Today’s Daily Apple is an article on the best diet to lose weight.
As a father of three sons, I decided to write this article just after Halloween 2021. The two younger children brought home heavy bags of loot- candy that they earned from trick-or-treating. This morning, one of my sons told me that he couldn’t sleep last night and had rushing thoughts. He admitted to having eaten a lot of candy throughout the day yesterday. After feeling sad for how he was feeling, I direct my thoughts to the fact that he might have consumed too much chocolate, which is high in caffeine and theobromine- 2 ingredients that can lead to insomnia.
Hopefully, he can learn soon that too much of a “good” thing is not healthy. Now, let’s get to the article.
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Question: What is the best diet to lose weight?
Let’s say that you have gained a significant amount of weight throughout the last few years. You notice that your pants or bra are not fitting as easily as before, and you are now at a point where you either have to buy new clothes or lose weight.
You are not alone. One study on pandemic-associated weight gain suggested that the pandemic led to weight gain in close to 40% of participants (n=727).
You decide that it is time to change your eating patterns and go on a diet. Choosing the best diet for you is a lot like a labyrinth; it’s easy to get lost and sometimes it requires trial-and-error.
What does “diet” mean?
The word diet can mean different things. Some people think of a diet as a period of depravity until they reach a weight loss goal. There may be a reduction in the total intake or a drastic change in the usual foods that they eat.
Others may think of diet as a lifestyle in which they attempt to change consistently over time the types of foods eaten.
The first interpretation suggests making a sudden change in the amount of food and which type is eaten to lead to appreciable weight loss over a short period. In this case, diet suggests an amount and a short-term change.
The second example focuses on long-term changes that ultimately lead to a shift in preference for healthier foods. The first one requires a concentrated effort for a short time; the second is over a sustained time. Diet represents a type of food.
Why is a Calorie not a Calorie?
We have gained a lot more knowledge on nutrition since the US food industry adopted the use of “calories” to describe nutritional content in 1884. Aside from the tendency to underestimate caloric intake and overestimate energy expenditure, calorie counting provides little helpful information as to the quality of the food. Here is a Daily Apple that addresses calorie counting in more detail. Information about calories leads to the original question of the best diet to lose weight.
Take a look at foods in the fresh produce aisle and compare them to the boxed food section, i.e., where you can buy chips, cereal, and cookies. The difference between these foods goes beyond calories. While natural foods contain more water and fiber to give them a natural structure and lower caloric density, processed foods are dry, have a longer shelf-life, and have a higher caloric density.
For example, if we used calories to compare cookies with carrots, a cookie has tenfold higher calories per ounce than a carrot. Therefore, you would need to eat ten times as many ounces of carrots as ounces of cookies to get the same amount of calories. Aside from calories, carrots contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, absent in the typical chocolate chip cookies.
Photo source: Pexels
One Nation We Fail?
The US has seen a burgeoning rate of obesity over the last few decades. About 73.6% of the adult population is either overweight or obese. In children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years, obesity inflicts about 20% (14.4 million), and obesity disproportionately affects Hispanic and African American youth. Not surprisingly, highly processed foods dominate the average American diet, comprising about 60% of the daily energy source. Along with the food intake, about half of Americans are washing it down with the daily intake of soda and other sugary drinks. Along with these foods and drinks come chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
The nation has not met the nutrition needs of its people. Obesity and diabetes translates to shorter lifespan and healthspan. More nutritious foods corresponds to increased longevity, with as much as two years attributable to diet. The WHO has called for countries to develop strategies to promote healthier eating and a reduction of sugar, salt, and saturated fat content. Governments have a role in enacting policies and planning for healthier eating.
So, What is the Best Diet to Lose Weight?
Short Answer: Any diet high in natural food, regardless of macronutrient composition, is likely helpful to lose weight.
The answer “the one with the lowest amount of calories” carries an incomplete message. It is true that, as one eats more natural foods, the caloric intake goes down. It does not mean that you can eat only processed foods, in smaller quantities, and remain healthy.
One study of 811 overweight adults separated the subjects to get one of four dietary categories, varying in fat, protein, and carbohydrate composition. All the foods adhered to guidelines for cardiovascular health. The average weight loss in all groups was 4 kg; attendance in group sessions improved weight loss. The suggestion was that any diet with heart-healthy food, regardless of the proportion of macronutrients, could lead to weight loss. Longer adherence improved weight loss (Sacks, et al. 2009).
What About Macronutrient Adjustments?
Short Answer: Focus More on Quality of the Food Rather Than What To Leave Out
Some diets tout center on low carbohydrates; others recommend low fat. Studies do not suggest there is much of a difference in macronutrient type, as one would guess. It is likely because carbohydrates, fats, and proteins come in different forms, ranging from healthy to less healthy. One common trend in these studies was consistency and ongoing group participation.
One randomized controlled year-long trial of 3234 participants determined that a high carbohydrate diet, specifically high in dietary fiber, with lower total and saturated fat, was beneficial over metformin and placebo for weight loss and was useful in preventing diabetes for high-risk participants Sylvetsky, et al. 2017)
A smaller study (n=148) showed a greater weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction in a low-carbohydrate diet over a low-fat diet (5.3kg loss versus 1.8kg loss over 1 year, respectively). However, a larger study of 609 participants (DIETFITS) showed know measurable difference between a healthy low-fat compared to a healthy low-carbohydrate diet in weight loss (-5.3kg vs. -6.0 kg CI -0.2 to 1.6kg in 0.7 kg difference) (Gardner, 2018).
Recommendations: The Best Diet to Lose Weight
There is no one BEST diet, providing that you eat natural food options. It is helpful to eat fresh, natural foods, including leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and legumes. Even if you were to try to eat until completely full, a natural diet would be more filling and not result in weight gain. That is because these foods are high in fiber and water content.
Things to avoid in a diet include the regular intake of processed foods. For a good rule of thumb, pick real foods that do not come with a nutrition content label. Avoid sweet drinks like milk, juice, and soda. Go for the fresh fruit instead. Finally, consider exploring different ways to prepare natural foods, making use of your spice rack, mixing different types of vegetables, grilling, and baking.
Bazzano L, et al. Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2014. 161(5):309-318. doi:10.7326/M14-0180.
Gardner C, et al. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018. 319(7):667-679.
Sacks F, et al. Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009. 360(9): 859-873. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0804748.
Sylvetsky A, et al. A High-Carbohydrate, High-Fiber, Low-Fat Diet Results in Weight Loss among Adults at High Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. J Nutr. 2017. 147(11):2060-2066. doi:10.3945/jn.117.252395.