A new study (pdf) published on February 26th in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine conducted by Harvard scientist Dr. Frank Sacks and colleagues suggests that all diets, regardless of macronutrient content (fat, protein and carbohydrate) result in equal amounts of weight loss.
This is not particularly surprising especially when you consider that the macronutrient content of the 4 different diets tested in the study were all virtually the same.
At the very start of the study, the researchers state:
The possible advantage for weight loss of a diet that emphasizes protein, fat, or carbohydrates has not been established and there are few studies that extend beyond one year
To the lay, or, lazy person reading this statement, this would suggest that to date, no studies have ever shown any positive advantage in weight loss from different diets.
But of course, many have. One excellent example is the recent The A TO Z Weight Loss Study (2003-2005) published in JAMA which compared four popular diets (Atkins, Zone, Ornish, LEARN) over a one year period. The study showed us that the lowest carbohydrate diet of the same caloric level resulted in far greater weight loss - twice as much in fact - as well as better improvements in all health markers than did the higher carbohydrate diets.
How did Dr. Sacks miss this paper?
And to reiterate, this was just one of many studies showing that low carbohydrate diets - when they are actually low carbohydrate diets - always result in greater weight loss and health benefits. In fact, the number of studies out there today indicating such are legion.
And it's not all about weight loss of course. If you chop your arm off you'll weigh less, right? But this would be a dopey thing to do. Less dopey, but still dopey, would be to adopt a diet that resulted in loss in muscle, bone and organ tissue. But our Harvard experts do not reveal this in their results. A diet that results in weight loss, but not discriminate weight loss from fat alone, is a diet that should be adopted by only the morbidly obese unless there are other diets that would preserve lean mass at the same time.
And there are.
But when asked why he purposefully omitted from the study using one the the world's most famous and successful diets - namely the Atkins diet, Dr. Sacks had this to say in response:
People don't stick with low-carbohydrate intake and we didn't want to try anything unrealistic. We tried a big range but a reasonable range of fats, protein and carbohydrates.
Interesting. Recent surveys reveal that over 30,000,000 people world wide have adopted and stick to a low carbohydrate diet. That's thirty with six zeros. It's a guess but this might very well be one of the single largest numbers of people who are currently sticking to ANY diet.
Dr. Sacks above statement clearly reeks with bias. Even if true, even if no one in the world could stick to a low carb diet for long, might it not still be wise to test its efficacy to see if in fact it did produce superior outcomes so that people who needed to lose weight and improve their health in the fastest and healthiest manner possible could adopt it for a time? After all, the background statement of the study was:
The possible advantage for weight loss of a diet that emphasizes protein, fat, or carbohydrates has not been established...
One would assume this to mean that the study was designed to see if there was a possible advantage. But no. The study was designed to keep the 'calorie is a calorie' myth alive and well.
But what gets me is, why? Why keep such a ridiculous concept alive? I often ask people who believe in this idea the following question: If you were to take a bunch of identical twins and split them into two groups, one that eats only meat, eggs and fish and the other only Twinkies, Coke and cotton candy, all of the same caloric value, do you think that after one year their bodies would respond the same?
But a calorie is a calorie right?
The editorial written by Dr. M. Katan, is fraught with oversights and struggles to make sense of a nonsensical study.
Dr. Katan states:
However, after 12 months, subjects started to regain weight, which suggests that they were eating more than planned. Final weight losses averaged 3 to 4 kg after 2 years.
Or it suggests that adopting a diet that is too low in calories expedites lean tissue loss. And many studies have proven this to be true.
From the NEJM study:
Each participant's caloric prescription represented a deficit of 750 kcal per day from baseline, as calculated from the person's resting energy expenditure and activity level.
A reduction of 750 calories a day is huge. There is no question that if this reduction was achieved the participants would have lost metabolically active lean tissue. This loss would lower their metabolic rate and thus halt and reverse fat loss as time went on. Note that after 2 years, final weight lost was only 7-9 pounds. And I can guarantee you most of this loss was lean mass. This loss has a very insidious side to it.
For example, if a woman stays at her 25 year old wedding day weight of 130 pounds until she is 50, she is pleased with herself. However, should she be? The answer is no because, even though by eating like a hamster she maintained her body weight for the past 25 years, she had swapped ~20 pounds of muscle for fat. Though she weighs the same, she is far fatter than she was before. Somehow this physiological phenomenon scooted by our learned researchers.
In my next blog here at the Huffington Post, I'll be addressing more specifically why a calorie is not just a calorie, what a calorie actually is and try to put to rest the inanity of research papers such as this one.
Dr. Richard Feinman, chairman of the Metabolism Society will be aiding me in my efforts on this. I plan to provide you with some eye-opening information which will be sure to dazzle.
Stay tuned sports fans!