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Go Against Grains For Better Diet
More protein, fewer carbohydrates help fight fat, study says

By Fran Berger, HealthScout Reporter

MONDAY, April 9 (HealthScout) —  If you're constantly watching your weight and you still get hunger pangs that make you grab snacks, a high-protein diet could help, say researchers.

A new study, presented this week during the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Orlando, Fla., says carbohydrates are the culprits that increase blood sugar and trigger that hungry feeling.

Finding the right balance of food groups has always been a challenge, says Donald Layman, professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois and lead author. But he takes exception to the current federal dietary guidelines.

Those guidelines recommend a diet made of 60 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 10 percent protein.

"I think one of the problems is people haven't figured out the questions," he says. "The real question is what protein is needed for people who are overeating calories."

The better balance, he says, for losing or maintaining weight is a diet made up of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 30 percent protein.

Layman's research team studied 24 overweight women, ages 45 to 56. Half followed the federal recommendations. The others ate the same foods and calorie levels, but in different amounts, adding protein and subtracting carbohydrates.

After 10 weeks, both groups lost about 16 pounds on the 1,700 calorie-a-day diets. But the high-protein group lost 12.3 pounds of body fat and just 1.7 pounds of muscle mass, compared to 10.4 pounds of body fat and 3 pounds of muscle mass lost by the other group.

The high-protein diet also tended to increase the level of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and decreased the level of triglycerides, or fat in the blood. A higher measure of a thyroid hormone in the protein group also suggests a higher metabolism rate, Layman says, so calories might burn off faster.

The high-protein group reported they had more energy and felt more satisfied between meals, Layman says, and that's the key.

"Carbohydrates translate into sugar," he explains. "A high-carbohydrate diet includes a lot of refined carbs. It's not built on vegetables, not built on fruits, but on refined grains, breads, rices and fruit juices."

All these carbohydrates produce high insulin responses, as the body tries to control the level of blood sugar. A few hours later, when blood sugar falls, the feelings of hunger return.

With protein, Layman says, blood sugar levels don't rise as much, and "it creates a longer feeling of satiety." The longer one feels satisfied, the less they are inclined to grab that snack to tide them over to the next meal.

Keeping those insulin levels under control has even greater implications, Layman adds: "I also believe the high-carbohydrate diet is leading to high insulin levels, and perhaps to the insulin resistance associated with obesity. It's leading to overeating."

But Nadine Pazder, a registered dietitian at Morton Plant Hospital in Florida and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says there's no reason to abandon the government's food pyramid as a guide to healthy eating.

"While Layman's 40/30/30 ratio is certainly not a carbohydrate-free diet, you can certainly get many of the dietary recommendations in. You can still get fruits, vegetables, grains," she says. And she doesn't think the differences in loss of muscle mass are statistically significant.

However, making sure there's some protein at each meal, she agrees, may be "more satisfying and encourage long-term compliance with a meal plan."

Layman says he's not recommending any drastic dietary changes, but says you should concentrate on your breakfast and lunch, and be careful about the amount of carbohydrates in each meal.

"We have to look for ways to eat higher protein meals -- dairy, cheese, nuts -- be conscious about total fats, eat lean deli meat," he says. "Two percent milk is actually a very good addition. It has the right balance for high degree of satiety."

Striking a balance, Layman says, is a very individualized thing.

"If we are stuck on a diet that's meant for all, we're going to fail," he says. "There are a lot of ways to get the right amount of calories, and we have to recognize how to adjust for individual metabolisms."

Pazder agrees.

"One of the philosophies of the American Dietetic Association is one diet doesn't fit everybody. It may very well be that higher (above 50 percent) carbs may be detrimental for some individuals, if they're carbohydrate sensitive in terms of triglycerides. But carbohydrates do not cause glucose intolerance and weight gain."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Kraft Inc supported Layman's study.