Which Diet Is Right for You?
Here's the skinny on six top diets to help you achieve weight loss success.
These days there are dozens of diet and weight-loss programs available and you may have tried a good number of them. This summer you may even be determined to truly and finally diet and ditch those pesky extra pounds. But where to begin? Googling the word "diet" brings up more than 29 million hits, and it’s often hard to tell the science from the latest celebrity fad. To help get those pounds off for bikini season, WebMD the Magazine scrutinized seven of the most popular diets to help you narrow down the one that’s best for you.
The Atkins and South Beach Diets
The basic idea behind these low-carb diets is that by cutting carbohydrates, you force your body to start digging into stored fat for energy (a process called “ketosis”). Low-carb diets ramp up the amount of daily protein you eat, so you feel satisfied on fewer calories.
Research shows you can lose weight on a low-carb diet, but not always in the healthiest way. In the first phase (the "induction phase") of the Atkins Diet, you’re directed to cut down to just 20 grams of carbs a day (the average American eats about 300 grams a day), while you beef up on protein. Our experts say this kind of extreme carb-cutting isn’t sustainable, and it won’t give you as many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as you need.
High-protein diets shouldn't be high-fat diets
Some people see the protein-heavy first phase of the Atkins Diet as carte blanche to pour whole cream in their coffee and down double cheeseburgers like there’s no tomorrow. "The issue here is you don’t discriminate between heart-healthy fat and artery-clogging fat," says Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, CNS, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Weight Management Center.
Later phases of the Atkins Diet are less restrictive and more sustainable, and you can tweak the diet to make it healthier by choosing lower-fat protein sources, such as egg whites, Canadian bacon, and skim milk, Fernstrom says.
The South Beach Diet: A healthier alternative
The South Beach Diet also is divided into phases. Though its first two-week phase is similarly carb-restrictive, later phases start to incorporate more "good" carbs, such as whole-grain breads and pastas. The emphasis throughout the diet is on healthy sources of protein (lean meats, reduced-fat cheeses, low-fat dairy) and fats (nuts and fish) to create a lifestyle approach you can maintain over the long term.
Overall, our experts say, it’s a more well-rounded way to go. "South Beach is a wonderful approach for people because it is a heart-healthy Atkins," Fernstrom says.
Bottom line? Low-carb diets work for weight loss, but skip the induction phase. Don’t cut carbs below 100 grams per day, and avoid saturated fats.