If you’re trying to decide which diet to choose after the holidays, here’s some food for thought: following the new Healthy Eating Pyramid could be your best bet for heart health and diabetes prevention.
The key to any successful diet plan is to lose the weight and keep it off. A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared three diets to see which was best for preventing weight regain after dieting, and how they stacked up against some serious diseases.
Losing the weight
In the study, 131 overweight men and women in their late twenties were put on a low-calorie diet for eight weeks; after they had lost at least 8% of their body weight, they followed one of three diets for another six months:
• The new Healthy Eating Pyramid diet, consisting of moderate amounts of fat (35 to 45% of total calories), with most fat coming from monounsaturated fatty acids like those found in olive oil.
• A low-fat diet (20 to 30% of total calories), in accordance with the USDA Food Pyramid.
• A control diet, in which about 35% of the total calories came from fat.
People in all of the groups regained weight after six months, but the low-fat and Healthy Eating Pyramid diets led to less body fat gain than the control diet. What’s more, people who followed the Healthy Eating Pyramid diet had fewer risk factors for heart disease and diabetes than people in the other groups.
Getting to know the new Pyramid
The Healthy Eating Pyramid was developed by faculty from the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and is based on independent (not funded by the food industry) scientific evidence about food and health:
• The foundation of the new Pyramid is daily exercise and weight control.
• The next tier emphasizes eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and oils (like olive and sunflower oils), and whole grains, followed by lesser amounts of beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, poultry, and fish.
• On the next level, 1 to 2 servings of low-fat dairy or a calcium and vitamin D supplement is recommended.
• Finally, refined grains (white bread and pasta, for example), potatoes, sugary drinks and desserts, salt, red meat, and butter are in the uppermost tier, representing the smallest part of the ideal diet.
Keeping it off
The authors of the new study pointed out, “The favorable effects of a low-fat diet and of the new Healthy Eating Pyramid may not turn out to be very important if the weight is eventually regained. The real challenge is to maintain body weight loss and to prevent subsequent relapse.”
Dr. Clara Barnett, a New York City–based physician specializing in weight loss management, offers this advice to help shed those pounds for good, “Focus on ways to regulate blood sugar. An effective and simple way to do this is to eat a high protein breakfast with some complex carbohydrates. I find that patients who follow this eat less at each meal, have fewer sugar cravings, and enjoy consistent energy throughout the day; late night munchies also seem to become a thing of the past. An ideal breakfast is poached eggs with a piece of sprouted grain bread, oatmeal with unflavored protein powder, or a protein smoothie with berries.”
(Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88:1232–41)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
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