A Vegan Diet And Weight Loss

Is A Vegan Diet The Secret To Permanent Weight Control?

New Year DietThe new year is here, and you, like millions of other Americans, have decided this will be the year to get your weight under control. But how to do that is the question.

You have tried lots of diets over the years. You have given up sugar, then high-fructose corn syrup, then carbs in general. You have eliminated whole food groups from your diet. You have restricted your eating to between noon and 4 PM. You have eaten cabbage on Tuesdays and grapefruit on Thursdays (Just kidding about that one, but some fad diets are almost that bizarre).

You lost weight at first, but none of those diets were sustainable. You started adding back your favorite foods. Then the pounds you lost came back – and brought their friends with them.

At this point you may be desperate. You may be tempted to try one of those “magic” supplements that promises to rev up your metabolism and make those pounds melt away. Resist that temptation! Those supplements are either dangerous or worthless – sometimes both.

Or you may be tempted to sign up for one of those expensive diet programs that sends you low calorie versions of all your favorite junk foods. Don’t waste your money. You don’t really need more highly processed food in your diet. And you aren’t learning healthier food choices.

But what if…

…you could rev up your metabolism just by eating a healthy diet?

…you could lose weight naturally without counting calories or reducing portion sizes?

…you could keep most of the weight off permanently?

The study (H Kahleova et al, JAMA Network Open.2020; 3(11): e2025454) I will review today says there is diet that does all of these things. It is not the latest, greatest fad diet. In fact, it has been around for years. It is called the vegan diet.

How Was The Study Done?

Clinical StudyThis was a small, but very well-designed, study. It enrolled 244 obese (average BMI = 33), middle aged (average age = 54) subjects (87% female, 48% white). They were randomly assigned to a vegan diet or control diet and followed for 16 weeks.

The control group was told not to change their diet and exercise routine.

The vegan group was also told not to change their exercise routine. In addition, they were given printed materials and attended weekly classes that provided detailed instructions and cooking demonstrations to help them follow a vegan diet.

The vegan diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes with no animal products or added fats. 75% of the calories came from carbohydrate, 15% from protein, and 10% from fat.

The diets of both groups were assessed by a 3-day dietary recall at the beginning of the study and 16 weeks later, at the end of the study. In addition, dietitians made unannounced telephone calls at random times during the week and weekends to assess the participant’s adherence to the diet.

In the vegan diet group, mean intake of carbohydrate and fiber increased, while intake of fat, protein, and cholesterol decreased. There was no significant change in intake in the control group.

The other parameters measured at the beginning of the study and week 16 were:

  • Body composition:
    • Weight and BMI (a measure of obesity).
    • Fat mass and lean muscle mass.
    • Belly fat.
    • Fat stores in liver and muscle (accumulation of fat stores in the liver and muscle is associated with insulin resistance).
  • Parameters of blood sugar control and insulin resistance:
    • Fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c levels were measured.
    • Insulin secretion and blood glucose levels were measured during a 3-hour oral glucose tolerance test. Insulin secretion was used as a measure of insulin resistance, and blood glucose levels were used as a measure of insulin sensitivity (Note: This is a very simple explanation of complex calculations.)
  • Lipid Levels:
    • Total cholesterol.
    • HDL and LDL cholesterol.

A Vegan Diet And Weight Loss

Vegan FoodsThe study results were impressive:

  1. The vegan group lost 14 pounds, while the control group lost only 1 pound. There were two reasons for the greater weight loss in the vegan group:
    • The vegan group decreased their caloric intake by almost 500 calories per day. This was most likely due to the lower caloric density (calories per serving) of plant foods.

In other words, the vegan group consumed fewer calories without focusing on weight loss or portion size. They ate until they were full and consumed fewer calories in the process. Isn’t this what everyone wants from a weight loss diet?

    • The thermic effect (calories burned due to digestion) of the food they ate increased by 14% in the vegan group. This is because it requires more energy to digest foods when your digestive system has to break down the cellular matrix found in unprocessed plant foods.

In other words, the vegan group burned more calories every day just by eating healthy foods. No other diet can promise this.

2) Fat mass decreased by 10% (9 pounds) in the vegan group but was unchanged in the control group

3) Lean body mass (muscle mass) decreased by 1 pound in the control group and 4.6 pounds in the vegan group. There are two important observations here:

    • All the weight loss in the control group came from muscle.
    • 33% of the weight loss in the vegan group came from muscle. This is the only negative outcome from this study and is likely due to the decreased protein intake in the vegan group. Previous studies suggest this loss of lean body mass could be prevented by increasing the protein content of the diet with a plant-based protein supplement.

4) Belly fat decreased by 15%, liver fat was decreased by 31%, and muscle fat was decreased by 19% in theBelly Fat vegan group. All three parameters were unchanged in the control group.

    • This is perhaps the most significant observation from these studies since these are the three deadliest forms of fat in our bodies. Any diet that significantly reduces these forms of fat is likely to dramatically improve our health.
    • These parameters have not been measured in most studies of other weight loss diets, so we have no idea whether other weight loss diets have this effect.

5) Fasting blood glucose decreased by 11%, insulin resistance decreased by 40%, and insulin sensitivity increased by 22%. These parameters were unchanged in the control group.

    • Note: While insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity are opposite ways of measuring the same phenomenon, they were measured in different ways in this study. That is why the percentage change was different for these two parameters. The important thing is that both parameters changed by a significant percentage in a direction that reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.
    • These data show that just 16 weeks on a vegan diet is sufficient to significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Previous studies have shown that a vegan diet can reverse type 2 diabetes for many people.

6) Total cholesterol decreased by 11% and LDL cholesterol decreased by 16%. Both parameters were unchanged in the control group.

Is A Vegan Diet The Secret To Permanent Weight Loss?

As I said, the results of this study are impressive. But you have probably heard similar claims for other diets like keto, paleo, etc. To put this into context for you I am going to discuss “The Truth (about weight loss diets) Nobody Talks About” and The Questions (about weight loss diets) Nobody Asks”.

truth signThe Truth Nobody Talks About: Why are there so many conflicting claims about weight loss diets? They can’t all work, or can they? Here is the truth nobody talks about.

If you just focus on short term weight loss and improvement in health parameters like cholesterol and blood sugar levels, the very low fat vegan diet and the very low carb keto diet give virtually identical results.

That statement is true for any restrictive diet, but I chose the vegan and keto diets because they are as different as any two diets can be. That means you can forget all the scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo about why each diet is best and focus instead on what they have in common. Here is what they have in common.

  • They all compare themselves to the typical American diet. The American diet is high in saturated fat, high in sugar, high in refined carbs, and high in junk foods. Almost any diet is better than the typical American diet!

Unfortunately, none of these diets compare themselves to each other, so we don’t know which is best. We just know that all of them are better than the typical American diet.

  • All of them are whole food diets. Any diet that cuts out sodas, junk foods, and highly processed foods will result in weight loss and better health.
  • All of them are restrictive diets. Some restrict sugar. Others restrict fat. Some eliminate particular foods. Others eliminate food groups. Some restrict the time of day you can eat. When you do any of these things you are forced to focus on what you eat.

And when you focus on what you eat, you lose weight. That is why diets that force you to count calories, count carbs, or keep a food journal are successful.

Don’t misunderstand me. Although the vegan and low carb diets have not been directly compared in clinical trials, vegan diets may have some unique benefits that other diets do not. For example, this study shows that:

  • Because of the low caloric density of unprocessed plant foods, you can eat more food and consume fewer calories on a vegan diet. You don’t get this benefit from low carb diets. They are high in fat and have, therefore, a high caloric density.
  • Digestion of unprocessed plant foods increases your metabolic rate. This benefit also doesn’t exist for low carb diets. They contain less unprocessed plant foods than a vegan diet.
  • Belly fat, liver fat, and muscle fat are all decreased in just 16 weeks with a vegan diet. This may occur for other diets. But most studies of other diets have not looked at these parameters, so we don’t know if they have this benefit.

QuestionsThe Questions Nobody Is Asking: Since all these diets result in short-term weight loss, there are two questions we should be asking.

  1. Which of these diets are healthy long term? Numerous studies have shown people who consume vegan diets and other primarily plant-based diets for 10, 20, or 30 years weigh less and have a lower incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers than people who consume the typical American diet.

Although the Atkins diet has been around for more than 50 years, there is still no evidence that the Atkins diet or other meat-based low carb diets are healthy long term. I have summarized these studies in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths”.

2) What happens when you get tired of the restrictions in these diets and start adding back a few of your favorite foods? If you start with a vegan diet and add a little dairy, eggs, and meat to it, you end up with a semi-vegetarian diet. People following a semi-vegetarian diet weigh less and are healthier than people consuming the typical American diet.

Keto diets are high in meat and saturated fat. If you add carbs, even healthy carbs, to that diet, you end up with the typical American diet, which is characterized by weight gain and poor health.

Vegan BurgerOne Final Thought: Big Food has noticed that many Americans want to eat vegan but still crave the taste and convenience of their favorite foods. Big Food has been only too happy to oblige with a wide selection of highly processed “vegan” foods. Avoid these foods like the plague!

I have discussed the shortcomings of the “vegan” burgers found in your local supermarkets and fast food restaurants in a recent issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”.

The biggest problem with all these “vegan” food substitutes is that they are highly processed foods. The benefits of a vegan diet come from eating unprocessed plant foods. None of us need more highly processed foods in our diet.

Of course, it isn’t just vegan food substitutes. Any hope that the Atkins diet might have been healthy evaporated with the advent of “Atkins” processed foods. Now I am starting to see the same trend with “keto” and “paleo” foods.

The Bottom Line 

The new year is here, and you, like millions of other Americans, have decided this will be the year to get your weight under control. But how to do that is the question.

You have tried lots of diets over the years. You have given up sugar, then high-fructose corn syrup, then carbs in general. You have eliminated whole food groups from your diet. You have restricted your eating to between noon and 4 PM. You have eaten cabbage on Tuesdays and grapefruit on Thursdays (Just kidding about that one, but some fad diets are almost that bizarre.

You lost weight at first, but none of these diets were sustainable. You started adding back your favorite foods. Then the pounds you lost came back – and brought their friends with them.

But what if…

…you could rev up your metabolism just by eating a healthy diet?

…you could lose weight naturally without counting calories or reducing portion sizes?

…you could keep most of the weight off permanently?

We know people who eat a vegan diet for 10, 20, or 30 years weigh less and are healthier than people consuming the typical American diet. Could the vegan diet be the diet you have been looking for?

The study I review this week was designed to answer this question. The investigators randomly assigned obese, middle-aged Americans, to follow either a vegan diet for 16 weeks or to continue eating their typical American diet.

The study results were impressive:

  • The vegan group lost 14 pounds, while the control group lost only 1 pound. There were two reasons for the greater weight loss in the vegan group:
    • The vegan group decreased their caloric intake by almost 500 calories per day. This was most likely due to the lower caloric density (calories per serving) of plant foods.

In other words, the vegan group consumed fewer calories without focusing on weight loss or portion size. They ate until they were full and consumed fewer calories in the process. Isn’t this what everyone wants from a weight loss diet?

    • The thermic effect (calories burned due to digestion) of the food they ate increased by 14% in the vegan group. This is because it requires more energy to digest foods when your digestive system has to break down the cellular matrix found in unprocessed plant foods.

In other words, the vegan group burned more calories every day just by eating healthy foods. No other diet can promise this.

  • Fat mass decreased by 10% (9 pounds) in the vegan group but was unchanged in the control group
  • Belly fat decreased by 15%, liver fat was decreased by 31%, and muscle fat was decreased by 19% in the vegan group. All three parameters were unchanged in the control group.
    • This is perhaps the most significant observation from these studies since these are the three deadliest forms of fat in our bodies. Any diet that significantly reduces these forms of fat is likely to dramatically improve our health.
    • These parameters have not been measured in most studies of other weight loss diets, so we have no idea whether other weight loss diets have this effect.
  • Fasting blood glucose decreased by 11%, insulin resistance decreased by 40%, and insulin sensitivity increased by 22%. These parameters were unchanged in the control group.
    • These data show that just 16 weeks on a vegan diet is sufficient to significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Total cholesterol decreased by 11% and LDL cholesterol decreased by 16%. Both parameters were unchanged in the control group.

For more details and a more in-depth comparison of the vegan diet with other popular diets read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Is Losing Weight Getting Harder?

Why Is Weight Loss More Difficult Than It Used to Be?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

If you are one of the millions of Americans who set a New Year’s goal of losing weight and eating healthier, you are to be congratulated.

However, if you are like many Americans, you are probably asking yourself “Is losing weight getting harder, or is it just my imagination?”

If you are asking yourself “Is losing weight getting harder than the first time I went on a weight loss diet?”, the answer to that question is a clear yes. It has to do with the perils of yo-yo dieting.

But here is the question that most of you never thought to ask: “Is losing weight getting harder than it was for my parents and grandparents?”

If this study (RE Brown et al, Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, 10: 243-255, 2016) is correct, the answer to that question is also yes.

How Was The Study Done?

Clinical StudyThe authors used data from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES), which is conducted by the CDC on an ongoing basis. For those not familiar with this program, here is a description of the NHANES program from the CDC website.

“The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States.

The survey examines a nationally representative sample of about 5,000 people per round, with 2-year data sets available for analysis. These people are located in counties across the country.

The NHANES interview includes demographic, socioeconomic, dietary, and health-related questions. The examination component consists of medical, dental, and physiological measurements, as well as laboratory tests administered by highly trained medical personnel.

All participants visit the physician. Dietary interviews and body measurements are included for everyone. All but the very young have a blood sample taken and have a dental screening. Depending on the age of the participant, the rest of the examination includes tests to assess various aspects of health. In general, the older the individual, the more extensive the examination.

Health interviews are conducted in respondents’ homes. Health measurements are performed in specially-designed and equipped mobile centers, which travel to locations throughout the country. The study team consists of a physician, medical and health technicians, and dietary and health interviewers.”

In short, the NHANES dataset represents a valuable source of data for this kind of study in that it provides a 2-year snapshots of the health and nutritional status of the American population over many decades.

The authors of this study looked at the association between total caloric intake and diet composition with BMI (body mass index a measure of obesity) at 2-year intervals between 1971 and 2008. There were 36,377 US adults in this part of the study.

Because physical activity was only part of the NHANES dataset between 1988 and 2006, the correlation of physical activity with BMI was measured at 2-year intervals between 1988 and 2006. There were 14,419 adults in this part of the study.

Is Losing Weight Getting Harder?

Question MarkThe study showed:

  • Between 1971 and 2008 total caloric intake, carbohydrate intake, and BMI increased between 10% and 14%.

Nobody was surprised by this result. Americans are eating more calories and more carbs (primarily refined carbs and sugar) than we did 30 years ago. It’s no wonder we weigh more.

  • Between 1988 and 2006 physical activity increased a whopping 47-120%.

This result was a little surprising. It raises the question: “Why isn’t all this extra physical activity paying off in keeping our weight under control.

However, when the authors compared people who had the same diet (same caloric intake and same amount carbohydrate) and same physical activity with their BMI over the years they found a very surprising result.

  • When they compared people eating the same diets in 1971 and 2008, the group in 2008 weighed 10% more! And this wasn’t a single data point. There was a relatively linear increase in weight between 1971 and 2008 for people consuming exactly the same diet.
  • When they compared people with the same amount of physical activity in 1988 and 2006, the group in 2006 weighed 5% more! Once again, there was a relatively linear increase in weight between 1988 and 2006 for people performing exactly the same amount of exercise.

In other words, people weigh significantly more today than they did 20 or 30 years ago, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans. Nobody saw this one coming.

That means it is harder to maintain a healthy weight today than it was just a few decades ago. You may have suspected this, but now you know for sure. Life isn’t fair!

The authors concluded: “Factors other than diet and physical activity may be contributing to the increase in BMI [in this country] over time. Further research is necessary to identify these factors and to determine the mechanisms through which they affect body weight.”

In other words, the real question is: “Why is weight loss more difficult than it used to be?”

Why Is Weight Loss More Difficult Than It Used To Be?

WhyThe short answer is, “Nobody knows for sure”. However, the authors raised several possibilities.

  • We are increasingly exposed to persistent organic pollutants (such as pesticides, flame retardants, and chemicals in food packaging) that accumulate in our bodies and may affect how our bodies process food and store fat.
  • The use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically since the 70’s and 80’s. Antidepressants, for example, are now one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the US, and many antidepressants have been linked to weight gain. However, it’s not just antidepressants. Allergy medications, steroids, and pain medications can also cause weight gain.
  • Just looking at caloric intake and diet composition (% carbohydrate, fat, and protein) obscures other major changes in our diet over the last few decades. We are eating more meat, more highly processed foods, and more artificially sweetened foods. Highly processed foods and artificial sweeteners have both been linked to weight gain.
  • Our microbiome (gut bacteria) appears to be changing as well. Meat, highly processed foods, and artificial sweeteners have all been shown to influence which gut bacteria inhabit our intestines. We also know gut bacteria can influence our tendency to gain weight.

In short, a lot of things have changed over the past few decades. And these changes may be making it more difficult for us to lose weight. Some of these things, like diet and the influence of diet on our microbiome, we can control. Other things may be beyond our control.

The Bottom Line 

A recent study has looked at the effect of diet and physical activity on BMI (a measure of obesity) over the past few decades.

When the authors compared people who had the same diet (same caloric intake and same amount carbohydrate) and same physical activity with their BMI over the years they found a very surprising result.

  • When they compared people eating the same diets in 1971 and 2008, the group in 2008 weighed 10% more!
  • When they compared people with the same amount of physical activity in 1988 and 2006, the group in 2006 weighed 5% more!

In other words, people weigh significantly more today than they did 20 or 30 years ago, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans. Nobody saw this one coming.

That means it is harder to maintain a healthy weight today than it was just a few decades ago. You may have suspected this, but now you know for sure. Life isn’t fair!

For more details and to learn why it is harder to lose weight now than it was a few decades ago read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Which Weight Loss Diet Is Best For You?

Tips For Choosing A Diet That Works

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

New Year DietDiet season starts in just a few days! Like millions of Americans you will probably be setting a goal to lose weight. But which diet should you choose? Vegan, Paleo, Keto, 360, Intermittent Fasting, low-carb, low fat – the list is endless.

And then there are the commercial diets: Meal replacements, low calorie processed foods, prepared meals delivered to your door – just to name a few of the categories.

You can choose to count calories, focus on portion sizes, or keep a food journal.

And, if you really want to live dangerously, you can try the latest diet pills that claim to curb your appetite and rev up your metabolism.

The advertisements for all these diets sound so convincing. They give you scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo to explain why they work. Then they talk about clinical studies they say prove their diet works.

If you are like most Americans, you have already tried several of these diets. They worked for a while, but the pounds came back – and brought their friends with them.

But, as the saying goes, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Surely some diet you haven’t tried yet will work for you.

There is such a diet. But it will require a change of mindset. It will also require effort. There is no magic wand that will chase the extra pounds away forever.

If you are searching for the perfect diet to start the new year, let me be your guide. Here are:

  • 4 tips on what to avoid and…
  • 6 tips on what to look for…

…when you are choosing the perfect diet.

Tips For Choosing A Diet That Works

Things To Avoid:

Avoid1) Endorsements

Endorsements by your favorite athlete or public person are paid for. They don’t necessarily represent their opinion. Nor do they assure you that they follow that diet or use that diet supplement.

Endorsements by Dr. Strangelove and his buddies can be equally misleading. They usually tell you that the medical establishment has been lying to you, and they have discovered the “secret” to permanent weight loss and the “Fountain of Youth”.

Recommendations of the medical and scientific communities usually represent a consensus statement by the top experts in their field. I would choose their advice over Dr. Strangelove’s opinion any day.

2) Testimonials

Most of the testimonials you see on TV or in print are either paid for or are fake

Testimonials by your friends can be equally misleading. We are all different. What works for your friend or your trainer may not work for you.

For example, some of us do better on low-carb diets, and others do better on low fat diets.

[Note: Some DNA testing companies claim they can sequence your DNA and tell you which diet is best. However, as I reported in a recent article in “Health Tips From The Professor”, independent studies show that DNA testing is of no use in predicting whether low-carb or low-fat diets are better for you.]

3) Diets Based on “Magic” Or “Forbidden” Foods or Food Groups.

I have often said we have 5 food groups for a reason. Each food group provides a unique blend of nutrients and phytonutrients. And each plant food group provides a unique blend of fibers that support the growth of different types of friendly gut bacteria.

The bottom line is that each of us does better with some foods than others, but there are no “magic” or “forbidden” foods that apply to everyone.

4) “Magic” Diets.

Magic WandI have written perhaps the first diet book, “Slaying The Food Myths”, that doesn’t feature a “magic” diet that is going to make the pounds melt away and allow you to live to 100. Instead I recommend a variety of healthy diets and suggest you choose the one that fits you best.

However, I understand the allure of “magic” diets. Dr. Strangelove claims the diet will be effortless. He gives you some scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo to convince you the diet is scientifically sound. Then he cites some clinical studies showing the diet will cause you to lose weight and will improve your health parameters (things like cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure). It sounds so convincing.

Before you fall for Dr. Strangelove’s latest “magic” diet, let me share two things that may blow your mind:

    • The studies are all short-term (usually 3 months or less).
    • When you rely on short-term studies, the very low-fat Vegan diet and very low-carb Keto diet give you virtually identical weight loss and improvement in health parameters!

Those two diets are as different as any two diets could be. That means we can forget all the scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo as to why each of those diets work. Instead, we should ask what these two diets have in common.

The answer is simple:

#1: The clinical studies are comparing “magic” diets to the typical American diet. Anything is better than the typical American diet! It is high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated fat, and highly processed foods. No wonder the “magic” diets look so good.

#2: The diets are whole food diets. Anytime you eliminate sodas, fast foods, and highly processed foods, you will lose weight.

#3: The diets eliminate one or more food groups. Whenever you eliminate some of your favorite foods from your diet, you tend to lose weight without thinking about it. I call this the cream cheese and bagels phenomenon.

  • If you are following a low-fat diet, it sounds great to say you can eat all the bagels you want. But without cream cheese to go with the bagels, you tend to eat fewer bagels.
  • If you are following a low-carb diet, it sounds great to say you can eat as much cream cheese as you want, but without bagels to go with your cream cheese, you tend to eat less cream cheese.

#4: Because they eliminate many of your favorite foods, “magic” diets make you focus on what you eat. Whenever you focus on what you eat, you tend to lose weight. That is why food journals and calorie counters are effective.

#5: Finally, whenever you lose weight, your health parameters (cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure) improve.

Things To Look For In Choosing A Healthy Diet For The New Year

Look For1) Choose whole food diets. Avoid sodas, fast foods, and highly processed foods.

2) Choose primarily plant-based diets. These can range from Vegan through semi-vegetarian, Mediterranean, DASH, and Nordic. All are healthy diets. I have discussed the evidence for this recommendation in my book “Slaying The Food Myths”. Here is a brief summary.

When we look at long term (10-20 year) studies:

    • Vegetarians weigh less and are healthier than people consuming the typical American diet.
    • People consuming semi-vegetarian, Mediterranean, and DASH diets are healthier than people consuming the typical American diet.

If you look at low-carb diets:

    • People consuming plant-based low-carb diets weigh less and are healthier than people consuming the typical American diet.
    • People consuming meat-based low-carb diets are just as fat and unhealthy as people consuming the typical American diet.
    • The Atkins diet low-carb diet has been around for more than 50 years, and there is no evidence it is healthy long-term

3) Choose diets that include a variety of foods from all 5 food groups. I have discussed the rationale for that recommendation above.

4) Choose diets that consider meat as a garnish, not a main course.

5) Choose diets that feature healthy carbs and healthy fats rather than low-carb or low-fat diets.

6) Think lifestyle, not diet. If you choose a restrictive diet so you can achieve quick weight loss, you will probably be just as fat and unhealthy next December 31st as you are this year. Instead, choose diets that teach healthy eating and lifestyle changes that you can make a permanent part of your life.

Tips For Keeping The Weight Off

Yo-Yo You know the brutal truth. Around 95% of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within a few years. You have probably gone through one or more cycles of weight loss and regain yourself – something called “yo-yo dieting”. You may even be asking yourself if it is worth bothering to try to lose weight this year.

Rather focusing on the negative statistics of weight loss, let’s look at the good news. There are people who lose the weight and keep it off. What do they do?

There is an organization called the National Weight Control Registry that has enrolled more than 10,000 people who have lost weight and kept it off. The people in this group lost weight on almost every diet imaginable. However, here is the important statistic: On average people in this group have lost 66 pounds and kept it off for 5 years.

The National Weight Control Registry has kept track of what they have done to keep the weight off. Here is what they do that you may not be doing:

  • They consume a reduced calorie, low fat diet.
  • They get lots of exercise (around 1 hour/day).
  • They have internalized their eating patterns. In short, this is no longer a diet. It has become a permanent part of their lifestyle. This is the way they eat without even thinking about it.
  • They monitor their weight regularly. When they gain a few pounds, they modify their diet until they are back at their target weight.
  • They eat breakfast on a regular basis.
  • They watch less than 10 hours of TV/week.
  • They are consistent (no planned cheat days).

Which Weight Loss Diet Is Best For You?

I have covered a lot of ground in this article. Let me summarize it for you.

If you are thinking about popular diets:

  • Primarily plant-based diets ranging from Vegan to Mediterranean and Dash are associated with a healthier weight and better health long term.
  • If want to lose weight quickly, you may want to start with the more restrictive plant-based diets, like Vegan, Ornish, Pritikin or semi-vegetarian.
  • If you do better with a low-carb diet, my recommendation is the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.
  • If your primary goal is rapid weight loss, you could also start with one of the healthier of the restrictive low-carb diets, like the Paleo or the 360 diet. I do not recommend the Keto diet.
  • No matter what diet you start with, plan to transition to the primarily plant-based diet that best fits your lifestyle and food preferences. This is the diet you will want to stick with to maintain your weight loss and achieve better health long term.
  • Plan on permanent lifestyle change rather than a short-term diet. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time.
  • Eat whole foods. Big Food keeps up with America’s favorite diets and is only too happy to sell you highly processed foods that match your favorite diet. Avoid those like the plague.

If you are thinking about commercial diets featuring meal replacement products:

  • Look for meal replacement products that:
    • Do not contain artificial sweeteners, flavors, or preservatives.
    • Use non-GMO protein. A non-GMO certification for the other ingredients is not necessary. For a more detailed explanation of when non-GMO certification is important and when it is unnecessary, see my article in “Health Tips From the Professor”.
    • Have stringent quality controls in place to assure purity. “Organic” and/or “non-GMO” on the label do not assure purity.
  • Look for programs that can provide clinical studies showing their diet plan is effective for weight loss and for keeping the weight off. Many programs have short-term clinical studies showing they are effective for weight loss, but very few have longer-term studies showing the weight stays off.
  • Finally, look for programs that teach permanent lifestyle change. This should include guidance on exercise and healthy eating.

I do not recommend most commercial diets that feature prepared low-calorie foods “shipped right to your door” as a major part of their program. The foods are highly processed. Plus, they include all your favorite unhealthy foods as part of the program. Even if they include lifestyle change as part of their program, they are undermining their message with the foods they are providing you.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Weight Watchers is highly recommended by most experts in the field. Weight Watchers emphasizes journaling and counting calories, which is a plus because it makes you focus on what you are eating. They also have a good lifestyle program and support that can help you transition to permanent lifestyle change if you are willing to put in the effort. However, I don’t recommend their prepared low-calorie foods. They are no better than foods provided by the other commercial diet programs.

The Bottom Line 

Weight loss season is upon us. If you plan to lose weight and/or adopt a healthier diet in the coming year, you are probably trying to decide which diet to try this year. In this issue of “Health Tips From The Professor” I give you:

  • 4 tips on what to avoid when selecting your diet.
  • 6 tips on how to choose your perfect diet.
  • 7 tips on how to keep the weight off.

Then I put all this information together to help you choose the best diet, the best meal replacement product, and/or the best commercial diet program.

For more details read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Can DNA Testing Help You Lose Weight?

How Does DNA Testing Work Best?

Genetic TestingGenomics (DNA testing) is hot. You are being told that if you just knew your genes, you could lose weight successfully, be healthier, be happier, leap tall buildings in a single bound (Actually, I haven’t heard the last claim, but it’s about the only claim that genomics marketers haven’t made). Which of these claims are true, and which are just hot air?

The experts agree that the benefits of DNA testing have been greatly oversold. As I said in a recent article on DNA testing, the idea that genes control our destiny is no longer considered valid. There are 3 reasons for this. I will start with the scientific term for each and then give you the non-scientific explanation.

  • Penetrance simply means that the severity of most gene mutations is influenced by our genetic background. Simply put, the same mutation can have a significant effect in one individual and a trivial effect in another individual.
  • Epigenetics refers to modifications of the DNA that influence gene expression. These DNA modifications are, in turn, influenced by diet and lifestyle.
  • Microbiome refers our gut bacteria. In many cases, our microbiome has just as much influence on our health as our genes. And our microbiome is influenced by diet and lifestyle.

Now you know the complexity of DNA testing, it is easy to see why experts feel that it is premature to use DNA testing to predict the best diet for either weight loss or health.

As an example, one recent study used DNA testing to predict whether study participants were more likely to lose weight on a low-carb or low-fat diet. The participants were then randomly assigned to low-carb and low-fat diets. At the end of 12 months:

  • There was no significant difference in weight loss for those on low-fat and low-carb diets. This has been reported in multiple previous studies but is an inconvenient truth that most low-carb enthusiasts tend to ignore.
  • DNA testing offered no predictive value as to whether a low-carb or low-fat diet was more effective for weight loss.

However, DNA testing may have one benefit that is overlooked by many experts. What if the DNA test results motivated people to do better? After all, most diet advice is generic. People feel it may or may not apply to them. Does personalized diet advice based on their genetic makeup motivate people to stick with the diet better?

Some studies have suggested that people may follow personalized diet plans based on their DNA more faithfully. However, most of those studies have been short-term.

That is why I have chosen today’s study (J Horne et al, BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 2020) to discuss. It is a very well-designed study and it lasted for a full year.

How Was The Study Done?

Clinical StudyThis was an extremely well-designed study. In fact, it was so well designed that it probably needs the “Results are not typical” designation the FDA requires when some diet companies make claims about weight loss success. Here are the details:

  • The study participants were highly motivated, college educated, middle-aged (average age = 55), obese (average weight = 216 pounds) Caucasian women who had a positive attitude about their ability to change what they ate. In case you weren’t counting, there were four characteristics of this group that might be considered atypical for the average American.
  • The participants volunteered for a highly structured weight loss program called the “Group Lifestyle Balance”, or GLB, program.
    • Participants were given a detailed calorie-controlled nutrition plan at the beginning of the program.
    • They were asked to track their daily food and beverage intake for the first 2-3 months of the program.
    • In the second week of the program participants were educated on how to count and track calories and nutrients such as total fat or saturated fat.
    • There were weekly meetings with dietitians the first 3 months and monthly meetings for the remainder of the 12-week program to provide the guidance and support needed to stick with their nutrition plan.
  • The plan also incorporated a behavior change program called Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) that evaluates and influences attitudes, subjective norms, and behavioral control that are key to behavior change. During the regular meetings:
    • The participants were informed about of the health benefits associated with a healthy lifestyle.
    • They were educated on positive mindsets and mindfulness.
    • They were taken through a stepwise, goal setting approach designed to positively impact behavioral change.

In short, this is a gold standard diet program that provided the nutritional support needed to stick with the diet program and the psychological support needed to change eating behavior. Unfortunately, this is also atypical. Very few diet programs provide this level of support.

Everyone in the study participated in this program. However, the participants were divided into two groups.

  • Both groups were advised to follow a standard calorie-controlled, moderately low-fat (25% of total calories) nutrition plan.
  • In addition, the second group was put on a plan that was either high protein or low saturated fat (<10% of total calories) based on their DNA test results.
  • The nutritional support was identical except that the second group was told that their nutrition plan was specific for them, based on their DNA analysis.
  • The dietary intake of both groups was assessed with a 3-day dietary recall (2 week days and 1 weekend day) at baseline (before the program began) and at 3, 6, and 12 months to assess the participants adherence to their diet plan.

Can DNA Testing Help You Lose Weight?

Happy woman on scaleI hate to disappoint you, but the short answer to this question, is no. Both groups lost the same amount of weight, which is not surprising considering the comprehensive nature of the diet program that both groups were enrolled in.

However, the group given advice based on their DNA test were more motivated to stick with their personalized nutrition goals. Specifically:

  • Long-term adherence to reductions in saturated fat intake was significantly greater in the group that was told their diet plan was personalized based on their DNA analysis.
    • The control group reduced their saturated fat intake by 12% at 3 months, but only by 4% at 6 months, and 2.5% at 12 months.
    • The group with the personalized diet plan reduced their saturated fat intake by 14% at 3 months, 18% at 6 months, and 22% at 12 months.
  • Long-term adherence to reductions in total fat intake was also significantly greater in the group that was told their diet plan was personalized based on their DNA analysis.
    • The control group reduced their total fat intake by 18% at 3 months, but only by 4% at 6 and 12 months.
    • The group with the personalized diet plan reduced their total fat intake by 11% at 3 months, 13% at 6 months, and 16% at 12 months.
    • It is important to remember that both groups had been advised to reduce their total fat intake to 25% of calories and had received nutritional and psychological support to achieve that goal. The only difference was that the second group had been told that advice was based on their DNA test.

The authors of the study concluded: “Weight management interventions guided by nutrigenomics can motivate long-term improvements in dietary fat intake above and beyond gold-standard population-based interventions.”

How Does DNA Testing Work Best?

DNA TestingThere remain significant concerns about the validity of personalized weight loss advice based on DNA testing. However, this and other studies suggest that DNA testing may provide one valuable asset for weight loss programs. It appears that people are more likely to stick with a program they believe has been personalized for them.

There are, however, several caveats to this conclusion.

  • Participants in this study received nutritional and psychological support throughout the 12-month program. We don’t know how well participants would have stuck with the program if they had not been continually reminded that the program had been personalized for them.
  • Participants in this study were well-educated, highly motivated, Caucasian women. We don’t know whether these results apply to men and to other ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
  • This study only looked at personalized diet advice based on DNA testing. Some studies suggest that other methods of diet personalization may also improve adherence.
  • Personalization can be misused to recommend unhealthy dietary changes. It is not enough to follow personalized diet advice. You also need to ask whether it is healthy dietary advice.

For example, DNA test results consistent with reduced carbohydrate intake are sometimes used to recommend unhealthy diets that eliminate one or more food groups rather than low-carb versions of healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet.

The Bottom Line

There remain significant concerns about the validity of personalized weight loss advice based on DNA testing. However, DNA testing may provide one valuable asset for weight loss programs. Some studies have suggested that people are more likely to stick with a program they believe has been personalized for them.

However, most of these studies have been short term. A recent study asked whether the improvement in motivation lasted for 12 months.

Two matched groups of well-educated, highly motivated women were enrolled in a “gold-standard” weight loss program that provided both nutritional and psychological support for 12 months.

Both groups were given a diet plan that restricted total calorie intake and advised reducing fat intake to 25% of total calories. However, based on their DNA test results one group was given a personalized diet plan that also advised them to reduce their saturated fat intake to less than 10% of total calories.

  • The group receiving personalized diet advice did a better job of reducing both saturated and total fat intake and maintaining that change for 12 months compared to the group that just received a set diet plan.
  • These results suggest that personalization of diet advice may improve long-term adherence to healthy dietary changes.

The authors of the study concluded: “Weight management interventions guided by nutrigenomics can motivate long-term improvements in dietary fat intake above and beyond gold-standard population-based interventions.”

There are, however, several caveats to this conclusion.

  • Participants in this study received both nutritional and psychological support throughout the 12-month program. We don’t know how well participants would have stuck with the program if they had not been continually reminded that the program had been personalized for them.
  • Participants in this study were well-educated, highly motivated, Caucasian women. We don’t know whether these results apply to men and to other ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
  • This study only looked at personalized diet advice based on DNA testing. Some studies suggest that other methods of diet personalization may also improve adherence.
  • Personalization can be misused to recommend unhealthy dietary changes. It is not enough to follow personalized diet advice. You also need to ask whether it is healthy dietary advice.

For more details read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

Will Intermittent Fasting Help You Lose Weight?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

intermittent fastingIf you are like millions of Americans, one of your New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight. Now your dilemma is how to accomplish that. You have tried various diets before – Atkins, paleo, keto, Whole 30, etc. You lost some weight, but it came right back. You are looking for something new, something different from anything you have tried before.

What about intermittent fasting? It’s hot right now. It’s probably different from what you have tried in the past. It doesn’t require radical changes to what you eat. Some of your friends are singing its praises. Could this be the one that solves your weight problem forever?

A Primer On Intermittent Fasting

professor owlLet’s start by defining intermittent fasting and reviewing what we already know about it. There are several variations of what the mass media refers to as intermittent fasting, but the two most popular versions are:

  • Time-restricted fasting which limits daily intake of food to a 4 to 12-hour period. The most popular version of this restricts food intake to 8 hours followed by 16 hours of fasting.
  • Intermittent fasting in which there is a day or more of fasting or decreased food intake between periods of unrestricted eating. The most popular version of this allows 5 days of unrestricted eating followed by 2 days of fasting.

A major review (Di Francesco et al, Science, 362: 770-775, 2018) of time-restricted and intermittent fasting was published a little over a year ago. At the time that review was published, there were lots of studies comparing time-restricted fasting with continuous caloric restriction. I summarized those findings in a previous issue of “Health Tips From the Professor” last January.

Here is a brief summary of the key findings from that review:

  • If you read the blogs about time-restricted fasting, you will come across all sorts of metabolic mumbo-jumbo about ketone bodies, adiponectin, leptin, IGF-1, and blood glucose levels. It sounds so convincing. Don’t get sucked in by these pseudo-scientific explanations. At this point they are mostly speculation.
  • Although there is no conscious effort to control calories, time-restricted fasting result in an inadvertent reduction in food intake by restricting the time allowed for eating and by eliminating late night snacking. This reduction in caloric intake is likely responsible for most of the weight loss associated with intermittent fasting. When you control for calories, there is no difference in weight loss between time-restricted fasting and continuous caloric restriction (your typical reduced calorie diet).

However, at the time the review was published, far less was known about the relative benefits of intermittent fasting and simple caloric restriction. Since that time, two studies have rigorously compared the effectiveness of intermittent fasting and continuous caloric restriction on weight loss. I review those studies below

Will Intermittent Fasting Help You Lose Weight?

The first study (YM Roman et al, International Journal of Obesity, 43: 2017-2027, 2019) was a systematic review and meta-analysis of 9 clinical studies comparing intermittent fasting with continuous caloric restriction. Total caloric reduction was controlled and was the same for both intermittent fasting and continuous caloric reduction.

The studies ranged from 12 weeks to 52 weeks with most of them in the 20 to 30-week range. This meta-analysis found:

·       There was no difference between intermittent fasting and continuous caloric restriction in terms of weight loss, waist circumference, or body fat loss.

·       Loss of lean body mass, on the other hand, was greater for intermittent fasting than for continuous caloric restriction.

The authors concluded: “Since it is ultimately fat mass loss that improves health indices, and not the loss of muscle, the significantly greater loss of lean mass in the intermittent dieting group versus the continuous dieting group is concerning and needs to be further assessed.”

I would add, it is also concerning because lean mass muscle burns calories faster than fat mass. Loss of lean muscle mass could lead to a lower metabolic rate. That would make maintenance of the weight loss more difficult.

The second study (ML Headland et al, International Journal of Obesity, 43: 2028-2036) compared intermittent fasting versus continuous calorie restriction for 12 months in a group of 332 healthy overweight or obese adults. Again, total caloric reduction was the same for the two groups. In this study:

·       There was no significant difference between intermittent fasting and continuous caloric restriction for weight loss, body fat loss, and lean body mass loss. [Note: The retention of lean body mass in this study differs from the loss of lean body mass reported in the previous study. Additional studies will be required before we become overly concerned about potential loss of lean body mass with intermittent fasting.]

·       There were also no significant differences between the groups for blood levels of glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, and LDL.

Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

does intermittent fasting workThese studies make it clear there is no “magic” associated with either time-restricted or intermittent fasting.

·       If either time-restricted or intermittent fasting allows you to reduce your daily caloric intake by restricting the time that you are eating, you will lose weight and keep it off. However, if you compensate for the fasting periods by consuming additional calories when you are eating, all bets are off.

·       In clinical studies that restrict calories to the same extent in the various diets, neither time-restricted nor intermittent fasting results in greater weight loss than continuous caloric restriction (your typical reduced calorie diet).

o   In addition, neither time-restricted nor intermittent fasting results in better improvement in blood parameters (glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, and LDL) than continuous caloric restriction.

·       Intermittent fasting may result in greater loss of lean muscle mass than continuous caloric reduction. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be concerning.

This also means:

·       If you happen to read the blogs about time-restricted or intermittent fasting, you can forget all the metabolic mumbo-jumbo about ketone bodies, adiponectin, leptin, IGF-1, and blood glucose levels.

o   At this point this metabolic information comes mostly from animal studies. Its application to humans is purely speculation.

o   Since time-restricted and intermittent fasting offer no advantage over continuous caloric restriction, there is no evidence that changes in any of those metabolic markers has any effect on weight loss in humans.

Finally, you need to ask whether time-restricted and intermittent fasting are something you can maintain in the real world.

·       Your friends are unlikely to be on the same schedule. It won’t be easy to fit your diet around socializing, travel, and holidays.

The Bottom Line

There are several variations of what the mass media refers to as intermittent fasting, but the two most popular versions are:

  • Time-restricted fasting which limits daily intake of food to a 4 to 12-hour period. The most popular version of this restricts food intake to 8 hours followed by 16 hours of fasting.
  • Intermittent fasting in which there is a day or more of fasting or decreased food intake between periods of unrestricted eating. The most popular version of this allows 5 days of unrestricted eating followed by 2 days of fasting.

The latest studies make it clear there is no “magic” associated with either time-restricted or intermittent fasting.

·       If either time-restricted or intermittent fasting allows you to reduce your daily caloric intake by restricting the time that you are eating, you will lose weight and keep it off. However, if you compensate for the fasting periods by consuming additional calories when you are eating, all bets are off.

·       In clinical studies that restrict calories to the same extent in the various diets, neither time-restricted nor intermittent fasting results in greater weight loss than continuous caloric restriction (your typical reduced calorie diet).

o   In addition, neither time-restricted nor intermittent fasting results in better improvement in blood parameters (glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, and LDL) than continuous caloric restriction.

·       Intermittent fasting may result in greater loss of lean muscle mass than continuous caloric reduction. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be concerning.

Finally, you need to ask whether time-restricted and intermittent fasting are something you can maintain in the real world.

·       Your friends are unlikely to be on the same schedule. It won’t easy to fit your diet around socializing, travel, and holidays.

For more details, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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