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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Should You Avoid Sugar Completely?

Posted October 24, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is It The Sugar, Or Is It The Food?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Should we avoid sugar completely?  Almost every expert agrees that Americans should cut down on the amount of sugar we are consuming. However, for some people this has become a “sugar phobia”. They have sworn that “sugar shall never touch their lips”. Not only do they avoid sugar sweetened sodas and junk food, but they also have become avid label readers. They scour the label of every food they see and reject foods they find any form of sugar listed as an ingredient. Is this degree of sugar avoidance justified?

 

Should We Avoid Sugar to Keep it From Killing Us?

 

Let me add some perspective:

  • If you just take studies about the dangers of sugar at face value, sugar does, indeed, look dangerous. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, when you look a little closer, you find that most of these studies have been done by looking at the correlation of each of these conditions with sugar sweetened beverage consumption (sodas and fruit juices).

A few studies have looked at the correlation of obesity and disease with total “added sugar” consumption. However, 71.6% of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food. None of the studies have looked at the sugar from healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That’s because there is ample evidence that these foods decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • For example, if apples had a nutrition label, it would list 16 grams of sugar in a medium 80 calorie apple, which corresponds to about 80% of the calories in that apple. The sugar in an apple is about the same proportion of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. Apples are not unique. The nutrition label would read about the same on most other fruits. Does that mean you should avoid sugar from all fruits? I think not.

Avoid Sugar or Avoid Certain Foods

 

avoid sugar from junk foodsThe obvious question is: “Why are the same sugars, in about the same amounts, unhealthy in sodas and healthy in fruits?” Let’s go back to those studies I just mentioned—the ones that are often used to vilify sugars. They are all association studies, the association of sugar intake with obesity and various diseases.

The weakness of association studies is the association could be with something else that is tightly correlated with the variable (sugar intake) that you are measuring. Could it be the food that is the problem, not the sugar?

If we look at healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and (sometimes) protein. Fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels rise slowly and are sustained at relatively low levels for a substantial period of time.

In sodas there is nothing to slow the absorption of blood sugar. You get rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an equally rapid fall. The same is true of junk foods consisting primarily of sugar, refined flour and/or fat.  Avoid sugar from those types of foods.

Another consideration is something called caloric density. Here is a simple analogy. I used to explain the concept of caloric density to medical students in my teaching days. There are about the same number of calories in a 2-ounce candy bar and a pound of apples (around 278 in the 2-ounce candy bar and 237 in a pound of apples). You can eat a 2-ounce candy bar and still be hungry. If you eat a pound of apples you are done for a while. In this example, the 2-ounce candy bar had a high caloric density (a lot of calories in a small package). Perhaps a more familiar terminology would be the candy bar was just empty calories.

Are Sodas and Junk Foods Killing Us?

avoid sugar from candyPutting all that together, you can start to understand why the foods the sugars are in are more important than the sugars themselves. When you consume sugars in the form of sugar sweetened beverages or sugary junk foods, your appetite increases. We don’t know for sure whether it is the intense sweetness of those foods, the rapid increase and fall in blood sugar, or the high caloric density (lots of calories ina small package) that makes us hungrier. It doesn’t matter. We crave more food, and it isn’t usually fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates we crave. It’s more junk. That sets in motion a predictable sequence of events.

  • We overeat. Those excess calories are stored as fat and we become obese. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you our fat stores come from carbohydrates alone. That is incorrect. All excess calories, whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate, are stored as fat.]
  • It’s not just the fat you can see (belly fat) that is the problem. Some of that fat builds up in our liver and muscles. This sets up an unfortunate sequence of metabolic events.
  • The fat stores release inflammatory cytokines into our bloodstream. That causes inflammation. Inflammation increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and cancer.
  • The fat stores also cause our cells to become resistant to insulin. That reduces the ability of our cells to take up glucose, which leads to hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes. That is also incorrect. It is our fat stores that cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our fat stores come from all excess calories, not just excess calories from carbohydrates.]
  • Insulin resistance also causes the liver to overproduce cholesterol and triglycerides and pump them into the bloodstream. That increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages and sugary junk foods also displace healthier foods from our diet. That leads to potential nutrient shortfalls that can increase our risk of many diseases.

However, none of this has to happen. The one thing that every successful diet has in common is the elimination of sodas, junk foods, fast foods and convenience foods. You should avoid sugar from those foods as much as possible. Once you eliminate those from your diet,you significantly enhance your chances of being at a healthy weight and being healthy long term.

 

What About Protein Supplements And Similar Foods?

Of course, the dilemma is what you, as an intrepid label reader, should do about protein supplements, meal replacement bars, or snack bars. They are supposed to be healthy, but the label lists one or more sugars. Even worse, the sugar content is higher than your favorite health guru recommends.  So, should you avoid sugar from supplements and the like?

In this case, a more useful concept is glycemic index, which is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Healthy foods like apples may have a high sugar content, but they havea low glycemic index.

avoid sugar and consume protein to slow absorbptionThe same is true for the protein supplements and bars you are considering. Rather than looking at the sugar content, you should be looking for the term “low glycemic” on the label. That means there is enough fiber and protein in the food to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

What Does This Mean For You?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should work on ways to avoid sugar or reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners. I have warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners previously.

We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. For example, some Starbucks drinks are mostly sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

So we don’t have to avoid sugar completely, but we should reduce sugar from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

 

The Bottom Line

 

We need to keep warnings about the dangers of sugar in perspective:

  • The studies showing that sugar consumption leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have all been done with sodas and junk foods.
  • Many fruits have just as much sugar as a soda. They also contain about the same proportion of fructose and glucose as high fructose corn syrup. Yet we know fruits are good for us.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • That is because the sugar in whole foods is generally present along with fiber and protein, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents the blood sugar spikes we get with sodas and junk foods.
  • In the case of prepared foods like protein supplements, you should look for “low glycemic” on the label rather than sugar content. Low glycemic means that there is enough fiber and protein in the product to slow the absorption of sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should all work on ways to avoid sugar from junk foods or to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners.
  • We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

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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