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Sensible Solution

You might be surprised to learn that the meat dish wins, hands down, according to new research.
In findings that could turn the food pyramid upside down, a new study says a diet that's moderately high in protein and low in carbohydrates helps you lose weight while maintaining muscle mass.
However, this is no endorsement of the famous Atkins Diet, which advocates cutting out virtually all carbohydrates, says study author Donald Layman, a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Instead, Layman suggests a less drastic shift -- laying off refined grain products such as bread, pasta, cereal and snack foods, while beefing up the intake of lean meat, poultry and dairy products. He calls his diet the "Sensible Solution."
Layman and his colleagues put 24 overweight women who were 45 to 56 years old on a diet of 1,700 calories a day.
One group followed the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid and ate a diet that was high in carbohydrates from bread, rice, pasta and cereal sources and low in protein from animal products including meat, poultry, eggs, cheese and milk.
The other group ate more protein and fewer carbs -- about 10 ounces of meat a day (much of it beef) and three servings of low-fat milk or cheese. One egg, or one cup or milk, equals one serving.
After 10 weeks, both sets of women lost about the same amount of weight, about 16 pounds. However, the women on the higher protein diet lost more fat and less muscle.
The women in the high-carb group lost about two pounds of muscle, while the women who ate more protein lost little or no muscle.
The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of Nutrition.
During the carbohydrate craze of the '80s and '90s, Americans were told that dietary fat was bad for your heart and caused weight gain, Layman says.
Animal products were believed to be a big source of fat in the diet, so people watching their weight decreased their consumption of meat and dairy products.
However, they didn't eat fewer calories overall, he says. Instead, they loaded up on carbohydrates from refined grain products, including pasta, rice, bread and snack foods.
Now, Layman says, Americans aren't getting enough protein in their diets from the right sources -- animal products.
"We became obsessed with fat in our diet, and we were told that animal products are high in fat," Layman says. "So we decreased our consumption of high-quality proteins and increased our consumption of refined grain products. But this hasn't resulted in a decrease in obesity. And it's pretty hard to make a case that our overall nutrition is better."

"This is why our research is so novel," he adds. "We are the first to come to the table with a discussion about protein. Everyone else is fixated on carbohydrates and fats."
The women in the high-protein diet consumed on average about 170 grams of carbohydrates per day, well within the accepted nutritional guidelines, says Althea Zanecosky, a Philadelphia-based spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

The Atkins diet, by comparison, recommends abound 30 grams of carbs per day, while the average American is eating about 300 grams per day, Layman says.

Layman attributes his results in part to leucine, an amino acid that previous research has shown regulates muscle. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products are rich in leucine, he says.

Furthermore, both sets of women showed a decrease of about 10 percent to 12 percent in the total blood cholesterol. However, only the high protein group saw a decrease in harmful triglycerides.

None of this should give you carte blanche to start stuffing yourself with high-fat pepperoni, sausage or fast-food burgers.

"I'm in no way saying fat is a freebie," Layman says. "The point is that the conventional wisdom that we get fat from protein sources is wrong."

Zanecosky says the nutrition experts are beginning to again emphasize the importance of lean meat and dairy products in a healthy diet.

"People have gotten afraid of animal products. We were fat phobic and carb crazy," she says. "But the pendulum is beginning to swing back."

Still, she says, the bottom line is limiting your calories by reducing portion size. Remember, she adds, all of the women in Layman's study were restricted to 1,700 calories a day.

"As long as your portion size is under control, the choice of foods is really up to you," she says

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Article © copyright Mikhail Levitin Institute | Graphics and Design © copyright Steven Monk