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Low Carb Diet Debate

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Results of two new studies on low-carbohydrate diets support the position of the American Dietetic Association that the most effective method of healthy lifelong weight management includes an eating plan that is based on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, moderate in protein and relatively low in fat, coupled with daily physical activity.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

The studies, by the New England Journal of Medicine, look at the effectiveness of "carbohydrate-restricted" diets over 6 months and low-carb, high-protein, high-fat approaches such as the Atkins Diet over 3, 6 and 12 months.

"The findings confirm what we already know," said registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesperson. "There is no magic bullet to safe and healthful weight loss."

Zelman added: "In the short term, these studies show you can achieve weight loss with low-carb diets. But in the long term, success rates were not different from people who are on a more 'traditional' diet. These results don't change ADA's recommendations for achieving healthful weight that can be sustained over a lifetime."

ADA's advice is based on the National Academy of Sciences' recommendations that adults obtain 45 percent to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates, 20 percent to 35 percent from fat and 10 percent to 35 percent from protein.

"These recommendations provide you with a good deal of room to increase your level of protein, which other recent studies have suggested can be effective, without going to the level of the Atkins Diet," Zelman said. "You can move toward the higher end of the protein range, stay at the lower end of the fat range and make sure your carbohydrates are complex, meaning whole grains such as whole wheat pasta."

Registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Keith Ayoob noted that many people in the studies apparently had trouble staying with the low-carbohydrate diet and there were many dropouts.

"Twelve months is an equalizer," Ayoob said. "You hit a wall. Your lifestyle starts to be affected and you get bored. A high dropout rate is a sign that extreme diets can be difficult to maintain. People start to realize they don't want to avoid their favorite foods, even in small amounts, for a long period."

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