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Comparing Diets continued...

Participants were each given a calorie goal ranging from 1,200 to 2,400 calories a day, and were asked to do moderate-intensity activity for 90 minutes a week, with brisk walking acceptable.

Participants lost similar amounts of weight -- 13 pounds on average at six months -- on each of the eating plans; they maintained a 9-pound loss, on average, at the two-year follow up mark, when 80% were still in the study.

All the diets also improved risk factors for cardiovascular disease, although there were some differences in specific results. For instance, the lowest-carb diet boosted HDL "good" cholesterol levels 9% while the higest-carb plan increased it by 6%.

Similar reports of hunger, fullness, and cravings were given by the dieters on all four eating plans.

While the 13-pound initial loss may not seem like much, Sacks says it represents 7% of the dieters' starting weight; previous studies have shown a loss of 5%-10% will help reduce heart disease risk factors and other problems.

'No Magic Diets'

"The message is people can lose a modest amount of weight and keep it off for an extended period of time," says George A. Bray, MD, a professor of medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center of the Louisiana State University System in Baton Rouge, and a study co-author.

"I think the important message for people is, there are no magic diets," he says.

Next, the researchers hope to tease out whether the diet works better for obese dieters -- about 75% of the participants -- or for those who are overweight but not obese. That subgroup analysis is underway now, Bray tells WebMD. "My guess is, those who are overweight will do almost as well as the obese."

The counseling sessions and meetings were a valuable part of the program, Sacks says, and those who attended lost a bit more. "They gave people a sense of support, gave participants a chance to ask questions, meet other people, and get tips."

Sack's advice? "Find a diet that's heart-healthy. Follow it, and really be mindful of your intake. Get some support from other people in your life or from organized groups."

Finally, give it time. The best way, Sacks add, is to focus on a mild reduction in intake over the long haul.

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