If you think that obesity is a problem only in the United States, a new study in the medical journal Lancet shows a different picture. Researchers determined that the percentages of overweight and obese individuals have soared around the world, releasing their data in the Lancet on Thursday.
"Obesity has become a major global health challenge," concluded the researchers. They expressed concern that in addition to the skyrocketing rates of obesity, "no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years."
Issuing a call for " urgent global action and leadership" to reverse the obesity crisis, the researchers revealed that the problem "has also increased in children and adolescents in developing countries. But for many, the appropriate intervention in terms of revised nutritional protocol is unclear.
A recent study, for example, argues in favor of the Eco-Atkins approach. It's a high fat low carb ketogenic diet that's plant-based. Researchers reported that it promotes weight loss and health parameters such as cholesterol levels, reported the Tech Times on Friday.
"We designed a diet that combined both vegan and low-carb elements to get the weight loss and cholesterol-lowering benefits of both," said director of Clinical Nutrition and Risk Modification Center and professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto Dr. David Jenkins. He extrapolated that similar results could be provided in "real world" conditions.
The term Eco-Atkins comes from the concept that a plant-based diet is healthiest for the environment. The Atkins diet, recently revised in "The New Atkins Made Easy: A Faster, Simpler Way to Shed Weight and Feel Great -- Starting Today," is widely perceived to require dieters to consume large amounts of animal protein and animal fat.
In reality, however, Atkins nutrition director Colette Heimowitz told me in an exclusive interview, the ketogenic weight loss plan specifically includes options for vegetarians and vegans. The protein element of the diet comes from soy and beans, while the fats are derived from plant-based sources such as avocado and nuts.
Colette is the author of "The New Atkins for a New You Cookbook: 200 Simple and Delicious Low-Carb Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less." Included is a chapter devoted to vegetarian recipes to support the Eco-Atkins aspect of the high fat low carb ketogenic plan.
But some argue that animal protein and animal fats are our friends when it comes to weight loss. Among them, science journalist Nina Teicholz. She explained why she feels that high fat low carb diets work best for weight loss and health in a Friday interview with the New York Daily News.
"There's been a large number of clinical trials that show a high-carb diet, especially high in sugars, leads to diabetes, obesity and heart disease," says Teicholz, author of "The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet." She says that she lost "the 10 stubborn pounds I had been trying to lose" only when she replaced her low-fat vegetarian diet with a high fat low carb diet that included animal protein and fats like butter.
Libby Mills, a registered dietitian nutritionist and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, contends that Teicholz's account of losing weight and improving her health with a low carb high fat diet is "a nice story, but it's not very well supported." Instead, Mills advocates eating a whole foods diet with fruits, vegetables and unprocessed carbohydrates such as lentils.
In an exclusive interview on Friday, Ivy League chemist and eating disorder counselor Stefani Ruper, author of "Sexy by Nature: The Whole Foods Solution to Radiant Health, Life-Long Sex Appeal, and Soaring Confidence," told me that she also feels the emphasis should be on eating high quality, unprocessed foods. She argues against the concept that counting carbs or restricting fat is the answer.
"You do not need to be low fat or low carb to be healthy," Stefani told me. "You only need to eat high quality choices from either category. When you stick to natural, healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocadoes, eggs, and butter, and when you stick to the natural, healthy carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, then you will be healthy."
Mills agrees. "We can observe today, at different areas of the world, people live longer, have lower incidents of cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer by focusing on these whole foods," she declared.
By eating less refined sugar and more whole foods, people can "meet their nutritional needs, get omega 3-good fats and extra fiber," said Mills. And, she emphasizes, "that doesn't leave a lot of extra room for saturated fat."
But Teicholz disagrees. "The last decade of really good clinical trials show that a higher fat diet is healthier and better for weight loss,' she claimed.
However, Stefani told me that she feels "a healthy diet and a healthy relationship with food naturally leads to a healthy body size." By choosing natural, unprocessed whole foods, you can "accept the skin you're in while simultaneously working gently to become healthier and more slim."
What all three diet experts do advise eliminating: Sugar. Eliminating sweetened drinks and desserts "are crucial first steps. You'll see results immediately," says Stefani.
And Stefani agrees with Teicholz when it comes to the benefits of butter. "Butter is awesome," she summarizes. "Some pretty definitive studies recently have shown that saturated fats are not significantly correlated with heart disease."
One reason why low fat diets don't work for some people is that they "often end up adding unhealthy carbohydrates (like bread or pasta) to their diets as a substitute," explains Stefani. As a result, they "find themselves in worse health than they were in before."
She also recommends avoiding fat-free products. "Fat-free substitutes are usually just watered down versions of certain foods with lots of sugar and additives added - which is really a horrible move for your health. Steer clear of fat-free and even low-calorie substitutes."
Teicholz goes one step further in advocating the whole hog when it comes to fats. "People do not need to feel guilty about or restrict themselves when it comes to eating cheese, whole fat dairy and red meat," she said. "The science supports a higher-fat diet."
But Mills feels the evidence for following that advice doesn't exist. She references a meta-analysis of low carb diet studies and says it doesn't provide enough data to advocate slashing carbs and boosting fats dramatically.
"Just because something doesn't necessarily harm us, does that mean we should go carte blanche on it? I would say no," Mills said.