from fat, while the participants on the low-carbohydrate diet were told to limit carbohydrates to <40 g/day. Neither group was told to limit calories. They met with a dietitian 10 times during the 12-month study and received information on dietary fiber (target = 25 g/day) and healthy fats (target = <7% saturated fat and little or no trans fats).

At the end of 12 months the low-carbohydrate diet resulted in significantly greater…

  • Weight loss (7.7 pounds)…
  • Decrease in triglyceride levels…
  • Increase in HDL cholesterol…
  • Decrease in the ratio of total to HDL Cholesterol…

…than the low-fat diet. In short, the results suggested that the low-carbohydrate diet was not only better than the low-fat diet for weight loss, but that it was also more effective in reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Case closed, you might be tempted to say. The low carb diet is the best the diet for weight loss. But there have been lots of other studies that have come to the opposite conclusion. So we have to ask the question: “Is this study significantly better than all of the studies that have failed to find any difference between the low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets with respect to weight loss and cardiovascular risk?”

What Are The Strengths & Weaknesses Of the Study?

Strengths of the Study: This was a very well designed study. In particular:

  • Dietitians met with the participants at multiple times during the program to assure adherence to the diet, which was very good.
  • The study utilized multiple dietary recalls, both during the week and on weekends.
  • The study had a diverse population.

Weaknesses of the Study:

  1. The study did not control calories. In fact, the caloric intake was ~160 calories/day greater for the low-fat group than the low-carbohydrate group for at least the first 6 months of the study. low carb dietThat alone would be enough to account for the 7.7 pounds difference in weight loss.The reason for the higher caloric intake of low-fat group is not known. It could be due to the lower palatability of the low-carbohydrate diet. Alternatively, it could be due to the lower satiety of the low-fat diet. It was low in both fat and protein, both of which contribute to satiety (the feeling of fullness after we eat).
  2. The study did not specify the type of carbohydrates consumed. The dietitians instructed the participants on the type of fat they should be eating, but not the type of carbohydrate. That was a significant omission. Diets high in sugars and refined carbohydrates provide less satiety and adversely affect cardiovascular risk factors compared to diets where the carbohydrate comes primarily from fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes.
  3. The study did not control protein intake. In fact, the low-fat group consumed significantly less protein than the low-carbohydrate group. As I pointed out in a previous “Health Tips From the ProfessorHigh Protein Diets and Weight Loss , higher protein intakes are essential for maintaining muscle mass during weight loss. That is important because loss of muscle mass can decrease metabolic rate (the rate at which we burn calories 24 hours a day – even at rest).

The amount of protein consumed by the low-carbohydrate group was close to the amount shown to maintain muscle mass during weight loss, while the amount of protein consumed by the low-fat group was close to the amount associated with loss of muscle mass during weight loss. That was reflected in the results. The low-fat group lost muscle mass while the low carbohydrate group actually gained muscle mass. The resulting difference in muscle probably meant that the low-carbohydrate group was burning more calories on a daily basis than the low-fat group.

In short, this is a good study, but it has important flaws. It is not a game changer.

Do Low-Carbohydrate & Low-Fat Diets Result In Identical Weight Loss?

The study behind this headline was published in the September 3rd edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (Johnson et al, JAMA, 312: 923-933, 2014). This study was a meta-analysis that combined the results of 48 studies with 7286 participants. When the authors combined the data from all of the published studies there was no difference in weight loss for the low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets over a one or two year period.

The strength of the study is that it combines the results of multiple studies. That increases the statistical power of the observations and smoothes over the effect of outlier studies, such as the one described above. This is the study I would trust.

What Do The Experts Say?

Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health was best diet for weight lossquoted as saying: “…some people [would] do well on either diet. The key issue for each person is finding a way of eating that is healthy and can be maintained for the long term.”

Dr. Bradley Johnson (the author of the meta-analysis) was quoted as saying: “The take home message is that people should choose a diet they can adhere to…”

The Bottom Line

1)  Ignore the recent headlines suggesting that low-carbohydrate diets may be more effective than low-fat diets for weight loss. When you control for calories and protein intake there is no difference between the two diets with respect to long term weight loss.

2)  You can also ignore the headlines telling you that low-carbohydrate diets are better for cardiovascular health. You don’t need to avoid carbohydrates to have a healthy heart. You just need to make healthy carbohydrate choices – fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains instead of refined flour products and sugary junk food.

3)  Experts will tell you that the best diet is a healthy diet that you can stick with long term.

4)  My personal recommendations are to avoid extremes (either low-fat or low-carbohydrate). Instead:

  • Aim for moderate amounts of healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates.
  • Don’t ignore protein. Make sure you get enough protein to maintain your muscle mass.
  • Control calories by reducing portion sizes and choosing healthy snacks.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Best Diet For Heart Disease Prevention

Posted July 9, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Are The American Heart Association’s Recommendations Correct?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

What is the best diet for heart disease prevention? 

diet for heart disease preventionHeart disease is a killer. It continues to be the leading cause of death – both worldwide and in industrialized countries like the United States and the European Union. When we look at heart disease trends, it is a good news – bad news situation.

  • The good news is that heart disease deaths are continuing to decline in adults over 70.
  • The decline among senior citizens is attributed to improved treatment of heart disease and more seniors following heart-healthy diets.
  • The bad news is that heart disease deaths are starting to increase in younger adults, something I reported in an earlier issue, Heart Attacks Increasing in Young Women of “Health Tips From the Professor.”
  • The reason for the rise in heart disease deaths in young people is less clear. However, the obesity epidemic, junk and convenience foods, and the popularity of fad diets all likely play a role.

Everyone has a magic diet for reducing heart disease risk. The American Heart Association tells us to avoid fats, especially saturated fats. Vegans tell us to avoid animal protein. Paleo and keto enthusiasts tell us carbs are the problem. Who is correct?

Of course, we don’t eat fats, carbohydrates, or proteins. We eat foods. That is why a recent study (T Meier et al, European Journal of Epidemiology, 34: 37-45, 2019) is so important. It reported which foods increase and which decrease the risk of premature heart disease deaths.

How Was The Study Done?

diet for heart disease prevention studyThe authors of the current study analyzed data from the “Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) Study”, a major world-wide effort designed to estimate the portions of deaths caused by various risk factors.

The current study focused on the impact of 12 dietary risk factors on heart disease deaths between 1990 and 2016 for 51 countries in four regions (Western Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia).

The dietary risk factors were:

  • Diets low in fiber, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains.
  • Diets high in sodium, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and trans fatty acids.

Saturated fat and meat were not explicitly included in the GBS Study data. However, diets low in polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fats are likely high in saturated fats. Similarly, diets low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are likely higher in meats. The study also did not include dairy, and some recent studies suggest that some dairy foods may decrease heart disease risk.

For simplicity I will only consider the findings from Western Europe because their diet and heart disease death trends are similar to those in the United States.

 

Best Diet for Heart Disease Prevention?

plant-based diet bestThe study found that in 2016 (the last year for which data were available):

  • Dietary risk factors were responsible for 49.2% of heart disease deaths.
  • 6% of all diet-related heart disease deaths occurred in adults younger than 70, and that percentage has been increasing in recent years.

When they looked at the contribution of individual foods to diet related heart disease deaths, the percentages were:

  • Diets low in whole grains = 20.4%
  • Diets low in nuts and seeds = 16.2%
  • Diets low in fruits = 12.5%
  • Diets high in sodium = 12.0%
  • Diets low in omega-3s = 10.8%
  • strong heartDiets low in vegetables = 9.0%
  • Diets low in legumes = 7.0%
  • Diets low in fiber = 5.7%
  • Diets low in polyunsaturated fats = 3.7%
  • Diets high in processed meats = 1.6%
  • Diets high in trans fatty acids = 0.8%
  • Diets high in sugar-sweetened beverages = 0.1%

So, what is the best diet for heart disease prevention?

In short, this study concluded:

  • A primarily plant-based diet is the best protection against premature death due to heart disease.
  • All plant-based food groups (whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) play an important role in reducing heart disease deaths.
  • Meat was not included in the analysis, but it is likely that most people’s diets in this region of the world contained some meat. The most likely take-away is that meat does not affect heart disease risk in the context of a primarily plant-based diet.
  • Dairy was not included in the analysis either, but some studies suggest dairy, particularly fermented dairy foods, reduce heart disease risk.
  • Finally, the study concluded: “Compared to other…modifiable risk factors (physical inactivity, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco smoking, obesity, etc.), an altered diet is the most effective means of preventing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in Western Europe.”

While every study has its weaknesses, this study is consistent with multiple previous studies showing that primarily plant-based diets are best for reducing heart disease risk. You will find a more complete discussion of these studies in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

 

Are the American Heart Association’s Recommendations Correct?

With this study’s results in mind we can now ask whether the recommendations of the American Heart Association and other popular diets are correct. Are they likely to reduce heart disease deaths?

  • The American Heart Association Recommends a dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, skinless poultry and fish, and low-fat dairy products. This study supports those recommendations.
  • This study also supports the heart-health benefits of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
  • Meat and dairy were not explicitly considered in this study. Thus, the results of this study are also consistent with vegan and semi-vegetarian diets.
  • However, low carb diets like Paleo and keto eliminate some of the key food groups (whole grains, fruits, and legumes) that appear to be essential for reducing heart disease risk. 40% of the heart-health benefits in this study came from those 3 food groups. Thus, this study does not support claims that those two diets are heart-healthy long term.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Everyone has a magic diet for reducing heart disease risk. The American Heart Association tells us to avoid fats, especially saturated fats. Vegans tell us to avoid animal protein. Paleo and keto enthusiasts tell us carbs are the problem. Who is correct?

A recent study provides some important clues. It looked at dietary patterns associated with reduced risk of premature death from heart disease in Western Europe. The study concluded:

  • A primarily plant-based diet is the best protection against premature death due to heart disease.
  • All plant-based food groups (whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) play an important role in reducing heart disease deaths.
  • Meat did not appear to affect heart disease risk in the context of a primarily plant-based diet.
  • Dairy was not included in the analysis, but some studies suggest dairy, particularly fermented dairy foods, reduce heart disease risk.
  • Finally, the study concluded: “Compared to other…modifiable risk factors (physical inactivity, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco smoking, obesity, etc.), an altered diet is the most effective means of preventing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease.”

While every study has its weaknesses, this study is consistent with multiple previous studies showing that primarily plant-based diets are best for reducing heart disease risk. You will find a more complete discussion of these studies in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

With this study’s results in mind we can now ask whether the recommendations of the American Heart Association and other popular diets are correct. Are they likely to reduce heart disease deaths?

  • The American Heart Association Recommends a dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, skinless poultry and fish, and low-fat dairy products. This study supports those recommendations.
  • This study also supports the heart-health benefits of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
  • Meat and dairy were not explicitly considered in this study. Thus, the results of this study are also consistent with vegan and semi-vegetarian diets.
  • However, low carb diets like Paleo and keto eliminate some of the key food groups (whole grains, fruits, and legumes) that appear to be essential for reducing heart disease risk. 40% of the heart-health benefits in this study came from those 3 food groups. Thus, this study does not support claims that those two diets are heart-healthy long term.

For more details read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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