What is The Optimal Diet For Weight Loss?
When it comes to weight loss, there’s no shortage of advice. Magazines, books and websites all promise that they have the answer to help you lose all the weight you want for good. Some claim that low fat is the only way to go, while others prescribe cutting out carbs. So, what should you believe?
The truth is there is no “one size fits all” solution to permanent healthy weight loss. What works for one person may not work for you, since our bodies respond differently to different foods, depending on genetics and other health factors. If you consider your preferences, lifestyle and weight-loss goals, you will find a plan that’s right for you. It may take time and require patience and some experimentation with different foods and diets.
Before starting a weight-loss programme think about:
- Diets you’ve tried. Which diet worked best for you? Which diet were you able to follow the longest?
- Food preferences. What type of food do you prefer? A diet should include food you enjoy eating. If you do not like the food on the plan you will struggle to stick to it. Do you have cultural requirements or preferences?
- Your budget. Does the cost of the weight loss programme fit your budget?
- Health considerations. Do you have a health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease or a food allergy that may influence your choice of diet plan?
- Activity. Your plan should include physical activity. Exercise offers numerous health benefits and is an important factor in maintaining weight loss
- Weight loss programmes. Do you prefer to lose weight on your own or do feel that you would benefit from group support? Would you prefer face-to-face support or an online programme that you can do in your own time?
Successful weight loss requires a long-term commitment to making healthy lifestyle changes in eating, exercise and behaviour. This means you need to find a weight-loss approach you can embrace for life. You will probably always have to remain vigilant about your weight but combining a healthier diet with more activity is the best way to lose weight, keep it off for the long term and improve your health. For many people, a healthy lifestyle also means better stress management, better sleep and addressing emotional issues that can lead to unhealthy eating patterns.
Do speak to your doctor before starting any weight loss programme. Your doctor may also be able to advise you on which one may be most suitable for you based on any health conditions you may have. He or she may also need to adjust your medication before you start a weight loss programme.
There have been several studies comparing diets with different macronutrient composition – high or low fat, high or low protein, high or low carbohydrate. It appears that people lose weight quicker on low carbohydrate diets but a recent large review of 121 trials involving just under 22,000 patients showed that all dietary eating plans had similar weight reduction at one year. There may be some benefits to a macronutrient-based dietary approach, but while a particular diet may result in weight loss one-person it may not be effective for another.
Here is a summary of the most popular and evidence-based weight loss eating plans:
What is it? Plant-based diets restrict meat and animal products while encouraging eating fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. A vegan diet restricts all animal products, including honey, dairy and whey protein. A more flexible diet such as the flexitarian diet is mainly plant-based but allows animal products in moderation.
Research shows that plant-based diets are effective for weight loss. They are likely to help weight loss because they do tend to be rich in fibre which can help you stay full for longer and lower in high-calorie fat.
Benefits Other benefits of plant-based diets include reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers such as colon cancer.
Cons However plant-based diets can restrict important nutrients such as iron, B12, calcium and zinc, which are mainly found in animal products. People following a vegan diet will need supplementation some of these nutrients.
The Mediterranean diet
What is it? The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of Southern Europe. There is no one way of following the Mediterranean diet as there are many countries around the Mediterranean Sea and people from different countries will eat different food. However, it is primarily a plant-based eating plan that includes daily intake of whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts, herbs, spices and seafood with poultry and dairy products in moderation and little red meat or processed foods. Other important elements of the Mediterranean diet are the social aspect of sharing meals with family and friends and being physically active.
Benefits Numerous studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart attacks, stroke, type 2 diabetes and premature death. Emphasis is on making permanent lifestyle changes.
Cons you need to ensure that your calorie intake is reduced on the Mediterranean diet if you want to lose weight.
What is it? Intermittent fasting is a diet regimen that cycles between brief periods of fasting, with either no food or significant calorie reduction and periods of unrestricted eating. The most common methods are the 5:2 diet and the 16:8 diet. In the 5:2 dietary approach, you restrict your daily calories to 500- 600 cal on 2 days a week. For the remaining 5 days of the week, there is no food restriction. Sticking to a regimen for 2 days a week can be more achievable so you are more like to persevere with this way of eating. The 16:8 fast involves eating all calories in an 8-hour window through the day, with only calorie-free drinks outside this period.
Benefits There is plenty of evidence for the benefits of intermittent fasting in animal studies. In humans, however, studies have been limited by small numbers of subjects studied over a short time. Studies have shown weight loss and an association between intermittent fasting and improved glucose metabolism and reduced inflammation.
Cons It is currently unclear whether intermittent fasting is superior to other weight loss methods. Intermittent fasting is safe for most healthy adults. However, people with diabetes on medication that can cause low blood sugars should speak to their doctor before starting the programme.
Low carbohydrate diets
What is it? There is no single definition of a low carbohydrate diet but all of them restrict the intake of total daily carbohydrates such as bread, potato and pasta, below a particular threshold – some diets reduce carbohydrates more than others. Examples of low carb diets include Atkins and the ketogenic diet.
Benefits The higher fat or protein content in low carb carbohydrate diets results in a reduction in appetite. Many studies showing that low carbohydrate diet can help with weight loss and may be more effective than low-fat diets.
With a ketogenic diet, reducing carbohydrate intake to less than 50g a day, ketones are produced and these reduce hunger. The high-fat content of the diet also reduces hunger and increases satiety.
Low carbohydrate diet has been shown to produce beneficial metabolic changes such as reducing blood pressure, insulin resistance and triglyceride levels. It has been shown to improve glycaemic control in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Cons It may be difficult to follow a low carbohydrate diet in the long term. There are some symptoms that can develop with marked reduction carbohydrate intake such as fatigue, constipation, irritability and headaches. These usual usually settle with time but can be uncomfortable. The longer-term health risks and benefits from low carbohydrate eating remain unclear. If you do try a low-carb diet, you can reduce your risks and limit your intake of saturated and trans fats by choosing lean meats, fish and vegetarian sources of protein and eating plenty of leafy green and non-starchy vegetables.
What is it? A low-fat diet keeps calorie from fat intake to between 10 and 30% of total calories. Studies have shown that low-fat diets can result in weight loss, albeit at a slower rate than low carb diets.
Benefits Low-fat diets have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease and inflammation.
Cons They may be difficult to follow in the long term. Recent research has shown that low-fat diets are not the most effective eating plans for weight loss. Many of us make the mistake of swapping fat for the empty calories of sugar and refined carbohydrates. For example, low- or no-fat yoghurt are packed with sugar to make up for the loss of taste. Eating healthy fats is actually beneficial for health.
WW (formerly Weight Watchers)
What is it? This is one of the most popular weight loss programs around. It is based on a smart point system which gives a value to food and drinks based on proteins, carb, fat and fibre content. WW is essentially a calorie-controlled diet where you can use your points allowance how you like. The diet does not restrict any food group, instead, people on the plan must eat within their daily point allowance. There is no limit to the amount of fruit and vegetable you can eat as part of a list of 0 point food.
Benefits The weekly meetings also provide support to encourage long-term behaviour change. There are many studies showing that the WW program is effective in helping people lose weight. As there is no restriction of any food group it allows flexibility and therefore may be easier to follow in some of the more restrictive diet plans. There is a focus on keeping active and encouraging exercise that you enjoy as a means of earning points.
Cons WW can be expensive.
By Dr Mohgah Elshiekh