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06/25/2009 - Articles

Lose weight the simple way - your choice!

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD

Calorie reduction in a diet seems to be more effective than the actual content. That's the conclusion from a comparison of four diets differing in fat, protein and carbohydrate content. Participants lost a modest amount of weight on all four and kept at least some of it off long-term.


Researchers aimed to find out what matters when it comes to weight loss - calorie content or the actual composition of the diet. A group of overweight individuals were assigned to diets differing in fat, protein and carbohydrate content. All lost about 7% of their body weight and gained some of it back in the long-term. Therefore, chose the approach that suits you - just make sure there's a calorie cut-back.



There is no shortage of advice on how to lose weight with many different approaches advocated as being most effective. Often these differences focus upon the macronutrient composition of the diet. The macronutrients are carbohydrate, fat and protein - the components which provide the energy in the diet. The conventional wisdom, however, is that a calorie deficit, however achieved, is the one guarantee of weight loss - aided by increased calorie output in terms of increased physical activity. What is needed to help those who are overweight and obese is hard scientific evidence on the best approach to achieving a healthy weight.


What was done

In the POUNDS LOST (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health assigned 811 overweight people to one of four different diets, differing in their macronutrient content. The fat, carbohydrate and protein content were, respectively: 20,15 and 65%, 20,25 and 55%, 40,15 and 55% and 40,25 and 35%. All the diets went for a calorie deficit calculated for each individual. All took 90 minutes of moderate exercise a week and had both group and individual weight control counselling.


What was found

At six months, participants had lost an average of 6 kilograms, which was about 7% of their body weight - a clinically significant amount. Fasting insulin levels and other risk factors were improved - for instance, a couple of inches lost off the waistline. After two years, most participants had regained a bit of weight - maintaining a loss of about 4 kilograms.


What this study means

These weight losses were by no means dramatic but were sufficient to improve health. Also, they were maintained long-term - more or less. The findings suggest that it is calorie restriction, rather than dietary composition, which can achieve weight loss. Therefore, go for the approach that suits your personal preferences and lifestyle.



Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein and carbohydrate New England FM. Sacks, GA. Bray,  et al, Journal of Medicine, February 2009, vol. 360, pp. 859--873

Created on: 03/13/2009
Reviewed on: 06/25/2009

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