4 Popular Diets Heart Healthy
Whether it's Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers or Zone, it's the pounds that matter
Nov. 10, 2003 (Orlando, Fla.) -- Pound for pound, four very popular weight
loss diets are all good for shedding weight and lowering the risk of heart
disease, say researchers, with one important caveat: You have to stick with the
diets, not just start them.
The diet scene has heated up in the past year with low-carb and low-fat
diets battling it out. But until now no one actually compared four of the most
popular diets -- Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers and the Zone -- to find out
which was really better for weight loss and lowering the risk of a heart
It turns out, says Michael L. Dansinger, MD, assistant professor of medicine
at Tufts University, New England Medical Center in Boston, Mass. that as long
as the pounds are shed, heart health improves.
"Losing 20 pounds corresponded to about a 30% reduction in heart risk
score," he says. Although he explains that at this point "it isn't
clear if a 30% reduction in risk score is the same as a 30% reduction in heart
attacks." Dansinger presented his results here at the American Heart
Association's Scientific Sessions 2003.
- The Atkins diet -- a low-carb diet consisting primarily of protein and fat.
In the first two weeks, carbohydrates are severely restricted but then are
introduced back into the diet in the form of fiber-rich carbohydrates.
- The Ornish diet -- a high-carb, low-fat vegetarian diet of mostly beans,
fruits, grains, and vegetables. Dairy products are eaten in moderation and
meats are discouraged.
- Weight Watchers -- a low-fat, high-carb diet where each food is assigned a
point value and participants are allowed a certain number of points per
- The Zone -- a diet based on a 40-30-30 system where participants eat 40% of
their calories from "favorable" carbohydrates such as vegetables and
beans, 30% from low-fat proteins, and 30% from unsaturated fats, such as olive
and canola oils, nuts, and avocados.
Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat
Dansinger studied 160 overweight men and women who volunteered to
participate in a yearlong diet study. Forty volunteers were assigned to each
diet, he says. Dansinger says he was "just testing the diets, not any
exercise or other lifestyle modifications that are part of the entire diet
program." The researchers also calculated a score to estimate a person's
heart disease risk -- based on common heart disease risk factors, such as
cholesterol and blood pressure.