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Diet Debate: 3 Top Plans Go Toe to Toe

Researchers Say Mediterranean and Low-Carb Diets Are Good Alternatives to Low-Fat Plan

Weight Loss Comparisons

Overall, at the end of two years, the low-fat dieters lost an average of 6.5 pounds, while those on the Mediterranean diet lost 10 pounds and those on the low-carb plan lost 10.3.

Women tended to lose more on the Mediterranean diet. At the 24-month mark, women on the low-fat diet averaged a loss of less than a pound, while those on the low-carb plan lost about 5 pounds and those on the Mediterranean more than 13 pounds.

The drop-out rate in the study was much less than in other diet studies, Shai tells WebMD. At one year, less than 5% had dropped out, compared to up to 60% in other studies, she says. At two years, about 15% had dropped out.

Beyond the weight loss differences, the researchers found some additional health benefits with the low-carb and Mediterranean diet. "The low-carb diet improved HDL ["good" cholesterol] the most,'' she says. And in the 36 dieters with diabetes, those on the Mediterranean diet had better blood sugar and insulin measures.

Diet Debate: Which Is Best?

"I'm not saying the low-fat diet is not efficient," Shai tells WebMD. "I don't think we can say there is one diet that fits all."

Every diet seems to work, if you stay on it, for six months, she says. "After that comes the difficult part, not regaining."

The best advice? Choose a diet that you can follow. For instance, if you hate to count calories, you may be better suited to the low-carb plan than a low-fat, calorie-counting diet. "But once you choose one you should stick with it," she says.

Funding for the study came from multiple sources, including the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's S. Daniel Abraham International Center for Health and Nutrition, the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Research Foundation (set up after the death of low-carb diet founder Robert Atkins in 2003), and the Nuclear Research Center Negev.

Best Diet: Second Opinion

The study results don't surprise Lona Sandon, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, and an assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

"As shown in this study and many others that have come before it, any of the diet approaches will work short term, as the most amount of weight was lost in the first six months."

But the long-term question -- what works best for health and disease prevention -- is not yet settled, she says. "My first reaction to this data is, if I am needing to lose weight and decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes, I would choose the Mediterranean diet approach."

Although the low-carb diet may be a quick fix, "the Mediterranean diet may prove to be the better long-term solution," she says.

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