Joy Bauer

Low-fat, low-carb, or low-glycemic? Study shows which is best to keep weight off

June 29, 2012 at 8:44 AM ET

Cutting-edge research from Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that the type of diet you eat may affect your metabolism, a finding that has important implications for weight maintenance. Published in theJournal of the American Medical Association this week, the study looked at three popular diets (low-carb, low-glycemic, and low-fat) to see which combination of fat, carbs, and protein was the best for people trying to maintain a previous weight loss.

Kent Gilbert / AP file /
Low-glycemic carbs like beans, lentils, and non-starchy vegetables take a long time for the body to absorb and appear to be more effective at satisfying hunger.

Because decreases in metabolism can contribute to weight regain, the researchers aimed to see which eating plan worked best with the body’s internal mechanisms to rev up dieters’ calorie burn and help them keep the weight off.

The low-glycemic diet emerged as the top-performing plan, giving people a significant metabolic boost without causing undesirable side effects. Participants burned approximately 125 more calories per day while following the low-glycemic plan compared to when eating a low-fat diet. While the low-carb diet had an even better effect on metabolism than the low-glycemic plan, the low-carb diet also produced the highest levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and CRP (a marker of inflammation). These factors may raise the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

The low-glycemic diet offered a happy medium. It helped stabilize blood sugar and metabolism, and also had a beneficial impact on inflammation, stress hormones, and other heart-health markers.

A low-glycemic diet focuses on choosing the right types of carbohydrates that keep us feeling fuller for longer.  High-glycemic carbs like white bread, white rice, potatoes and sugary baked goods are digested quickly and cause a dramatic spike in blood sugar, leaving the body hungry and less satisfied.  On the other hand, lower-glycemic carbs like beans, lentils, and non-starchy vegetables take a long time for the body to absorb and appear to be more effective at satisfying hunger, leading you to eat less and potentially lose weight. A low-glycemic diet includes moderate amounts of fiber-rich beans, lentils, non-starchy vegetables, fruit and whole grains, as well as lean proteins (fish, skinless poultry, whole soy) and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, vegetables oils).

A typical breakfast for the participants adhering to the low-glycemic index diet consisted of a scrambled egg, whole grain cereal, 1% milk, grapefruit sections, and sunflower seeds.  A sample lunch includes a mixed salad with olive oil vinaigrette, chili with beans, orange slices and yogurt, while dinner might feature fish, green beans, a mixed salad and a small portion of pasta with olive oil. Snacks included fresh fruit and string cheese.

A low-glycemic diet is a smart, healthy, manageable way to lose weight and keep it off for the long-term. If you’re looking to give this plan a try, be sure to take advantage of this handy low-glycemic shopping list created by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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