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From Paleo to vegan to low-carb diet: New study compares weight loss plans

What works for weight loss? A new study answers that question.
What works for weight loss? A new study answers that question.Creative Commons

When it comes to dieting, the magnificent Miss Piggy ("Moi?") wins for the ultimate pearls of weight loss wisdom. Her advice: "Never eat more than you can lift." But unless you're a pig (literally), that advice doesn't offer much help for choosing which diet is right for you. Now a new study is helping by comparing diets ranging from Paleo to plant-based, reported New York magazine on March 25. And the winner? We've got the skinny here.

The new nutritional comparison of the most popular diets was conducted by Dr. David Katz and Stephanie Meller, both from Yale University's Prevention Research Center. They devoted time to detailed analyses of low-carb, low-fat, low-glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic and vegan diets.

Author of "The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today," Dr. Katz concluded that eating real food in its natural state more than following one specific diet works best for health and weight loss. He also lauded the benefits of a semi-vegan diet, i.e. mostly plant-based.

"A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention," they emphasized.

But Dr. Katz, who also authored "The Way to Eat: A Six-Step Path to Lifelong Weight Control," wants to make it clear he's not prejudiced in favor of specific diet plans, telling the Atlantic magazine: "I don’t care which diet is best. I care about the truth."

Despite that note, Katz and Meller were particularly harsh in analyzing Paleo diets:

If Paleolithic eating is loosely interpreted to mean a diet based mostly on meat, no meaningful interpretation of health effects is possible. They note that the composition of most meat in today's food supply is not similar to that of mammoth meat, and that most plants available during the Stone Age are today extinct.

Ironically, a new book counteracts that comment by providing a plant-based interpretation of the traditional meat-heavy Paleo diet: "Paleo Vegan: Plant-Based Primal Recipes" (click for details).

However, Dr. Katz emphasizes that weight loss via a healthy diet need not be complicated.

"If you eat food direct from nature, you don’t even need to think about this. You don't have to worry about trans fat or saturated fat or salt—most of our salt comes from processed food, not the salt shaker. If you focus on real food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves."

As an example, the new study compared carbohydrate-selective diets to low-carbohydrate diets. They found that paying attention to glycemic load and emphasizing whole grains is linked to reduced risk for cancer and weight loss.

But the bottom line conclusion from Katz and Meller: Eat real food, not processed, emphasizing plant-based - just as Michael Pollan concluded when he wrote about what he termed the "American Paradox" in his book "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," in which he summed up his advice:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The analysis also supports the premise of the VB6 plan, which advocates following a plant-based diet most of the day and then eating a regular dinner, as detailed in the book "VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good" (click for details).