Is There a Single Healthiest Diet?

Amby Burfoot has an article that asks, “what is the healthiest diet?”  for the general public. His answer comes from the Journal of Nutrition. Looks like there are four winners. Quoting Mr. Burfoot:

They differ slightly in the degree to which they favor, or disfavor, certain foods and food types, such as the following:

  • The Healthy Eating Index 2010: Considers low-fat dairy products a plus.
  • The Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010: Considers nuts/legumes a plus, as well as moderate alcohol consumption. Trans fats, sugary beverages, salt, and red meat get a minus.
  • The Alternate Mediterranean Diet: Considers fish, nuts/legumes, and moderate alcohol a plus; red meat, a minus.
  • The DASH Diet: Considers low-fat dairy and nuts/legumes a plus; sugary beverages, salt, and red meat get a minus.

I think the Mediterranean diet has the most and best data to support it.

Steve Parker, M.D.

 

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Prevent Weight Regain With the Mediterranean Diet

Italian seaside tangentially related to this post

Italian seaside tangentially related to this post

Investigators affiliated with universities in Italy and Greece wondered about the effect on obesity of two ketogenic “Mediterranean” diet spells interspersed with a traditional Mediterranean diet over the course of one year. They found significant weight loss, and perhaps more importantly, no regain of lost weight over the year, on average.

This scientific study is right up my alley. I was excited when I found it. Less excited after I read it.

The Set-Up

This was a retrospective review of medical records of patients of a private nutritional service in three fitness and weight control centers in Italy between 2006 and 2010. It’s unclear whether patients were paying for fitness/weight loss services. 327 patient records were examined. Of these, 89 obese participants met the inclusion and exclusion criteria and started the program; 68 completed it and were the ones analyzed. (That’s not at all a bad drop-out rate for a year-long study.)  The completers were 59 males and 12 females (I know, the numbers don’t add up, but that’s what they reported). Ages were between 25 and 65. Average weight was 101 kg (222 lb), average BMI 35.8, average age 49. All were Caucasian. No diabetics.

Here’s the program:

  1. 20 days of a very-low-carb ketogenic diet, then
  2. 20 days of a low-carbohydrate non-ketogenic diet for stabilization, then
  3. 4 months of a normal caloric Mediterranean diet, then
  4. repeat #1 and #2, then
  5. 6 months of a normal caloric Mediterranean diet

In the ketogenic phases, which the authors referred to as KEMEPHY, participants followed a commercially available protocol called TISANOREICA. KEMEPHY is combination of four herbal extracts that is ill-defined (at least in this article), with the idea of ameliorating weakness and tiredness during ketosis. The investigators called this a ketogenic Mediterranean diet, although I saw little “Mediterranean” about it. They ate “beef & veal, poultry, fish, raw and cooked green vegetables without restriction, cold cuts (dried beef, carpaccio and cured ham), eggs and seasoned cheese (e.g., parmesan).” Coffee and tea were allowed. Items to avoid included alcohol, bread, pasta, rice, milk, and yogurt. “In addition to facilitate the adhesion to the nutritional regime, each subject was given a variety of specialty meals constituted principally of protein and fibers. “These meals (TISANOREICA) that are composed of a protein blend obtained from soya, peas, oats (equivalent to 18 g/portion) and virtually zero carbohydrate (but that mimic their taste) were included in the standard ration.” They took a multivitamin every morning. Prescribed carbohydrate was about 30 grams a day, with macronutrient distribution of 12% carb, 36 or 41% protein, and 51 0r 52% fat. It appears that prescribed daily calories averaged 976 (but how can that be prescribed when some food items are “unrestricted”?).

I found little explanation of period #2 mentioned above, the low-carb non-ketogenic diet. Prescribed macronutrients were 25 or 33% carb, 27 0r 31% protein, 41 or 44% fat, and about 91 g carbohydrate. Prescribed daily calories appear to have averaged 1111.

After the first and second active weight loss ketogenic phases, participants ate what sounds like a traditional Mediterranean diet. Average prescribed macronutrient distribution was 57% carbohydrate, 15 % protein, and 27% fat. Wine was allowed. It looks like 1800 calories a day were recommended.

Food consumption was measured via analysis of 3-day diaries, but you have to guess how often that was done because the authors don’t say. The results of the diary analyses are not reported.

What Did They Find?

Most of the weight loss occurred during the two ketogenic phases. Average weight loss in the first ketogenic period was 7.4 kg (16 lb), and another 5.2 kg (11 lb) in the second ketogenic period. Overall average weight loss for the entire year was 16.1 kg (35 lb).

Average systolic blood pressure over the year dropped a statistically significant 8 units over the year, from 125 to 116 mmHg.

Over the 12 months, they found stable and statistically significant drops in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), triglycerides, and blood sugar levels. No change in HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”).

Liver and kidney function tests didn’t change.

The authors didn’t give explanations for the drop-outs.

Although the group on average didn’t regain lost weight, eight participants regained most of it. The investigators write that “…the post dietary analysis showed that they were not compliant with nutritional guidelines given for the Mediterranean diet period. These subjects returned to their previous nutrition habits (“junk” food, high glycaemic index, etc.) with a mean “real” daily intake of 2470 Kcal rather than the prescribed 1800 Kcal.”

Comments

A key take-home point for me is that the traditional Mediterranean diet prevented the weight regain that we see with many, if not most, successful diets.

However, most formulas for calculating steady state caloric requirements would suggest these guys would burn more than the 1800 daily calories recommended to them during the “normal calorie” months. How hard did the dieters work to keep calories around 1800? We can only speculate.

Although the researchers describe the long periods of traditional Mediterranean diet as “normal caloric,” they don’t say how that calorie level was determined  and achieved in the real world. Trust me, you can get fat eating the Mediterranean diet if you eat too much.

I’ll be the first to admit a variety of weight loss diets work, at least short-term. The problem is that people go back to their old ways of eating regain much of the lost weight, typically starting six months after starting the program. It was smart for the investigators to place that second ketogenic phase just before the typical regain would have started!

There are so few women in this study that it would be impossible to generalize results to women. Why so few? Furthermore, weight loss and other results weren’t broken down for each sex.

I suspect the results of this study will be used for marketing KEMEPHY and TISANOREICA. For all I know, that’s why the study was done. We’re trusting the investigators to have done a fair job choosing which patient charts to analyze retrospectively. They could have cherry-picked only the good ones. Some of the funding was from universities, some was from Gianluca Mech SpA (what’s that?).

How much of the success of this protocol is due to the herbal extracts and TISANOREICA? I have no idea.

The authors made no mention of the fact the average fasting glucose at baseline was 103 mg/dl (5.7 mmol/l). That’s elevated into the prediabetic range. So probably half of these folks had prediabetes. After the one-year program, average fasting glucose was normal at 95 mg/dl (5.3 mmol/l).

The improved lipids, blood sugars, and lower blood pressure may have simply reflected successful weight loss and therefore could have been achieved  by a variety of diets.

The authors attribute their success to the weight-losing metabolic effects of the ketogenic diet (particularly the relatively high protein content), combined with the traditional Mediterranean diet preventing weight regain.

The authors write:

The Mediterranean diet is associated with a longer life span, lower rates of coronary heart disease, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. But it is difficult to isolate the “healthy” constituents of the Mediterranean diet, since it is not a single entity and varies between regions and countries. All things considered there is no “one size fits all” dietary recommendation and for this reason we have tried to merge the benefits of these two approaches: the long term “all-life” Mediterranean diet coupled with brief periods of a metabolism enhancing ketogenic diet.

I’ve attempted a similar merger with my Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet. Click here for an outline. Another stab at it was the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet. And here’s my version of a Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Paoli, Antonio, et al. Long Term Successful Weight Loss with a Combination Biphasic Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet and Mediterranean Diet Maintenance Protocol. Nutrients, 5 (2013): 5205-5217. doi: 10.3390/nu5125205

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Dietary Advice for a 41-Year-Old South Asian With Prediabetes

The CulinaryRx blogger at MedPageToday asked two physicians what diet modifications they’d recommend for a 41-year-old man with prediabetes. (To read the article you may need to do a free sign-up.)

The moderator asked his experts twice whether carbohydrate restriction is important, and never got a straight answer. These experts must not think it’s important since they push legumes, lentils, fruits, and whole grains. Dr. Nadeau said he believes there is no specific diet for folks with diabetes. I almost fell off my chair when I read one comment recommending cookies and sweets, because they’re traditional. They also recommend low glycemic load, nuts, higher protein consumption, vegetables, and “good oils” like olive oil (ghee not mentioned).

Read this blog post for prior comments that include advice from possible clinicians.

I’m confident that Dr. Ronesh Sinha in Silicon Valley, California, would disagree with the advice of MedPageToday’s experts. Dr. Sinha would likely recommend limiting digestible carbohydrates to 50–150 grams/day as the most important dietary step. (I plan on a review of Dr. Sinha’s book here within a few months.)

I’m still looking for clinical studies of various diets for South Asians (aka Indian Asians) with prediabetes and diabetes.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Would You Get Fat If You Increased Your Daily Calories By 500?

The U.S. adult population in the 1970s ate an average of 2400 calories a day. By the 2000s, our calories were up to 2900.

Putting a face on the statistics

Putting a face on the statistics

What did average adult weight do as we increased daily calories by 500? It increased by 8.6 kg, from 72.2 to 80.6 kg. In U.S. units, that’s a 19 lb gain, from 159 to 178 lb.

Children increased their average intake by 350 cals/day over the same time frame.

If I recall correctly, I’ve seen other research suggesting the daily calorie consumption increase has been more like 150 to 350 per day (lower end for women, higher for men).

Details are in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study authors don’t say for sure why we’re eating more, but offhand mention an “obesogenic food environment.” They don’t think decreased physical activity is the cause of our weight gain; we’re fatter because we eat too much.

Steve Parker, M.D.

h/t Ivor Goodbody

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David and Goliath: Dr. Briffa Versus National Health Service on Low-Carb Diets

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service last year published guidelines favoring low-fat weight-loss diets over low-carb ones. Dr. John Briffa objects:

See here for a comprehensive review of 23 studies which demonstrates superior results achieved by low-carb diets with regard to weight loss and disease markers. To my mind, dietician Sian Porter and the NHS Choices website have done a bad job of communicating the facts and summarising the evidence. I wish to formally complain about the inaccuracies in this article and its (to me) clear bias and lack of balance.

Read the whole enchilada (plus this update).

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Does a Low-Carb High-Fat Diet Work for South Asian Indians With Diabetes?

Indian street seller selling tea - masala chai

Indian street seller selling tea – masala chai

Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt shares an email from Aniruddha Bhaduri, a 43-year-old diabetic living in New Delhi. He’s had type 2 diabetes for ten years.

Ani had poor control of his blood sugars despite following the dietitian-recommended high-carb diet and taking three diabetes drugs. In his frustration, Ani started doing research on his own and ran across Eenfeldt’s version of low-carb high-fat (LCHF) eating. After just one month of LCHF dieting, his blood sugars came down from 300+ mg/dl (16.7+ mmol/l) to an average of 97 mg/dl (5.4 mmol/l). His doctor reduced his drugs, too. Ani mentioned that eating LCHF in India is “a bit expensive.”

Although Ani’s high triglycerides dropped like a rock, I have a little concern about his total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, both of which rose. That bears watching.

Click through to Dr. Eenfeldt’s blog and you’ll find a photo of Ani. Note that he’s not obese. Like East Asians, Indians develop T2 diabetes at lower degrees of body fat (BMI) than do Americans and Europeans. Could that be genetic? You bet.

This story is interesting to me because I had no definite evidence that LCHF eating was effective for Indian type 2 diabetes. Due to potential genetic differences between Indians and other ethnicities, it’s a mistake to simply assume they would respond to the diet like Europeans, for example. My Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet is a version of LCHF; no Indian has ever reported back to me whether it helped them or not. Now I have one anecdote to support LCHF eating in Indians.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Are Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Caused By Pollution?

Salmon is one the the cold-water fatty fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids

Salmon is one the the cold-water fatty fish loaded with healthful omega-3 fatty acids, but also persistent organic pollutants

It sounds like Jerome Ruzzin is convinced that’s the case. I put some thought into it last August and was skeptical—still am, but I’m keeping an open mind. Mr. Ruzzin has a review article published in 2012 at BMC Public Health (“Public health concern behind the exposure to persistent organic pollutants and the risk of metabolic diseases”). Here’s his summary:

The global prevalence of metabolic diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes, and its colossal economic and social costs represent a major public health issue for our societies. There is now solid evidence demonstrating the contribution of POPs [persistent organic pollutants], at environmental levels, to metabolic disorders. Thus, human exposure to POPs might have, for decades, been sufficient and enough to participate to the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Based on recent studies, the fundaments of current risk assessment of POPs, like “concept of additive effects” or “dioxins and dl-PCBs induced similar biological effects through AhR”, appear unlikely to predict the risk of metabolic diseases. Furthermore, POP regulation in food products should be harmonized and re-evaluated to better protect consumers. Neglecting the novel and emerging knowledge about the link between POPs and metabolic diseases will have significant health impacts for the general population and the next generations.

Read the whole enchilada.

The cold-water fatty fish I so often recommend to my patients could be hurting them. They are major reservoirs of food-based POPs.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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