For Weight Loss, Protein Rules
The protein vs. carbohydrate diet wars have been raging since Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution was first released in 1972. And while feasting on butter and bacon—part of the original Atkins plan—is not considered good for health, a new study backs one component of the lower-carbohydrate diet philosophy: a higher-protein diet may be more effective for long-term weight maintenance than a high-carbohydrate diet.
These latest results come out of a year-long study of 130 overweight, 40- to 56-year-old men and women, randomly assigned to one of two weight-loss diets:
• A high-protein diet providing calories as: 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 30% fat
• A high-carbohydrate diet providing calories as:55% carbohydrates, 15% protein, 30% fat
Dietary protein was further refined based on weight (prior to weight loss), and varied a small amount from these general guidelines for each participant. The first four months of the diet were designed to promote weight loss and the following eight months focused on weight maintenance.
After four months:
• The high-protein group lost 22% more body fat, had greater reductions in triglycerides (fat in the blood), and had greater increases in HDL (“good”) cholesterol than the high-carbohydrate group.
• The high-carbohydrate group had greater reductions in total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels than the high-protein group.
• There was no difference between the two groups in terms of total weight lost.
After an additional eight months (one year total):
• The high-protein group maintained greater reductions in triglycerides and greater increases in HDL-cholesterol levels than the high-carbohydrate group.
• 31% of participants on the high-protein diet maintained a weight loss of 10% or more of baseline body weight, compared with 21% of those following the high-carbohydrate diet.
• There was no difference between the two groups in total and LDL-cholesterol levels.
In summary, after one year, the high-protein diet resulted in a higher percentage of participants maintaining a weight loss of 10% or more, promoted better loss of body fat, and promoted healthier levels of HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
To find the best weight-loss and maintenance diet for you, keep the following in mind:
• The more successful study diet was “higher” protein, not high-protein. Only 30% of calories were protein, leaving 40% for carbs and 30% for fat.
• Eating more protein will not aid weight loss unless you cut overall calories as well.
• More protein, along with fewer calories, may be an easier way to maintain weight loss than a traditional low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.
• To avoid a saturated fat overload, focus on lean protein, such as chicken, fish, and legumes (beans).
• Try cutting less-nutritious carbs, such as white bread and desserts. Keep healthy carbs, including vegetables and fruit.
• Don’t expect miracles: even with the higher-protein diet, only one-third of participants maintained a loss of 10% of original body weight.
• A long-term healthy body weight comes from a healthy lifestyle, not a quick-fix diet.
May 7, 2009
(J Nutr 2009;139:514–21)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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