Calories count, but not where they come from

January 31, 2012 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Calories count, but not where they come from

Sticking to diets with strict proportions of fat, carbs and protein may not be more effective for people who want to lose weight and fat mass than simply cutting back on calories, according to a new study that compared four diets.

The results suggest that it doesn't matter where the calories come from, as long as people eat fewer of them. In this study, people eating low fat, low carb, or high protein were equally successful at losing body fat.

Earlier research had found certain diets -- in particular, those low in carbohydrate -- work better than others. But there hasn't been a consensus among scientists.

The researchers from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, randomly assigned 424 overweight or obese people to one of four diets: average protein, low fat and higher carbs; high protein, low fat, and higher carbs; average protein, high fat and lower carbs; or high protein, high fat and lower carbs.

Each of the diets was designed to eliminate 750 calories a day from the people's energy needs.

After six months and again at two years after the diets started, the researchers checked in on people's weight, fat mass and lean muscle mass.

At six months, people had lost more than nine pounds of fat and close to five pounds of lean mass, but some of this was regained by the two-year mark.

People were able to maintain a weight loss of more than eight pounds after two years. Included in that was a nearly three-pound loss of abdominal fat, a reduction of more than seven percent.

The team found no differences in weight loss or fat reductions between the four diets.

The major predictor for weight loss was 'adherence.' The participants who adhered better, lost more weight than those who did not.

But sticking to a diet is tough. Many of the people who started in Bray's study dropped out, and the diets of those who completed it were not exactly what had been assigned.

For example, the researchers hoped to see two diet groups get 25 percent of their calories from protein and the other two groups get 15 percent of their calories from protein. But all four groups ended up getting about 20 percent of their calories from protein after two years.

Because many people struggle with dieting, the researchers advise selecting the one that's easiest to stick with.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online January 18, 2012.

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