Obesity, prevalent in 35.7 percent of adults in the United States, is a major health hazard because it increases risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although weight loss may help reduce risk of these chronic diseases, anyone who has tried to lose weight knows it is an uphill battle that gets harder when lost weight is regained.
However, there is encouraging news from the world of science for those on the weight loss journey. Investigators of a recent study found that 89 obese subjects who followed three variations of the Mediterranean diet, repeated twice over a 12-month period, not only lost weight, but were successful in keeping it off.
In the first 20 days of the study, the subjects were on a ketogenic, or very low carbohydrate version, of the Mediterranean diet that provided only 30 grams of carbohydrates, and 976 calories, most of which came from proteins and fat.
During this weight loss phase, the diet excluded bread, rice, pasta, yogurt, milk, alcohol, tea, and coffee; but included unlimited consumption of beef, veal, fish, cold cuts, poultry, cooked and raw green vegetables, eggs, cheese, tea, coffee, and special protein and fiber meals.
To counter the effects of such a low carbohydrate intake, the subjects also consumed an herbal extract that prevented the feeling of weakness and tiredness, helped improve glycemic control and increased secretion of bile.
In the second phase of the study, which also lasted 20 days, the subjects followed a low carbohydrate version of the Mediterranean diet that provided 91 grams of carbohydrates and an average of 1,111 calories. At the end of these two phases, the subjects lost an average of about 10 kilograms.
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For the next four months, the subjects were on a normal Mediterranean diet, which provided 261 grams of carbohydrates and 1,800 calories. During this third, or maintenance, phase of the study, subjects included all foods that make up the Mediterranean diet: whole grain bread, pasta, whole wheat, rice, potatoes, eggs, poultry, fish, meat, vegetables, legumes, fruits, olive oil, whole milk and wine.
After completion of four months on the Mediterranean diet, the subjects went through the three phases of the study once again – 20 days on the very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet; 20 days on the low carbohydrate diet; and six months on the normal Mediterranean diet.
The researchers reported that at the end of the last six months of the study, the average weight of the subjects was about 84 kilograms, down by 16 kilograms from their original starting average of 100 kilograms. There was also a significant decrease in the percent body fat of the subjects at the end of the study.
Most of the weight and fat loss in the subjects occurred during the time on the very low and low carbohydrate versions of the Mediterranean diet. The good news was that most subjects did not regain the weight lost during the weight loss phases while on the normal Mediterranean diet.
An additional benefit of the study was a decrease in blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose at the end of 12-month period.
The promising results of this study provide hope to the 56 percent Americans trying to lose weight, and the additional 27 percent who are trying to maintain weight, according to numbers reported by the International Food Information Council Foundation in 2013.
However, the authors of the study conclude that high compliance to the diet plan by 88 percent of their subjects was responsible for the success of this study. The subjects who failed to follow the recommended diet and reverted back to their old dietary habits, regained their lost weight. Therefore, to attain and maintain long-term weight loss using this treatment pattern requires a commitment to adopting the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle change.