July 17, 2008

Low-Carb Plan Tops in Study

By Nanci Hellmich

New research shows that dieters who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost and kept off about 12 pounds over two years, losing more than others on a Mediterranean or restricted-fat diet.

Study participants who followed a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes a lot of vegetables and a moderate amount of olive oil and nuts, achieved and maintained a 10-pound loss in that time. Dieters who followed a restricted-fat plan with about 30% of calories coming from fat lost and kept off 7 pounds.

The findings, reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine, show that most of the weight loss occurred in the first six months. The low-carb and Mediterranean dieters had greater improvements in cholesterol than the other group.

For the study, scientists assigned 322 overweight people to one of the three diet plans.

Those on the Mediterranean diet and the 30%-fat diet were told to restrict calories to about 1,500 a day for women and 1,800 a day for men. Those on the low-carb plan, which was similar to the Atkins diet, did not count calories but were to consume about 20 grams of carbohydrates a day during the first two months and gradually work up to 120 grams a day, which is about half the amount Americans typically consume each day.

The dieters were all at a worksite in Israel with a cafeteria that offered the appropriate meal choices for lunch, which was their main meal of the day. Participants had breakfast and dinner at home.

"This study shows it's hard to lose weight, even when you try," says Meir Stampfer, senior author of the study and a professor of medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"It takes a long time to lose weight, so you have to choose a diet that you can stick with for the long haul. And that's healthy." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>