It's the Calories That Count, Not the Food Combinations
April 7, 2000 (New York) -- We all know someone who's on one, been on one,
or swears by a trendy diet that proclaims the key to weight loss is not eating
certain foods together.
Whether you're talking about a "combination diet" such as the
"Fit for Life" diet plan that says you should never combine fruits and
other carbohydrates with proteins, or the "Carbohydrates Addict" diet
that says you can only eat carbs for one hour each day, the first clinical
study of combination diets shows that these diets -- and others like them --
are no better or worse than traditional balanced diets.
Confirming what many nutritionists and weight loss experts have been saying
for years, it's the calories -- not the food combinations --that count, the
Reporting their findings in the April issue of the International Journal
of Obesity, Alain Golay, MD, of the University of Geneva in Switzerland,
and colleagues report that obese adults lost about the same amount of weight
whether they were on a food combo diet or a traditional balanced diet.
All 54 study participants were put on a 1,100 calorie-per-day diet for six
weeks. Half of the participants consumed the diet normally, while the other
half ate fat and carbohydrates separately. For example, a typical lunch for
participants on the balanced diet included low-fat meat or fish, vegetables,
rice, pasta or cereal, fruit, and oil. A typical lunch for a participant on the
combined diet included low-fat meat or fish, vegetables, low-fat fresh cheese,
and oil. Both diets contained similar amounts of fat, and cholesterol and
calories were distributed between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a bedtime
The people on the balanced diet lost an average of 16.5 pounds, while those
on the food-combining diet lost an average of 13.6 pounds. Participants in both
groups showed identical decreases in body fat, blood sugar levels, cholesterol,
blood fats, and insulin. High levels of blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, and
blood fats increase risk for heart disease and diabetes.
The bottom line, according to Arthur Frank, MD, medical director of the
George Washington University Weight Management Program in Washington, is that
"you can't eat more to weigh less -- it's the calories that count."
"The new study goes a long way toward dealing with diets like the Atkins
diet," he tells WebMD. The Atkins diet is an exclusion diet, not a
combination diet. It allows people to eat as much protein and fat as they like,
as long as they consume few carbohydrates.
"All of these fad diets reduce caloric intake. They don't tell you that,
though. Instead, they just promote their gimmicks," says Ruth Kava, PhD,
RD, director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health, a
nonprofit consumer education group in New York City. "My advice is to pay
attention to the caloric content of foods, and if you want to eat your bread
and fruit separately, it doesn't matter as long as you are getting some of
But the biggest question, she says, is whether people will be able to stick
to the various restrictions of fad diets, "because the hardest thing to do
is keep weight off after losing it."