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High-Carb, Low-Fat Diet Drops Pound a Week

Dieters Ate All They Wanted and Still Lost Weight
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WebMD Health News

Jan. 26, 2004 -- How's this for a great way to lose nearly a pound a week: Don't exercise. Don't count calories. Eat until you're full, and oh, yeah, what you eat mostly comes from the newest four-lettered word in the dieter's dictionary -- "carb."

It's not the latest best seller, but a study in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. And it shows that older, overweight people with prediabetes could eat as much as they want, eat large amounts of complex carbs, and still drop weight as long as they limited fat intake to no more than 20% of their total calories.

These findings are in contrast to the strategies of carb-restricting diets such as Atkins and initial phases of the South Beach diet that suggest excess carbs lead to more body fat.

"But in our study, people ate all the food they wanted on a high-carb, low-fat diet, they didn't exercise, and they still averaged 7-to-11 pound weight loss over three months," says study researcher William J. Evans, PhD, director of the nutrition and metabolism lab at the University of Arkansas College of Medicine. "This shows that the important point isn't in reducing calorie intake."

Instead, his study suggests that if you pig out, make sure the bulk of your diet consists of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and leaner versions of meat and dairy.

Lots of Carbs, Lots of Exercise

The study compared a high-carb, high-fat diet -- the typical American diet -- consisting of 45% of calories from carbs 41% from fat, with a high-carb, low-fat diet of 63% carbs and 19% fat.

Half of those eating the high-carb, low-fat diet also exercised -- 45 minutes of aerobic exercise, four times a week.

As you may expect, those exercising and eating the high-carb, low-fat plan lost a few more pounds despite eating more calories than the other group. The exercisers lost an average of 11 pounds compared with 7 pounds for the non-exercisers on the same diet. The high-carb, high-fat dieters' weight did not change significantly.

When allowed to eat all they wanted, those eating the high-carb, high-fat diet had about 2,825 calories a day. The high-carb, low-fat dieters that didn't exercise ate about 2,250. The high-carb, low-fat exercisers ate about 2,400 calories.

It's the Calories

These findings don't surprise two experts who were not involved in this research.

"It's not excess carbs that translates into more body weight, it's excess calories -- no matter where they come from," says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of nutrition at Tufts University and vice chairwoman of the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association. "And those on the typical American diet ate more calories.

"If you cut calories, you'll lose weight, even if you're not counting calories. And the difference between what was consumed in the low-fat, high-carb diet and the typical American diet was enough to translate to nearly a pound of weight loss a week," Lichtenstein tells WebMD. "If you're eating more fiber, you get filled up quicker."

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