Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet


New England Journal of Medicine


Iris Shai, Dan Schwarzfuchs, Yaakov Henkin, Danit R. Shahar, Shula Witkow, Ilana Greenberg, Rachel Golan, Drora Fraser, Arkady Bolotin, Hilel Vardi, OsnatTangi-Rozental, Rachel Zuk-Ramot, Benjamin Sarusi, Dov Brickner, Ziva Schwartz, Einat Sheiner, Rachel


Trials comparing the effectiveness and safety of weight-loss diets are frequently limited by short follow-up times and high dropout rates.

In this 2-year trial, we randomly assigned 322 moderately obese subjects (mean age, 52 years; mean body-mass index [the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters], 31; male sex, 86%) to one of three diets: low-fat, restricted-calorie; Mediterranean, restricted-calorie; or low-carbohydrate, non–restricted-calorie.

The rate of adherence to a study diet was 95.4% at 1 year and 84.6% at 2 years. The Mediterranean-diet group consumed the largest amounts of dietary fiber and had the highest ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat (P less than 0.05 for all comparisons among treatment groups). The low-carbohydrate group consumed the smallest amount of carbohydrates and the largest amounts of fat, protein, and cholesterol and had the highest percentage of participants with detectable urinary ketones (P less than 0.05 for all comparisons among treatment groups). The mean weight loss was 2.9 kg for the low-fat group, 4.4 kg for the Mediterranean-diet group, and 4.7 kg for the low-carbohydrate group (P less than 0.001 for the interaction between diet group and time); among the 272 participants who com- pleted the intervention, the mean weight losses were 3.3 kg, 4.6 kg, and 5.5 kg, respectively. The relative reduction in the ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol was 20% in the low-carbohydrate group and 12% in the low-fat group (P=0.01). Among the 36 subjects with diabetes, changes in fasting plasma glucose and insulin levels were more favorable among those assigned to the Mediterranean diet than among those assigned to the low-fat diet (P less than 0.001 for the interaction among diabetes and Mediterranean diet and time with respect to fasting glucose levels).

Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets may be effective alternatives to low-fat diets. The more favorable effects on lipids (with the low-carbohydrate diet) and on glycemic control (with the Mediterranean diet) suggest that personal preferences and metabolic considerations might inform individualized tailoring of dietary interventions. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00160108.)


July 17, 2008

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