Dr. Atkins rules, according to a recent head-to-head diet throwdown. But we doubt this new study is the last word on what we should eat and what we shouldn't.
The study was impressive, however. It was designed to measure which of three commonly prescribed diets was most effective at helping people lose weight an promoting overall health.
A total of 322 participants followed either the low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet championed by the late Dr. Robert Atkins; the so-called Mediterranean diet featuring lots of fruits, vegetables and seafood, but little meat; and the low-fat diet that focused on restricting intake of fat to 30 percent of total calories
The study was done in a controlled environment -- an isolated nuclear research facility in Israel. Those involved in the study got their main meal of the day, lunch, at a central cafeteria and were counseled on how to stick to their eating plans for breakfast and dinner.
They dutifully filled out questionnaires on what they ate. And, according to the scientists conducting the study, 85 percent stuck to their diets for the two-year study period.
In short, food experts are hailing this study as a major achievement because of its length, the number of people involved and the subjects' willingness to follow their dietary restrictions. The study also is drawing interest because the results were a surprise.
As noted, the low-carb diet was tops in weight loss. But the biggest shock was that it also improved cholesterol levels more than the other two diets, despite its comparatively high fat content.
The Mediterranean diet also was effective. But the low-fat diet was less so, both in weight loss and improvements in cholesterol measurements.
When it comes to diets, the gospel changes regularly. Until recently, the gospel -- at least among many respectable nutritionists -- has been that reducing the amount of fat in our diet would both help us lose weight and reduce the risk of heart disease.
While thousands of Americans have tried variations on low-carb diets and lost weight on them, the verdict on heart health was unclear. This study seems to indicate that the Atkins diet is a healthy approach. And the Mediterranean diet, which stresses consumption of healthier fats such as olive oil, is in the same ballpark.
Overall, however, the most important message of this study might be: Don't look for miracles from any diet. That, and, if you don't like the results of this study, wait a few weeks for the next one.
Average weight loss for the low-carb and Mediterranean diet groups was about 10 pounds. For the low-fat group, it was 6.5 pounds. That might be statistically significant, but it's not a vast difference -- especially if you're hoping to lose 15 pounds or more.
It does indicate, however, that taking off weight and, more significantly, keeping it off can be a long, slow process. It's not a matter of simply never eating ice cream, cheeseburgers or mashed potatoes again.
Americans, it is clear, are all too willing to jump on the latest food trend or resort to the latest exotic diet in hopes of losing weight in a hurry -- often just to put it back on again in a few months. Instead, we should be looking for a diet we can embrace for life.
There is much to be learned from this study -- foremost, perhaps, that eating too many refined carbohydrates is dangerous on many levels. But those findings don't erase old-fashioned solid advice: The best way we know to stay healthy is to eat less and exercise more.
Diet study hailed, but the best advice might be to eat less and exercise more.