How to Lose Weight on a Low-Fat, Low-Sugar, or Low-Dairy Diet

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Premise

Dr. Walter Willett, a well-known Harvard researcher, offers his own food guide, in pyramid form, that focuses on plant foods and de-emphasizes dairy. He even incorporates daily exercise and weight control into the pyramid. Willett falls somewhere between the pro-dairy and the anti-dairy camps. He's not totally against dairy products but doesn't believe there's a "calcium crisis," as many experts do. In fact, he says that drinking too much milk can actually make your body lose calcium because milk is high in protein, which causes the body to excrete calcium. He advocates getting calcium from other food sources and from supplements, if necessary. Other than that bit of controversy, Willett's diet offers up a healthy dose of good nutrition that's free of gimmicks and exaggerated promises. While the overall theme of the book is good nutrition, Willett calls weight control the number one nutritional factor for good health.

The Rationale

What's For Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?Though there is no strict diet plan per se, the book provides a week's worth of sample menus and about 50 recipes in keeping with Willett's pyramid. But you're pretty much on your own in devising your menus and tracking your calorie intake. A typical day's menu might include fresh-squeezed orange juice and multigrain hotcakes for breakfast; grilled chicken, salad, cantaloupe, and strawberries for lunch; and mushroom meat loaf, roasted vegetables, green salad, and a spiced poached pear for dinner. Some of the sample menus have made allowances for a snack, and one even lays out the day's intake over six small meals. Coffee is allowed but sugar is not. A few sweet treats such as orange juice sorbet and rum-glazed pineapple are allowed, but there is no allowance for an occasional indulgence in fudge ice cream or cheesecake.

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Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy is not a plan for rapid weight loss. It's a diet designed to help you change your eating habits for good and improve your health. However, if you follow Willett's guidelines and adjust your calorie intake for weight control, you should lose weight while reaping the health benefits he promises.

Now we'll consider a diet with an intriguing name: Eat More, Weigh Less. Find out the full details, and if the concept is possible, in the next section.

Eat More, Weigh Less Diet

Eat More, Weigh Less: The Premise

Dr. Dean Ornish is famous for his strict low-fat diet program that reduces heart disease risk and even reverses arterial damage. The findings from his now-famous "Lifestyle Heart Trial" research, which show that major lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis and heart disease, are so well accepted that participation in one of the lifestyle program's hospital sites is even covered by some health insurance companies. His program restricts fat intake to 10 percent or less of daily calories and prohibits animal products, oils, and sugar.

What's for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner? Eat More, Weigh Less provides more recipes than most diet books -- and with good reason. It's tough to buy and prepare foods with such a low fat content. In fact, more than half the book's pages are devoted to recipes. A typical day's menu might include Scrambled Mexican Tofu, salsa, whole-wheat toast, and orange juice for breakfast; Black Pepper Polenta with Bell Pepper Sauce and Shiitake Mushrooms, Italian Bean Salad, tossed green salad, and Melon Sorbet for lunch; Roasted Tomato Sandwiches, Anasazi Bean Soup with Corn and Chili, Oven-Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Herbs, green salad, fresh fruit, and Apples and Raspberries in Apple-Ginger Consommé for dinner. A table of some common foods and their nutrient content is also provided at the end of the book.

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Fact or Fiction: What the Experts Say

Most experts acknowledge Ornish's body of research showing the dramatic opening of clogged arteries experienced by most people following his program. However, the biggest problem most experts have with Ornish's diet is that it's just not realistic for most people. The real test of any diet program is how easy it is to stick with over the long haul. Regardless of how healthful a diet may be, it's useless if you can't stay on it. That lack of stick-to-it-ability may be the downfall of Ornish's plan for most people.

Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?

There's no doubt that if you're able to stick with it, Ornish's diet works. The question is whether you're willing to go that far with your dietary changes -- and maintain those changes. Though exercise is encouraged, especially walking, few specifics are provided about how to get started and keep going. And because the diet is so low in fat, you'll need to do some special food preparation every day if you want to avoid meal monotony. While the diet should help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, it could be low in some fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins D and E, if you don't supplement them. The same is true of calcium. While calcium-rich, fat-free dairy products are allowed on the diet, the sample menus provide only about one serving a day -- not enough to meet your calcium needs.

Now let's consider another widely known diet plan, the South Beach Diet. It's in the next section.

South Beach Diet

The South Beach Diet eliminates carbs for the first two weeks, then gradually reintroduces "good carbs."

South Beach Diet: The Premise

The South Beach Diet was developed by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist, out of frustration with his patients' lack of results when they followed high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets. His plan is neither low carb nor low fat. Instead, Agatston concentrates on teaching you how to eat the right carbs and the right fats to help you lose weight and reverse health problems associated with being overweight.

He blames highly processed carbohydrates for creating food cravings and says that learning to control the cravings will lead to weight loss. Considered by some to be a relaxed version of the Atkins diet, the South Beach Diet starts with a two-week phase that eliminates most carbohydrates. After this, the diet gradually reintroduces "good carbs," including fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains, and healthier unsaturated fats.

What's for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner? Agatston believes that hunger undermines weight-loss plans, so he doesn't require you to count calories, carbohydrate, protein, or fat. If you follow his eating plan, he says, your hunger will be under control. In the first two weeks of the plan, you cleanse your body by eliminating carbs altogether. There are no limits on allowed foods, but meals should be just enough to relieve your hunger. In Phase 2 you liberalize your carb intake gradually while watching your weight and how you feel. Preferred carbohydrates during this phase are those with a low glycemic-index score (a measure of the degree to which a certain food increases blood glucose levels), such as whole grains, some fruits, and plain yogurt). But you should not go overboard on the good carbs, either, because large portions of these foods can still increase your blood glucose and insulin levels. Once you reach your goal weight, you can move into Phase 3, the maintenance phase. At this point, any food is allowed, including desserts on occasion, but if you begin to gain weight, you are directed to go back to Phase 1 or 2 to get back on track. Two weeks of sample meal plans and dozens of recipes are provided for each phase of the diet. More recently, Agatston released The South Beach Diet Cookbook offering many more recipes and tips. At most supermarkets, you can find various packaged foods carrying the South Beach Diet name, including snacks, cereals, cookies, crackers, frozen entrees, wraps, and desserts. These are healthy and convenient options, but considerably more expensive than buying whole foods.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.South Beach Diet encourages high-fiber vegetables.

Fact or Fiction: What the Experts Say After the first phase, the diet is much more moderate than the Atkins diet. However, there are no limits on any of the allowed foods during Phase 2 and 3, which could be a concern. While Agatston instructs dieters to eat normal-size meals, this could be a problem for those who have problems interpreting their feelings of hunger and fullness. On the flip side, the plan does encourage snacking and desserts, which can help keep hunger at bay and reduce feelings of deprivation. Many experts contend that making food choices based on glycemic index is a limited way of looking at foods. Doing away with carbs such as carrots, potatoes, pasta, bananas, pineapple, and watermelon during the early phases of the diet simply because of their higher glycemic score ignores the fact that these foods contain essential nutrients.

Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?

Overall, the diet recommended in Phases 2 and 3 is fairly well-balanced and moderate. You can expect to have lower glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels, though more likely as a consequence of weight loss rather than the diet itself. Agatston recommends exercise but says it's not necessary to lose weight; rather, it's key for faster weight loss and for reducing insulin and glucose levels. The recommendation to go back to Phase 1 or 2 any time you start gaining weight could cause nutrient shortfalls if you stay on the restrictive Phase 1 diet too long. Since weight loss will slow during Phase 2 and pounds may creep back on during Phase 3, dieters may get frustrated and want to return to, or stay on, Phase 1. The online program allows you to better personalize the diet compared to the book alone, but plan to pay about $65 for 3 months of this service. With the online ability for personalization, The South Beach Diet has more potential for lasting and healthy results.

Now you've got "the skinny" on low-carb and glycemic-index diets. Consider whether one sounds right for you.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

SugarBusters! Diet

SugarBusters!: The Premise

This diet program, described most recently in The New SugarBusters! Cut Sugar to Trim Fat, has become a virtual classic among calorie counters. The message is straightforward and clear: Sugar makes you fat; only by avoiding it, as well as foods that cause blood sugar to rise, can you hope to lose weight and keep it off. The diet doesn't restrict your total carbohydrate intake, but it prohibits or severely restricts certain carbohydrate foods such as refined sugar, honey, white potatoes, white bread, beer, rice, pasta, and corn. SugarBusters! also includes a little bit of food-combining theory in the mix, recommending that you eat fruits by themselves. You don't need to count calories, weigh foods, or calculate grams of carbohydrates on this plan, but you are expected to balance the portions on your plate and "eyeball" your portion sizes. And no going back for seconds or thirds.

The Rationale

Gains and Losses/What's the Damage?If you set aside some unproven explanations as to why the diet works, SugarBusters! offers up a healthful diet plan that encourages dieters to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while avoiding junk foods and sweet desserts. However, physical activity takes a back seat in this diet. The suggestion to exercise for at least 20 minutes four days per week isconsiderably less than the amount of exercise recommended in current national guidelines. A change in diet combined with an increase in regular physical activity is the best formula for weight loss and weight-loss maintenance. Very little dairy is included in the SugarBusters! diet plan, so it's likely to be low in calcium and vitamin D. But a multivitamin plus a calcium supplement should be more than enough to make up the difference.

That's the wrap on low-fat, low-sugar, and low-dairy diets. If one seems right for you, get to it!

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