Ready or not, the latest diet study has hit the fan. Last Thursday the New England Journal of Medicine released results from a study comparing a low-carb (aka Atkins) diet, the Meditteranean diet and a low-fat diet (30% fat). Over 300 dieters were put to the test, assigned to one of the 3 diets. Researchers found that those on the Mediterranean and low-carb diets lost more weight than those on the low-fat diet after the first 5 months (10 pounds and 14 pounds respectively). Of course the dieters regained some of the weight after two years, finishing off with a total loss of 6 and 10 pounds (Med and low-carb).
What's almost more interesting, and more controversial, is that the low-carb diet which was higher in saturated fat and the low-fat diet, both helped lower LDL 'bad' cholesterol. Interesting because the Atkins diet traditionally has been scolded for encouraging unhealthful, cholesterol-raising amounts of saturated fat from rich calorie-laden sources like red meat, bacon and butter.
So behind the scenes, here's what the news stories are forgetting to mention:
1. the study was funded by the Atkins Research Foundation...I don't smell bias do you?
2. dieters put on the low-carb Atkins-like diet were actually encouraged to get their fat from vegetarian sources like nuts, oils etc which are healthy unsaturated fats and may outweigh the health/cholesterol impact of whatever saturated fats were additionally consumed.
Bottom line: It's a single study and there appears to be a number of confounding factors going on here. As Tara Parker Pope put it in her NY Times blog post, it's additional evidence that 'diets' just don't really work. A 10 or 6 pound sustained loss over two years doesn't sound ovewhelming to me. So what should we take away from all this? Stick with the basics people! The Mediterranean diet--or a version similar to it--has proven again and again to positively impact health, disease prevention and keep the scale hovering at a friendly number. A day-to-day diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbs like whole grains and legumes, healthy sources of fat like olive oil/grapeseed oil, nuts and avocado and a focus on seafood and fish has worked well for thousands of years. Eat fresh, eat whole, eat on smaller plates (ie. smaller portions) and you're good to go.