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A calorie is not just a calorie


Daisy Dumas

A new study shows that a high-carbohydrate diet, rather than low-fat or low-carb diets, may be the path to sustained weight loss.

A high-carbohydrate diet focusing on healthy carbs may be the key to sustained weight loss, according to a new study.

A high-carbohydrate diet focusing on healthy carbs may be the key to sustained weight loss, according to a new study.

We've seen them all: caveman, Atkins, cabbage soup, white, coconut water, raw. When it comes to diets, there are few nutritional stones (and marketing fads) that have been left unturned.

But the answer to long-lasting weight loss may in fact be rather more level-headed in its approach - and focuses on the concept that not all calories are created equal.

A new Journal of the American Medical Association study "challenges nutritional dogma", says co-author Dr David Ludwig, pointing to ample good quality carbohydrates, rather than low-fat or low-carbs plans, as a solution to maintaining a balanced weight without any side-effects.

A low-glycemic index approach, combining fruits, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains, which release sugars into the bloodstream slowly, saw sustained weight loss and reductions in cholesterol levels and diabetes and heart disease markers.

It also saw a high energy expenditure, or the number of calories burnt by resting and through activity - levels of which are known to decrease through dieting and so lead to rapid weight gain after shedding kilos.

Conversely, a low-fat diet did not lead to long-term weight loss.

Researchers at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital looked at energy expenditure and the blood's hormone and fat levels of a group of 21 participants when on three different diets.

A low-glycemic index diet calorie intake was limited to 40 per cent carbohydrate, 40 per cent fat and 20 per cent protein.

A low-fat diet saw calories from fat limted to 20 per cent and an Atkins-style low-carbohydrate diet saw calories from carbs limited to just 10 per cent.

Breaking regular approaches to diet studies, researchers prepared food for study participants, all aged between 18 and 40, so that meals were monitered closely and mostly eaten at the hospital.

Having lost weight on a previous control diet, participants then given the low-GI diet maintained their new weights and energy expenditure levels.

Not only did they burn an average of 150 calories more than those on the low-fat diet, but hormone and fat levels were positively affected.

Dr Ludwig said that energy expenditure-wise, the low-fat diet had the worst outcome, with associated increases in some fats and declines in "good" cholesterols.

He told the Wall Street Journal that dieters "should avoid severely restricting any major nutrient and focus on the quality of the nutrient." The Mediterranean-style low-GI diet is "ideal" according to the Massachusetts-based team.

In that vein, the low-carbohydrate diet - similar to the Atkins diet that was re-invigorated after the publication of 2002 hit diet book, Dr Atkins' New Diet Revolution - saw an initial high energy use, burning 300 calories more than the low-fat diet.

But with it, found the scientists, came negative side-effects that outweighed any benefit of the calorie use, namely peaks in stress hormone, cortisol, and raised inflammation levels linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Challenging notions that calorie loss equals weight loss, the study may also go some way in explaining previous findings that only one in six overweight people will maintain even 10 per cent of their weight loss in the long term.


  • I don't care what anyone says, a low fat diet (under 41g a day) makes me lose weight the fastest. That level is not 'low' for the average adult, but since I normally eat 90 - 110g fat if left to my own devices (too many cafes where I live!) I count it as low. I can take 12 kg off in a couple of months and keep it off if I stick to that limit. If I slack off and don't keep an eye on it, up the scales go.

    Date and time
    June 27, 2012, 3:16PM
    • If it works for you What! then good on you - stick with it. I think one thing that the diet/health industry has massively missed with all these studies is that we are all different and different things work for different people. I've tried diets a couple of times with absolutely pitiful results - and achieved significant, sustained long term weight loss by exercise while eating pretty much whatever I wanted (including evil sugar!!). And I'm sure that there are people who could do twice the amount of exercise I do and not lose a gram...

      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 12:48PM
  • This is ridiculous.

    I will spell out one word for you - it is very simple.


    Sugar is making everyone fat. Added sugar. Fruit juice, soft drinks, sweets, chocolate, candy, doughnuts, icecream.

    These foods are full of sucrose.

    Sucrose, when metabolised breaks down into glucose + fructose.

    Your body, when you've ingested enough "glucose" will tell you "I'm full" (try eating 5 potatoes and see how many you get through before you feel full).

    Fructose, however (especially when stripped from its natural fibre - i.e. processed sugar cane or fruit juice) is processed completely differently by the body and does not send your brain the "full" signal.

    Hence why a person can gorge on chocolates or sweets or soft drink and not feel very full... or... feel full for a bit and then hungry again very shortly after, all the while consuming immense amounts of calories, then consuming even more because you're still hungry.

    This glycemic index stuff is only effective because most foods that are high in GI are (you guessed it) high in sugar.

    Stop drinking juice and soft drink. Stop eating chocolates and sweets. Limit yourself to 2-3 pieces of fruit a day.

    I guarantee you will lose weight. Eat whatever else you want.

    Eating "fat" does not make you fat.

    Date and time
    June 27, 2012, 3:21PM
    • Twaddle. I put on weight years ago without eating any of that stuff you list. I hate sweet food and actively avoid it, yet I still put on 10kg. According to you that's impossible. Nope, I was just eating too big portions. Once I cut the size of my meals it all came off again.

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 6:31PM
    • Totally agree, the sugar added in so many foods is poison.
      And once your palette is changed the body craves.
      Corn syrup is another poison and evident in the USA crippling obesity epidemic. Some things our bodies just can't metabolize. And processed food is full of these poisons. I eat sugar but in moderation.
      Your idea of eating 5 spuds nearly had me vomiting though- just the thought! I like spuds, but they are a no no for arthritis, so I only partake minimally.

      lean & mean
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 6:56PM
    • I also refer you to this study on sugar consumption going DOWN at the same time as the number of overweight Australians went up:

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 7:08PM
    • Great, so that's fish and chips tonight, a couple of pizzas tomorrow night, a fondue for lunch, twenty or so dim sims for arvo tea....

      I suggest it's slightly more complicated....
      good sir.
      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 8:35PM
    • +1 on all of that.

      Sugar is now used to replace the flavour lost when natural fat is removed. And the absolute worst sugar they've got is HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup). Basically, corn producers in the US are accepting massive subsidies to keep producing corn which is being used to feed cattle (which is indigestible to them, and it causes e coli and leads to Mad Cow), and to convert it into "alternative fuels".

      Sugar is addictive, dangerous and strangely legal.

      BTW, not all calories are created equal. The body has to work much harder to extract energy from protein, such that only 70% of the energy can be removed from proteins. The body is very efficient at extracting energy from carbohydrates, like well into 90%.

      Cartel Breaker
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 12:20AM
    • Okay, so you're telling me that my diet of M&Ms and Diet Coke is a bad one??? I lost 12kgs in 3 months and I've kept it all off! I mean, don't get me wrong, I had proper dinners most nights but I still had take away and I still ate an enormous amount of M&Ms. I think that you're just silly :P I have the proof :P

      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 9:32AM
    • I'm with Adrian on this, too.

      Sorry, photondancer - it definitely ain't twaddle.

      Since cutting out processed food, drastically reducing my sugar intake and limiting fruit and grain intake (and eating only whole grains), I've lost 12 kilos and continue to keep it off by eating this way.

      I do not limit fat intake (healthy fats, that is). In fact, I eat more fats then I did when I was 12 kilos heavier. I get to eat plenty of foods like avocado, salmon, full fat yoghurt, cheese, nuts, eggs, so I don't often feel I am missing out on delicious foods.

      The added plus (aside from better skin and hair!) is that fats keep you full for longer. I don't feel hungry eating this way. I find eating a lot of sugar and refined carbohydrates messes up my body's hunger signals and I quickly revert to craving sweet food and feeling ravenous every 2 hours.

      Low GI, less sugar, less processed crap, limited wholegrains, more fats, and more protein, is the way to go!

      Reformed Sweet Tooth
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 10:01AM

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