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Researchers say people lose weight on a low-glycemic-load diet

May 11, 2005 -- They ate all they wanted, yet lost weight.

They didn't avoid fats or carbs. They didn't count calories or eat prepackaged foods. Yet 11 obese 30-year-olds lost more weight than 12 of their peers on a conventional low-fat diet. And they lowered their risk of heart disease.

They didn't do it with a low-carb diet, but with a slow-carb diet. It's what nutritionists call a low-glycemic-load or a low-glycemic-index diet. The key is eating plenty of satisfying foods that your body can't quickly convert into sugar -- slow carbs, as they're coming to be called.

And it seems to work, says David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital, Boston. Ludwig's small study appears in the May 1 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"A diet focused on glycemic index may be easier to follow than diets restricted in either fat or carbs," Ludwig tells WebMD. "And there seems to be an additional benefit in reducing the risk of chronic disease."

Low-Glycemic Diet Made Simple

Foods have a higher or lower glycemic index (GI) depending on how much of them you eat, how you cook them, and what you eat them with.

This can quickly get complicated -- especially as it's not always easy to tell which foods are low-GI and which are high-GI. Ludwig's team came up with a simple plan. They created a low-glycemic-load food pyramid:

  • At the bottom -- the basis of the diet -- are fruits and vegetables, cooked or served with healthful oils.
  • Next come reduced-fat dairy foods, lean meats and fish, nuts, and beans.
  • Higher up -- and meant to be eaten less frequently -- come whole grains, unrefined grains and pastas.
  • At the top -- to be eaten sparingly if at all -- come refined grains, potatoes, and sweets.

Obese participants in the study were instructed to eat nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and dairy products. They were told to eat carbs with protein and healthful fat at every meal and snack. And they were told to eat until they were full and to snack when hungry.

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