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The Best Diets for Men

Atkins vs. Ornish, South Beach Diet vs. the Zone: Which weight loss plan really works?

How Popular Diet Plans Score continued...

Along the way, there have been genuine surprises. The low-fat diet, widely endorsed by many official groups, hasn’t turned out to be as safe or effective as most experts thought. Some people do manage to lose weight on low-fat diets, but usually weight loss is fairly slow -- only a pound or two a month. And while levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) fall, studies show that levels of good cholesterol also drop. Many people on low fat diets also see a rise in triglycerides, an independent risk factor for heart disease.

To almost everyone’s surprise, low-carb/high-protein diets -- Atkin’s is the model -- have proved much safer and more effective than expected. Here was a diet that featured eggs and bacon and warned people away from bread. Yet study after study has shown that for people who are overweight or obese, high-protein/low-carb diets have real advantages.

"These diets push most of the numbers in the right direction," says Ronald Krauss, MD, a senior researcher at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "Body weight and body fat go down, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol drop, while at the same time good cholesterol levels remain up. Low-carb diets also improve insulin sensitivity even without weight loss, so they offer better protection against diabetes."

The best news for dieters is that high-protein/low-carb dieters also shed pounds faster, on average, than low-fat dieters. In the latest of a string of studies that have pitted one popular diet against another, researchers at Stanford put the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diet to the test. After 12 months, volunteers on the Atkins diet had lost more weight -- twice as much -- as people on any of the other diets.

But if you are looking to dramatically change your shape, the numbers weren’t all that encouraging. The average weight loss was a scant 10.3 pounds.

In a slew of recent head-to-head studies of popular diets, in fact, the Atkins diet has pulled ahead in the first few months, resulting in more and faster weight loss. Many experts have come around to accept the notion that protein-rich foods may be more satiating than carb-rich foods.

Unfortunately, the Atkins lead typically evaporates by the end of a year. In a 2006 British study that compared four popular weight loss plans, for example, volunteers lost weight faster on the high-protein/low-carb plan. But after a year, all four diets had resulted in about the same weight loss, about 13 pounds. What’s more, several studies comparing diets have seen very high drop-out rates. Even with scientists looking over their shoulders, it turns out people have trouble sticking with most diets.

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