Low fat or low carb? High carb or high protein? Atkins or Weight Watchers? Given all the weight-loss plans out there, it isn't easy to determine the best weight-loss diet -- and now, new research suggests it may not really matter in the long run.
In a Temple University study, researchers found that people who went on a low-carb, Atkins-style diet lost the same amount of weight after two years as those who adopted a traditional low-fat diet. And when researchers at Harvard University put people on four different diet plans featuring varying degrees of fat, protein and carbohydrates, they also found that as long as overall calories were reduced, no one diet was better than the others in helping people lose weight over a two-year period.
The conclusion: The best weight-loss diet is simply one that gets you to eat fewer calories, says Dr. Frank Sacks, lead author of the Harvard study and a specialist in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and internal medicine. "People can be free to pick a [low-calorie] diet that suits their personal preferences and cultural preferences, as long as it's based on healthy principles," he says.
Even so, it isn't always easy to zero in on the right plan for you. Here's what experts suggest:
Keep It Simple
If a plan looks like it involves too much math and monitoring, you might want to find another one. A study conducted at the University of Basel in Switzerland found that when a weight-loss plan seems too complicated, people are apt to quit dieting sooner rather than later. "The perceived complexity of one's diet rules predicts how long participants adhere to their diet regimen," says study co-author Jutta Mata, who holds a doctorate in psychology. When looking for a weight-loss plan, "dieters should look at a number of diets and see how many rules there are and how many things they have to calculate or monitor over the day," says Mata.
Suit Your Lifestyle and Tastes
Doing a diet that requires cooking from scratch isn't going to be easy if you travel for your job or hate to cook. So choose a diet plan that adapts easily into your daily life. "And be aware of likes and dislikes," Sacks advises. If you pick a plan that includes foods you don't really like, you're going to suffer.
Make Shopping Easy
Avoid diets that require purchasing foods that aren't readily available. "If you have to buy special foods, that is a red flag that the diet won't last long," says Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
A healthy eating plan should feature a mix of fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and whole grains. "Each food group offers unique nutrition not found in other foods," Sandon says. So avoid weight-loss diets that eliminate entire food groups.
Losing weight isn't the hard part; sustaining the loss is where the challenge comes in. "Keeping weight off requires long-term efforts," Mata says. "Ideally, you pick a regimen that you can adhere to for the rest of your life.
Winnie Yuis a freelance writer who frequently writes about health and nutrition. Her articles have appeared in Prevention, VIVMag, AARP Bulletin, Diabetic Living and on nytimes.com, among other publications. Her latest book is What to Eat for What Ails You.
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