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4 Popular Diets Heart Healthy

Whether it's Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers or Zone, it's the pounds that matter
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Medical News

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 disease.

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 Contenders

  • 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 day.
  • 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.

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