July 17, 2008
Atkins Diet Tops in Weight-Loss Study — It’s a ‘Vindication’ of Low- Carb Regimen
By Mike Stobbe
ATLANTA - The Atkins diet may have proved itself after all: A low- carb diet and a Mediterranean-style regimen helped people lose more weight than a traditional low-fat diet in one of the longest and largest studies to compare the dueling weight-loss techniques.
A bigger surprise: The low-carb diet improved cholesterol more than the other two. Some critics had predicted the opposite.
"It is a vindication," said Abby Bloch of the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Foundation, a philanthropy group that honors the Atkins diet's creator and was the study's main funder.
However, all three approaches - the low-carb diet, a low-fat diet and a so-called Mediterranean diet - achieved weight loss and improved cholesterol.
The study is remarkable not only because it lasted two years, much longer than most, but also because of the huge proportion of people who stuck with the diets - 85 percent.
Researchers approached the Atkins Foundation with the idea for the study. However, the foundation played no role in the study's design or reporting of the results, said the lead author, Iris Shai of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.
Other experts said the study - being published to day in the New England Journal of Medicine - was highly credible.
"This is a very good group of researchers," said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
The research was done in a controlled environment - an isolated nuclear research facility in Israel. The 322 participants got their main meal of the day, lunch, at a central cafeteria.
"The workers can't easily just go out to lunch at a nearby Subway or McDonald's," said Dr. Meir Stampfer, the study's senior author and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
In the cafeteria, the appropriate foods for each diet were identified with colored dots, using red for low-fat, green for Mediterranean and blue for low-carb.
As for breakfast and dinner, the dieters were counseled on how to stick to their eating plans and were asked to fill out questionnaires on what they ate, Stampfer said.
The low-fat diet - no more than 30 percent of calories from fat - restricted calories and cholesterol and focused on low-fat grains, vegetables and fruits as options. The Mediterranean diet had similar calorie, fat and cholesterol restrictions, emphasizing poultry, fish, olive oil and nuts.
The low-carb diet set limits for carbohydrates, but none for calories or fat. It urged dieters to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein.
Most of the participants were men; all men and women in the study got roughly equal amounts of exercise, the study's authors said.
Average weight loss for those in the low-carb group was 10.3 pounds after two years. Those in the Mediterranean diet lost 10 pounds, and those on the low-fat regimen dropped 6.5.
More surprising were the measures of cholesterol. Critics have long acknowledged that an Atkins-style diet could help people lose weight but feared that over the long term, it may drive up cholesterol because it allows more fat.
But the low-carb approach seemed to trigger the most improvement in several cholesterol measures, including the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, the "good" cholesterol.
Winning diets: Low-carb and Mediterranean-style diets took off more pounds than a low-fat diet in a two-year study.
Surprised? Atkins diet naysayers were most surprised to find that low-carb lowered cholesterol more than the other two approaches.
Caveats: Experts say the low-fat diet in the experiment allowed more fat than the American Heart Association recommends.
Originally published by Mike Stobbe Associated Press .
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