Trying to lose weight can be challenging and confusing, because there are so many different diet plans competing for attention. Low fat, or low carbohydrates, or high fiber? It's hard to know which diet is most effective, especially when each one promises the best results. One of the most popular, known as the Atkins diet, calls for strict controls on consumption of carbohydrates, such as bread, rice, pasta and starchy vegetables. The Atkins plan claims success even for those whose diet is high in fat, but a recent study indicates it is no more effective than a low-fat weight-loss diet.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts studied the eating habits of 83,000 nurses for 20 years. It turns out those nurses on a low-carbohydrate diet lost no more weight than those on low-fat diets.
Dr. Lori Mosca of New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City explains why too much bread and pasta is just as bad as too much cheese and meat. "Too many carbohydrates can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels which, over time, may contribute to the development of diabetes and heart disease."
The researchers say the most effective diets cut back on carbohydrates and saturated fats, while adding unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are derived from animals, such as meat, eggs or dairy products; unsaturated fats come from vegetables and plants.
Dr. Mosca says moderation is the key element. "There have been a lot of conflicting messages about diet and a lot of confusion about what to eat. This study really brings us back to the basics."
So what do the experts say will put us on the path to good health? They recommend a diet that includes nuts and seeds, avocados and olive oil, plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean fish and meat. By sticking to the fundamentals, they say, dieters can cut their risk of heart disease by 30 percent.