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Physicians evaluate low carb, Paleo and vegan diets for weight loss and diabetes

Experts argue about different diets, but all agree veggies like broccoli are healthy.
Experts argue about different diets, but all agree veggies like broccoli are healthy.
Photo by Jason Bahr

Chicago cardiologist Dr. Kim Williams believes that vegan diets are best for weight loss and health. He follows a plant-based plan and has become a vocal advocate for going meat-free. But now that he's taking on a leadership role as president of the American College of Cardiology, some detractors say he's taking it too far, reported the Sioux City Journal on Aug. 29.

"Doctors who recommend a vegan diet are experimenting on their patients," criticized Dr. Jack Wolfson, an Arizona cardiologist who believes that the Paleo diet is the best approach. He praises the Paleo principles of unprocessed foods and emphasis on protein and healthy fats, which have been shown to facilitate weight loss.

In contrast to the Paleo diet, which is gluten-free and sugar-free, plant-based plans allow dieters to eat more freely from different food groups. Critics say that this approach can actually lead to weight gain rather than weight loss. "You can eat white bread and Oreos, a bunch of Boca Burgers, and a gallon of sweetened soy milk and be 'vegan,'" wrote Dr. Ashwani Garg in response to an essay that Dr. Williams penned about his plant-based recommendations.

Paleo physician Dr. Wolfson is particularly concerned about the lack of animal protein in plant-based plans. "Everyone should be eating some amount of meat and/or seafood on a weekly basis," Wolfson said. "I'm talking about free-range, grass-fed, healthy animals," he added.

Recent studies show that low carb diets are best for weight loss and diabetes. A review of recent randomized clinical trials and observational studies of diabetes and nutrition showed that high carb, low-fat diets fail to improve health parameters, reported the News Medical on Aug. 29.

What's the problem with low-fat diets, which have been recommended for decades? People tend to substitute starchy carbs such as cereal, crackers and bread for fat.

"When people started eating less fat, they compensated by eating more refined carbohydrates, which stimulate insulin secretion and increase fat deposition. A major problem with the American diet is too much refined grains and added sugar, which are associated with the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes," said Osama Hamdy, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Director of Joslin's Obesity Clinical Program and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

In addition to low carb diets, diets that proved beneficial for weight loss and diabetes in studies included Mediterranean diets. Specific foods that reduce the risk of diabetes include yogurt and dairy products, green leafy vegetables, grapes, apples, blueberries and walnuts. Studies also showed that coffee reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.

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