Which Diet is Best? The One That Works for You
Gather together some diners who are trying to lose weight, then
sit back and listen to the debate.
anyone who's on a diet -- or at least one that's working -- is convinced
his or her plan is the best. One will swear by low-carb plans, such
as Atkins; another will say low-fat is the way to go.
"People get tied in to a specific diet," said Lona Sandon,
an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of
Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and a spokeswoman for
the American Dietetic Association. "It's almost territorial.
How dare you step on their diet?"
With nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults deemed overweight, the question
about which diet is best won't disappear soon.
But Sandon and other weight-loss experts have some news for quibbling
dieters: The right weight-loss plan for you is the one that works.
And you can stay with it as long as it's nutritionally sound.
Many types of diets can work in terms of helping you shed pounds,
said Dr. David Schteingart, associate director of the General Clinical
Research Center at the University of Michigan Health System.
But there are benefits and drawbacks to the popular plans, he and
Sandon agreed, depending on how each works. Knowing those pros and
cons can help you decide your best weight-loss path.
With a low-carb diet, Schteingart said, "essentially what
it does, and why it works, is that you are also reducing your calories.
But because it is low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat,
you feel less hungry so compliance to the diet is much greater than
to a high-carb diet."
Limiting carbohydrates can also reduce insulin production, Schteingart
said. This can be important to people with weight problems who are
prone to a condition called metabolic syndrome, which can lead to
diabetes, he said.
"Low-carb diets tend to decrease insulin levels and increase
insulin sensitivity," which is good, Schteingart said.
there are downsides to limiting carbohydrates, Schteingart said.
People on such diets tend to feel tired because they lack the quick
source of energy provided by carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread
and pasta and fruits such as apples and bananas.
Low-fat diets, on the other hand, automatically limit calories
because each gram of fat has 9 calories, compared to just 4 calories
for each gram of protein or carbohydrate. But low-fat, high-carb
plans tend to make you feel less satisfied, according to Schteingart,
and dieters on these plans complain of hunger.
Following a low-fat plan does reduce cardiovascular disease risk,
Schteingart said, because it can lower blood cholesterol levels.
But two studies, published in May 2003 in the New England Journal
of Medicine, found the Atkins approach doesn't boost cholesterol
levels, as you might expect.
For his overweight patients, Schteingart usually prescribes a diet
somewhere between a high-carb and a high-fat, high-protein plan.
He urges dieters to check with a physician, a dietitian or both,
so an eating plan can be tailored to individual needs.
Sandon tells her dieters to focus less on the type of plan and
more on the basics, such as calorie control.
"Anytime you have calorie reduction, now matter how small
or large, you will see weight reduction," she said, although
that weight loss may take some time. It's also a good idea to get
more physical activity -- with your doctor's OK, she said.
Sandon tells dieters, whether they are high-carb or low-carb fans,
to begin by cutting portion sizes. She also cautions against eliminating
too many carbohydrates.
She advises eating 30 grams of carbs -- or about two servings of
carb-rich foods -- at each meal. For lunch, that could be as simple
as having two slices of bread, Sandon said. (On many low-carb plans,
60 grams of carbohydrates a day are suggested as the maximum allowed
during the weight-loss phase.)
The bottom line, Sandon and Schteingart agree, is that people need
to limit their consumption of calories.
"People have to change the way they eat," Schteingart
said. "This has to be done on an ongoing basis."
Or, as most overweight Americans know, the weight will come right