“Low Fat!” “Low Carbs!” “Low Calories!” Doesn’t matter, and what works for one person may not work for another. A new study that could have a major impact on the way food is produced and marketed finds that the quality of the food ingested trumps all else when it comes to controlling weight.
“We’ve been taught that the key to taking off the pounds is to consume fewer calories than we burn. As it turns out, that may not be the case at all,” writes Emily Price for Fortune. “People who ate plenty of vegetables and whole foods lost significant amounts of weight over the course of the year without restricting the quantity of food that they consumed, according to a new study published in JAMA on Tuesday.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this study, says Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at Stanford and the lead author of the study, is that the fundamental strategy for losing weight with either a low-fat or a low-carb approach is similar, an article posted on the Stanford Medicine news center tells us. “Eat less sugar, less refined flour and as many vegetables as possible. Go for whole foods, whether that is a wheatberry salad or grass-fed beef,” it advises.
“We made sure to tell everybody, regardless of which diet they were on, to go to the farmer’s market, and don’t buy processed convenience food crap. Also, we advised them to diet in a way that didn’t make them feel hungry or deprived — otherwise it’s hard to maintain the diet in the long run,” said Gardner, who is director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. “We wanted them to choose a low-fat or low-carb diet plan that they could potentially follow forever, rather than a diet that they’d drop when the study ended.”
In addition, “the researchers had hypothesized that certain genetic and metabolic markers identified in past studies would predict which people would succeed on which diet — but that didn’t turn out to be the case, Gardner says,” writes Jamie Ducharme for Time. “About 30% of people in the study group had a genetic signature that, in theory, should have pointed to success on the low-fat diet, while 40% had a low-carb ‘profile.' But the data didn’t show any strong correlation between these signatures and weight loss on the corresponding plan, Gardner says. Neither did measures of insulin resistance, which the team also thought would be related to success.”
The Diet Intervention Examining The Factors Interacting with Treatment Success (DIETFITS) randomized clinical trial lasted 12 months and included 609 adults aged 18 to 50 years without diabetes who had a body mass index (BMI) between 28 and 40, which generally generally indicates that the individual is slightly overweight to borderline extremely obese, although BMI is not a perfect measure of a healthy weight. Participants also attended 22 diet-specific small group sessions … that focused on ways to achieve the lowest fat or carbohydrate intake that could be maintained long-term and emphasized diet quality,” according to the abstract.
“At the end of the year, people on the low-fat diet lost an average of almost 12 pounds, compared with about 13 pounds for the low-carb diet. This difference was too small to rule out the possibility that it was due to chance, and participants typically remained obese,” writes Reuters’ Lisa Rappaport.
The research “suggests that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage Americans to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University,” writes Anahad O'Connor for the New York Times.
“‘This is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States,’ said Dr. Mozaffarian, who was not involved in the new study. ‘It’s time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting.’”
“We really did get a lot of people on both diets to be successful,” Gardner tells Time’s Ducharme. “You can be successful on either one. There isn’t any one diet that anyone has to follow.”
“This study closes the door on some questions — but it opens the door to others. We have gobs of data that we can use in secondary, exploratory studies,” Gardner says in the Stanford article. His research team is “continuing to delve into their databanks, now asking if the microbiome, epigenetics or a different gene expression pattern can clue them in to why there’s such drastic variability between dieting individuals,” it continues.
Can’t wait to see how copywriters work epigenetics into their taglines.