Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Mendacious medics and devious doctors.

This week I was told by a friend that I’m wasting my time eating a low-carb diet as “It’s been proven beyond any doubt that it’s calories that count.” When I asked for his source he pointed me to Volume 360:859-873 of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Here I found an impressive line-up of six MDs, eight PhDs, two MAs, and a BA who have published results of a two-year study involving 881 people. The Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies (otherwise known as POUNDS LOST) tested diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in dietary fibre.

Its stated aim was to “compare the effects of three principal dietary macronutrients”. and in order to do so the authors state that the diets were low or high in fat, average or high in protein, or low or high in carbohydrates”.

Their conclusion?

“Reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize”.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what diet you follow, you will lose weight if you reduce your calories, and that was the message picked up by my friend.

However, the devil, as they say, is in the detail.

The study’s press release gives an indication of the extremely poor results:

“On average, participants lost 13 pounds at six months and maintained a 9 pound loss at two years.”

In our (admittedly very small and informal) group of forum members, those who had followed a low-carbohydrate diet for up to six months had lost an average of 31.5 lb, with the highest loss of 56 lb. Those who had been following it for one year had lost an average of 38 and 58 lb respectively. After eighteen months, it was 59 and 84 lb respectively.

Naturally I was especially interested in this study’s take on a low-carbohydrate diet, having reviewed the RISCK study. Once again I was disappointed to find that a group of so-called experts had embarked on a major study with no attempt to discover the truth about low-carb diets, despite that being a stated aim.

Incredibly, the sample 2000 calorie menu provides a massive 157g net of carbohydrates. That is eight times more than advised for weight loss and four times more than required for maintenance following weight loss.

Of the nineteen food items on the sample menu, ten – more than half – are unsuitable for a low-carb diet.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, as the lead researcher, Dr Frank Sacks, has long been a vocal opponent of the Atkins diet; obviously America's answer to Britain's Dr Susan Jebb.


  1. Thanks for linking to National Death Service, in case we haven't said that already.

  2. Ah I see my friend Mark has been round, I have lost more weight lo carbing, Remember some of these doctors are paid by the diet companies and some are actually employed by them.

    They wouldnt dare publish stuff that their company could use against them

  3. Yeah, I know, it's hilarious, the science of weight loss. I've accepted long ago that if I eat over 1500 kcals a day, I'll start gaining weight like a healthy baby. Not very healthy, since I'm almost 25.
    And if those 1500 kcals are mainly fat or mainly carbs, they're bound to stay on me too.
    I think the reason why scientist can't come up with a sound general statement about diets, is that different diets work for differently for people who grew up differently.


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