A new study offers intriguing evidence for the idea that people on low-carbohydrate diets can actually eat more than individuals on standard low fat plans and still lose weight.
Over the past year, several small studies have shown that the Atkins approach actually does work better in the short run. Dieters lose more than those on a standard American Heart Association plan without increasing their cholesterol levels, as many feared would happen.
Skeptics contend that these dieters simply must be eating less. High protein foods are more satisfying and help curb hunger for a longer period of time. Or perhaps the food choices are just so limited that food intake is reduced. Now, a small but carefully controlled study offers a strong hint that perhaps people on low-carb, high-fat diets actually can eat more. The study, from the Harvard School of Public Health, found that people eating an extra 300 calories a day on a very low-carb regimen lost just as much during a 12-week study as those on a standard low fat diet.
That questions the fundamental belief that a calorie is a calorie. It does not matter whether they come from protein, carbs, or fat - eat too many and they all store as fat in the same way.
In the study, 21 overweight volunteers were divided into three categories: Two groups were randomly assigned to either low fat or low-carb diets with 1,500 calories for women and 1,800 for men; a third group was also low-carb but got an extra 300 calories a day.
The study was unique because all the food was prepared at an upscale Italian restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so researchers knew exactly what they ate. (Earlier studies simply sent people home with diet plans to follow as best they could.) The low-carb meals were 5% carbohydrate, 15% protein and 65% fat. The rest got 55% carbohydrate, 15% protein and 30% fat.
By the end of the study, everyone lost weight. Those on the lower-cal, low-carb regimen took off 23 pounds, while people who got the same calories on the low-fat diet lost 17 pounds. The big surprise, though, was that volunteers getting the extra 300 calories a day of low-carb food lost 20 pounds.
Researchers can only guess why the people getting the extra calories did so well. Maybe they burned up more calories digesting their food. Or perhaps the people eating more calories also got more exercise or they were less apt to cheat because they were less hungry.
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