In the New Zealand Herald yesterday, this article from a recent study, confirms what many of us have already discovered for ourselves with regards to achieving permanent weight loss: A high protein, low glycemic load diet works. 15 years ago I lost around 5 kgs (on the Zone diet) and have kept it off, despite being pre-menopause, a time which leads to weight gain in many women. The effective diet in this Danish study is very similar in principle to the Zone Diet, designed by Barry Sears around 1990. The Zone diet was the plan that when I tried it in 1996 made a quite unbelievable difference to my life, not just in weight loss, but in energy and reduction in PMS. Although similar in principal, the Zone diet is restricted in that portions are controlled, so it is a calorie controlled diet, which is why people lose weight on it. The diet in this study was ad libitum (eat as much as you are satisfied with).
I now believe there are some faults with the Zone diet – yes – what works is eating protein at each meal, and low glycemic load carbohydrates. However the inclusion of grains, legumes and possibly dairy, perpetuated the auto-immune problems I suffered from. When I cut these foods 18 months ago, auto-immune joint issues disappeared, as did PMS and menstrual pain. Weight management became even much easier, without the constant focus on portion control. I found eating paleo foods has allowed me to eat to satisfaction while having better weight control. Most people, in my observation, start off on a diet with restricted portions, but tend to gravitate towards eating to satisfaction in the long term. The inclusion of dense grain products and eating to satisfaction (along Zone / high protein, low GI guidleines) always ended with me putting weight back on. Hating this, I’d then have to tighten up my diet to lose it.
(I would love to see a similar study carried out to include a further category – that of a high protein, moderate fat, low glycemic load, grain and legume free diet, i.e. with paleo food choices. I believe the results would be even more spectacular, as they have been for my guinea pigs who tried it. Before these people switched to paleo choices, many were eating high protein, low GI diets, very similar to this study)
The most effective way of maintaining weight loss is to eat a high protein/low glycaemic index (HP
-LGI) diet, with lots of lean meat, beans and low-fat dairy products and fewer foods high in refined starch such as white bread and white rice. (see graph right)
The glycaemic index applies to carbohydrates and is a measure of how fast they are converted to glucose. The lower the GI, the slower the digestion and the greater the level of satiety.
Low GI diets allow people to eat until they are full, without counting calories and without gaining weight. An international study of more than 900 adults and 800 children from eight European countries found that, after six months, those on the diet were on average 2kg lighter than those on rival diets with a high glycaemic index.
Participants had already lost an average of 11kg and were testing alternative approaches to maintaining their weight loss.
Professor Arne Astrup of the University of Copenhagen, who led the study, said the findings suggested official dietary advice was out of date. “I was one of the enemies of GI,” she said.
“I expected in this trial it would make no difference. I was really surprised. It is as important as protein in maintaining weight loss.”
High protein diets, such as the Atkins, are known to promote weight loss, because they delay emptying of the stomach and increase insulin production.
Adding carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index which are digested slowly decreases hunger. Motivation is key in maintaining weight loss and a high protein/low GI diet is easier to follow because no major food group is banned.
But following the diet poses its own challenge. Wholegrain breads and cereals are mostly low GI, as are most vegetables. Apples, pears and oranges are low GI, but grapes, kiwifruit and melon are high GI because they have a lot of sugar.
Chocolate is low GI, as the fat slows absorption of the sugar. A hot baked potato has a high GI but cooling transforms the starch, rendering it less easily digested, so it becomes low GI.”
Here is an article with more information from the University of Copenhagen, where the study was carried out, what is particularly interesting is the graph showing that children in the High protein, Low GI families also benefited, just by eating the same type of food as their parents. (shown right)
“Overweight children lose weight without going on a diet
In the families, there were 827 children who only participated in the diet intervention. Thus, they were never required to go on a diet or count calories – they simply followed the same diet as their parents. Approx. 45% of the children in these families were overweight.
– We saw that in the group of children who maintained a high-protein, low-GI diet, the prevalence of overweight dropped spontaneously by approx. 15% in just six months. This is remarkable because the children were not on a slimming diet or counting calories. The families just changed their diet. This gives hope that we can prevent child obesity by just making the children eat a slightly different diet, says Professor Arne Astrup.
The results of the children’s study have been published in a separate article in the American medical journal Pediatrics.”
Dietary recommendations no cure for obesity
1. Meinert Larsen T, et al. Diets with High or Low Protein Content and Glycemic Index for Weight-Loss Maintenance. N Engl J Med 2010; 363:2102-2113
For a further analysis on this study see this article by Dr John Briffa.
Higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets win in the war on weight
Jamie Scott also makes some great points about this study Primal Muse: November 29 Quick links.