What is the best popular diet? A research study published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) compared four popular diets: Atkins, LEARN, Ornish, and Zone. Overweight and obese women were randomly assigned to one of the four diets and followed for one year. According to this study, women had modest weight loss with each diet although women on the Atkins diet lost slightly more weight. Whether this difference would remain if the study was longer is unknown.
Another similar study published in JAMA in 2005 compared the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets. This study showed that overweight or obese people had comparable modest weight loss with all four diets. The closer that people stuck to the diet, the greater the weight loss.
In both studies, all four diets are associated with reduced cardiac risk factors although the Atkins diet showed greater reductions in the study published this year. An important point of this study is that the Atkins diet may not be as dangerous as people have thought. The authors of both studies note, however, that over time, people become less compliant with the diets.
How can you actually apply the information from studies that seem to be contradictory or confusing? The key is to remember that study results should be reproducible. Therefore, if different researchers find similar results, then the results are probably true.
Based on these two studies and several others, certain themes keep emerging. First, if you are trying to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you are burning. Whether the calories you cut out are from fat, protein, or carbohydrate, you can lose weight. Second, if you can stick to the diet you choose, you will lose more weight. Keep in mind that many diets are very restrictive which can make them difficult to continue long-term. Many people regain the weight they lost when they stop the diet.
Making healthy dietary changes that you can maintain is essential for keeping a healthy weight and preventing chronic diseases. For example, eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day will give your body fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that will reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer. Eating whole grain foods like brown rice or whole wheat bread rather than foods made with refined carbohydrates like chips, cookies, and white rice or bread will reduce your risk for diabetes. Including fish and nuts in your diet and using olive oil instead of butter or cream will provide healthy fats that are cardioprotective. Drinking water instead of juice or soda will reduce unneeded calories.