Diet Debate Standoff: Low Fat, Low Carb, or Mediterranean

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July 22, 2008

Lynn Difley
The latest news on the diet quandary filled the headlines this week. A 2-year study compared low fat, low carbohydrate, and Mediterranean diets. The study involved 322 people in Israel, more male than female, most of them obese. The group was unique in that they all worked together so it was easy for a dietitian to monitor their food intake.
The low fat diet allowed folks 1500 calories a day for women, 1800 for men, with no more than 30 percent of the diet obtained from fat.
The Mediterranean diet emphasized lot of fruits and vegetables, the same caloric restrictions as low fat, but allowed 35 percent of the diet to be obtained from designated healthier fats, such as olive oil and nuts.
The low carbohydrate diet had no caloric restrictions, but kept carbohydrate level to 20 grams a day for the first two months, increased to no more than 120 grams at any time.
So guess what the results were? The low fat net loss diet was 6.5 pounds, compared to 10 pounds for those following the Mediterranean diet, and 10.3 for the low-carbs.
Other health related factors, such as blood pressure, physical activity, and cardiovascular and liver function improved in all three groups. The greatest improvement in lipid levels occurred with low carbohydrate eating, while those in the Mediterranean diet group achieved the most favorable changes in fasting blood sugar and insulin levels.
Testers say, “Clearly one diet doesn’t fit all.” This could be good news for those who have struggled to count calories or fat grams; maybe a carbohydrate-restricted diet is best for them.
Whether you have followed any or all of these diet plans, maybe one of the most significant facts in the diet face-off is the weight lost. This was a two-year study, and the calorie restriction was fairly significant, yet the most weight lost, 10 pounds doesn’t seem like a whole lot to me. Would you be willing to count carbs for two years, to lose 10 pounds? If you have a lot of weight to lose, what method would you pick, or what have you tried in the past that was effective? Could it be, as Gina Kolata says in her book “Rethinking Thin” that maybe we are becoming a race of larger humans? That the standards currently set for ideal weight are no longer appropriate? That those are our examples, the cover girl and boy and movie star physiques that we admire and envy are the aberrant form, that we are evolving to a larger body type and it is healthy to carry more than 5% body fat? We all know it is possible to be heavy and healthy? Is it possible that it is not only possible but is becoming the norm and our current ideal weight charts and goals need to be revised to allow for the new body shape and weight allowance?

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  1. lynn difley

    HI, so glad for your comment, I agree, but Gina Kolata and others have written observations that need consideration. Her claim is that the people involved in the studies do severely restrict the food intake, but have a very difficult if not impossible time losing and keeping off weight. Hard to argue with the studies. I did not bad mouth any of the diets, the point being that it is not any one diet, but perhaps one that works better for each individual, ie a vegetarian not trying to lose weight with the Atkins etc. As a matter of fact there is a class on healthy lifestyle, both at Life on Wheels in Idaho and Tucson, and the Rally, and one or more on exercise at them too–taught by yours truly. However, your point is well taken. To find people to attend and commit to these concepts is hard work, I wonder if it is something about the RV lifestyle, or just society in general, that we don’t consider our health the number one priority, nor are we prepared to make the slightest sacrifice in order to improve. Thanks for your comments–you are right on. Lynn

  2. karen

    Wow, I sure hope the author was being facetious when bad mouthing the diets mentioned in her article. The hypothesis that we humans are becoming larger hence we should accept being fatter is completely unreasonable, and I feel, a poor conclusion for the article. Show me an over 65 man or woman with a big belly & you can be sure they have risk factors for coronary heart disease. Researchers have said, that major risk factors for coronary heart disease, such as smoking, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and lack of exercise are modifiable. Hear that, MODIFIABLE with diet & exercise. Too many of our fellow RVers are happy with a free lunch–no matter what the physical cost to their bodies. Free popcorn may not cost you a cent, but will add to your hypertention with its palm oils & salt. Bet NONE of them would attend an exercise class for seniors at a rally. But why not give it a try, you rally organizers. In addition to a class that sells pre-packaged food, add a class on HEALTHY eating & exercises a couple can do in their RV! Hey, you’ve saved for that special RV, why not save your body & mind to enjoy a healthy retirement? Those of you with internet connections can look up sites for Low-fat & Low-carb meals! And how about brisk WALKING or riding your bike in one of the great parks near the RV park?? The risk factors not only for coronary heart disease but also for cognitive outcomes when overweight have been presented in MANY studies. The findings of evolving risk show the importance of preventive strategies STARTING TODAY or at least tomorrow.