As Americans, we have a collective addiction to dieting. We diet because we are noncommittal and believe in the promise of a quick fix. We’ve cut out the fat, gotten rid of sugar, switched gears and started eating fat again while ditching practically all carbohydrates, only to decide that we’d be better off if we ate like our ancestors from thousands of years ago. Never mind the fact that their trim waistlines may have been due, in part, to the fact that they expended hundreds of calories hunting and gathering the food they ate. So in today’s world, with a plethora of diet books and plans available and new ones popping up daily, how do you know which diets deliver the best results?
Check out any best-seller list and you’ll surely find at least one diet book. However, hitting the best-seller list doesn’t guarantee the diet is right for you and, likewise, there are plenty of diets that never become best-sellers but offer sound, science-based weight-loss strategies that work. So, if you want to slim down this summer, consider a few of the best diets to help you get the results you are looking for: The Blood Sugar Solution, The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet and the Mediterranean diet.
The Blood Sugar Solution
Dr. Mark Hyman’s book, “The Blood Sugar Solution,” is a six-week plan that focuses on making your own food while limiting processed and prepared foods. Dr. Hyman’s advice is a compilation of what dietitians have said for years— avoid processed foods as much as possible, limit liquid calories, eat a protein-rich breakfast and don’t skip meals. Why does he focus on blood sugar control? When your blood sugar spikes, insulin is released from your pancreas to shuttle sugar out of your bloodstream. Because insulin is an anabolic hormone, it increases the enzymatic activity that creates fat tissue while blocking the breakdown of fat in your body. And therefore, consistently consuming more calories than you need while sending your blood sugar soaring is a surefire combination for weight gain. “The Blood Sugar Solution” provides sound, though not incredibly sexy, diet advice.
“The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet,” written by Penn State University professor Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., is based on Dr. Roll’s research on the satiety of high-volume foods. You may experience some déjà vu if you read the diet book, “Eat More, Weigh Less.” Volumetrics teaches readers about low-calorie density foods— the kind with fewer calories per unit volume. Rolls’ research team found that consuming a broth-based soup, whole fruits or veggies, or a whipped shake (you whip air into shakes when you blend them on full speed) before your meals fills your stomach, increasing satiety so you consume fewer overall calories when you dive into the rest of your food. The only real problem with this approach is that it requires something rather foreign to many Americans— actually sitting down and taking time to eat as opposed to shoveling food in at record speed as we drive down the road. Volumetrics is a no-brainer approach backed by research studies that have led to one of the best diet strategies to date and one that everyone should incorporate into their lives. If you want results that last a lifetime, pick up “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet.”
The Mediterranean Diet
With the plethora of diets so acutely focused on carbohydrate intake, you may be wondering why the Mediterranean diet beat out a low-carbohydrate approach. After all, low-carbohydrate diets not only work for some people, studies also show that low- and very low-carbohydrate diets have helped obese individuals decrease insulin resistance, lower triglycerides, favorably change blood cholesterol levels and lose weight. Yet they aren’t for everyone. First, low-carbohydrate diets may be tough to stick with over the long term. And, one solution to that issue may involve transitioning from low carbohydrate to “controlled” carbohydrate, eating a specific amount of carbohydrate per sitting and making healthier carbohydrate choices (fiber rich whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables). Secondly, recent research out of the University of Alabama Birmingham found that high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets may be detrimental to those with ischemic cardiovascular disease or a predisposition to heart attacks. In their study, obese and normal weight rats fed a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet had larger, more damaging heart attacks and their heart function did not recover as well after heart attacks compared to rats on a low-fat control diet. In addition, the rats on the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet had a greater risk of death from pump failures and arrhythmias. Altering dietary macronutrient composition seems to affect the type of fuel the heart uses to function, when in fact carbohydrate is the most efficient source of fuel for our bodies when recovering from a heart attack. Though these results do not suggest that high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets cause heart attacks or that they are harmful, it does raise some red flags that should be taken into consideration prior to going on a similar diet.
And, why go on a low-carbohydrate diet, or at least, why stay on one if a Mediterranean diet may be just as effective? In a two-year trial, 322 moderately obese subjects (BMI of 31) were assigned to one of three diets: low-fat restricted-calorie; Mediterranean, restricted-calorie (rich in vegetables, low in red meat with poultry and fish replacing beef and lamb, olive oil and nuts were the main sources of added fat); or a low-carbohydrate, non-restricted calorie diet (based on the Atkins diet; 20 grams of carbohydrate per day for the first two months and immediately after religious holidays followed by a gradual increase to 120 grams per day). Though all three groups lost weight, weight reductions were greater in the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diet groups compared to the low-fat group. In addition, levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein decreased significantly only in the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diet groups. And, changes in fasting blood glucose and insulin levels in those with diabetes were more favorable in those on the Mediterranean diet as compared to the low-fat diet. The low-carbohydrate group experienced its own favorable results as well— namely a significant increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease in triglycerides compared to the low-fat diet group. However, this trial showed that both the Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets are effective for weight loss in moderately obese adults.
The Bottom Line
If you talk to your co-workers, neighbors and friends, you’ll likely meet at least one person who has been successful on just about every popular diet out there. And according to the POUNDS LOST trial, the actual parameters of the diet (carbohydrate, fat and protein content) may matter less than your ability to stick with it. After all, if you can’t follow a diet plan, you won’t lose weight. So, take a close, realistic look at your lifestyle and choose the plan that will best meet your needs. And remember, though diets work in the short term, the best way to keep weight off forever is by making healthy foods a permanent part of your diet and incorporating lifestyle changes you can live with.
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