Category Archives: Overweight & Obesity

Mediterranean Diet Helps With Maintenance of Weight Loss After Ketogenic Diet

Italian seaside tangentially related to this post

Italian seaside tangentially related to this post

Investigators affiliated with universities in Italy and Greece wondered about the effect on obesity of two ketogenic “Mediterranean” diet spells interspersed with a traditional Mediterranean diet over the course of one year. They found significant weight loss, and perhaps more importantly, no regain of lost weight over the year, on average.

This scientific study is right up my alley. I was excited when I found it. Less excited after I read it.

The Set-Up

This was a retrospective review of medical records of patients of a private nutritional service in three fitness and weight control centers in Italy between 2006 and 2010. It’s unclear whether patients were paying for fitness/weight loss services. 327 patient records were examined. Of these, 89 obese participants met the inclusion and exclusion criteria and started the program; 68 completed it and were the ones analyzed. (That’s not at all a bad drop-out rate for a year-long study.)  The completers were 59 males and 12 females (I know, the numbers don’t add up, but that’s what they reported). Ages were between 25 and 65. Average weight was 101 kg (222 lb), average BMI 35.8, average age 49. All were Caucasian. No diabetics.

Here’s the program:

  1. 20 days of a very-low-carb ketogenic diet, then
  2. 20 days of a low-carbohydrate non-ketogenic diet for stabilization, then
  3. 4 months of a normal caloric Mediterranean diet, then
  4. repeat #1 and #2, then
  5. 6 months of a normal caloric Mediterranean diet

In the ketogenic phases, which the authors referred to as KEMEPHY, participants followed a commercially available protocol called TISANOREICA. KEMEPHY is combination of four herbal extracts that is ill-defined (at least in this article), with the idea of ameliorating weakness and tiredness during ketosis. The investigators called this a ketogenic Mediterranean diet, although I saw little “Mediterranean” about it. They ate “beef & veal, poultry, fish, raw and cooked green vegetables without restriction, cold cuts (dried beef, carpaccio and cured ham), eggs and seasoned cheese (e.g., parmesan).” Coffee and tea were allowed. Items to avoid included alcohol, bread, pasta, rice, milk, and yogurt. “In addition to facilitate the adhesion to the nutritional regime, each subject was given a variety of specialty meals constituted principally of protein and fibers. “These meals (TISANOREICA) that are composed of a protein blend obtained from soya, peas, oats (equivalent to 18 g/portion) and virtually zero carbohydrate (but that mimic their taste) were included in the standard ration.” They took a multivitamin every morning. Prescribed carbohydrate was about 30 grams a day, with macronutrient distribution of 12% carb, 36 or 41% protein, and 51 0r 52% fat. It appears that prescribed daily calories averaged 976 (but how can that be prescribed when some food items are “unrestricted”?).

I found little explanation of period #2 mentioned above, the low-carb non-ketogenic diet. Prescribed macronutrients were 25 or 33% carb, 27 0r 31% protein, 41 or 44% fat, and about 91 g carbohydrate. Prescribed daily calories appear to have averaged 1111.

After the first and second active weight loss ketogenic phases, participants ate what sounds like a traditional Mediterranean diet. Average prescribed macronutrient distribution was 57% carbohydrate, 15 % protein, and 27% fat. Wine was allowed. It looks like 1800 calories a day were recommended.

Food consumption was measured via analysis of 3-day diaries, but you have to guess how often that was done because the authors don’t say. The results of the diary analyses are not reported.

What Did They Find?

Most of the weight loss occurred during the two ketogenic phases. Average weight loss in the first ketogenic period was 7.4 kg (16 lb), and another 5.2 kg (11 lb) in the second ketogenic period. Overall average weight loss for the entire year was 16.1 kg (35 lb).

Average systolic blood pressure over the year dropped a statistically significant 8 units over the year, from 125 to 116 mmHg.

Over the 12 months, they found stable and statistically significant drops in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), triglycerides, and blood sugar levels. No change in HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”).

Liver and kidney function tests didn’t change.

The authors didn’t give explanations for the drop-outs.

Although the group on average didn’t regain lost weight, eight participants regained most of it. The investigators write that “…the post dietary analysis showed that they were not compliant with nutritional guidelines given for the Mediterranean diet period. These subjects returned tho their previous nutrition habits (“junk” food, high glycaemic index, etc.) with a mean “real” daily intake of 2470 Kcal rather than the prescribed 1800 Kcal.”

Comments

A key take-home point for me is that the traditional Mediterranean diet prevented the weight regain that we see with many, if not most, successful diets.

However, most formulas for calculating steady state caloric requirements would suggest these guys would burn more than the 1800 daily calories recommended to them during the “normal calorie” months. How hard did the dieters work to keep calories around 1800? We can only speculate.

Although the researchers describe the long periods of traditional Mediterranean diet as “normal caloric,” they don’t say how that calorie level was determined  and achieved in the real world. Trust me, you can get fat eating the Mediterranean diet if you eat too much.

I’ll be the first to admit a variety of weight loss diets work, at least short-term. The problem is that people go back to their old ways of eating regain much of the lost weight, typically starting six months after starting the program. It was smart for the investigators to place that second ketogenic phase just before the typical regain would have started!

There are so few women in this study that it would be impossible to generalize results to women. Why so few? Furthermore, weight loss and other results weren’t broken down for each sex.

I suspect the results of this study will be used for marketing KEMEPHY and TISANOREICA. For all I know, that’s why the study was done. We’re trusting the investigators to have done a fair job choosing which patient charts to analyze retrospectively. They could have cherry-picked only the good ones. Some of the funding was from universities, some was from Gianluca Mech SpA (what’s that?).

How much of the success of this protocol is due to the herbal extracts and TISANOREICA, I have no idea.

The authors made no mention of the fact the average fasting glucose at baseline was 103 mg/dl (5.7 mmol/l). That’s elevated into the prediabetic range. So probably half of these folks had prediabetes. After the one-year program, average fasting glucose was normal at 95 mg/dl (5.3 mmol/l).

The improved lipids, blood sugars, and lower blood pressure may have simply reflected successful weight loss and therefore could have been achieved  by a variety of diets.

The authors attribute their success to the weight-losing metabolic effects of the ketogenic diet (particularly the relatively high protein content), combined with the traditional Mediterranean diet preventing weight regain.

The authors write:

The Mediterranean diet is associated with a longer life span, lower rates of coronary heart disease, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. But it is difficult to isolate the “healthy” constituents of the Mediterranean diet, since it is not a single entity and varies between regions and countries. All things considered there is no “one size fits all” dietary recommendation and for this reason we have tried to merge the benefits of these two approaches: the long term “all-life” Mediterranean diet coupled with brief periods of a metabolism enhancing ketogenic diet.

I’ve attempted a similar merger with my Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet. Click here for an outline. Another stab at it was the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet. And here’s my version of a Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Paoli, Antonio, et al. Long Term Successful Weight Loss with a Combination Biphasic Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet and Mediterranean Diet Maintenance Protocol. Nutrients, 5 (2013): 5205-5217. doi: 10.3390/nu5125205

Is Pollution Causing Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity?

It sounds like Jerome Ruzzin is convinced it does. I put some thought into it last August and was skeptical—still am, but I’m keeping an open mind. Mr. Ruzzin has a review article published in 2012 at BMC Public Health (“Public health concern behind the exposure to persistent organic pollutants and the risk of metabolic diseases”). Here’s his summary:

The global prevalence of metabolic diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes, and its colossal economic and social costs represent a major public health issue for our societies. There is now solid evidence demonstrating the contribution of POPs [persistent organic pollutants], at environmental levels, to metabolic disorders. Thus, human exposure to POPs might have, for decades, been sufficient and enough to participate to the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Based on recent studies, the fundaments of current risk assessment of POPs, like “concept of additive effects” or “dioxins and dl-PCBs induced similar biological effects through AhR”, appear unlikely to predict the risk of metabolic diseases. Furthermore, POP regulation in food products should be harmonized and re-evaluated to better protect consumers. Neglecting the novel and emerging knowledge about the link between POPs and metabolic diseases will have significant health impacts for the general population and the next generations.

Read the whole enchilada.

Salmon is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, but are they dangerously polluted?

Salmon are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, but are they dangerously polluted?

The cold-water fatty fish I so often recommend to my patients could be hurting them. They are major reservoirs of food-based POPs.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Kris Gunnars Shows Major U.S. Diet Changes Over Last Century

Alleged medical student Kris Gunnars has an article at Business Insider, of all places, that shows graphically many of the major U.S. dietary changes of the last hundred years or so. In this case, transmogrification may be a better term than mere  “changes.” I suspect much of the Western world has evolved in similar fashion.

You need to read the article and ponder the graphs if you question why we have so much obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and perhaps cancer. You’ll see dramatic increases in consumption of added sugars, industrial seed oils (esp. soybean), soda pop and fruit juice (added sugar!), total calories, and fast food. You’ll see how much we’ve increased dining away from home. Butter consumption is down drastically, but doesn’t seem to have done us much good, if any.

Sugar cane

Sugar cane

 

There’s fairly good evidence that coronary artery disease (CAD; the cause of most heart attacks) was very prominent between 1960 to 2000 or so, but it’s been tapering off in recent years and didn’t seem to be very common 100 years ago. Understand that you can have it for 20 years or more before you ever have symptoms (angina) or a heart attack from it. In fact, the disease probably starts in childhood. I’ve always wondered about the cause of the CAD prevalence trends, and wondered specifically how much of the long-term trend was related to trans-fat consumption. But I’ve never been able to find good data on trans-fat consumption. Kris came up with a chart of margarine consumption, which may be a good proxy for trans-fats. Another of his charts includes shortening, a rich source of trans-fats and probably also a good proxy. Shortening consumption increased dramatically from 1955 until dropping like a rock around 2000.

The timeline curves for trans-fat consumption (by proxy) and prevalence of coronary heart disease seem to match up fairly well, considering a 20 year lag. In the early 1990s, we started cutting back on trans-fats, and here we are now with lower mortality and morbidity from coronary artery disease. (CAD is very complex; lower rates of smoking surely explain some of the recent trend.)

Read the whole enchilada. Very impressive. Highly recommended.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Has Eating-Out Contributed to Overweight and Obesity?

So easy to over-eat!

So easy to over-eat!

The U.S. trend of increasing overweight and obesity started about 1970. I wonder if eating away from home is related to the trend. I found a USDA report with pertinent data from 1977 to 1995. It also has interesting info on snacking and total calories consumed. Some quotes:

“We define home and away-from-home foods based on where the foods are obtained, not where they are eaten. Food at home consists of foods purchased at a retail store, such as a grocery store, a convenience store, or a supermarket. Food away from home consists of foods obtained at various places other than retail stores (mainly food-service establishments).”

***

“Over the past two decades, the number of meals consumed has remained fairly stable at 2.6 to 2.7 per day. However, snacking has increased, from less than once a day in 1987-88 to 1.6 times per day in 1995. The increased popularity in dining out is evident as the proportion of meals away from home increased from 16 percent in 1977-78 to 29 percent in 1995, and the proportion of snacks away from home rose from 17 percent in 1977-78 to 22 percent in 1995. Overall, eating occasions (meals and snacks) away from home increased by more than two-thirds over the past two decades, from 16 percent of all eating occasions in 1977-78 to 27 percent in 1995.”

***

“Average caloric intake declined from 1,876 calories per person per day in 1977-78 to 1,807 calories per person per day in 1987-88, then rose steadily to 2,043 calories per person per day in 1995.”

***

“These numbers suggest that, when eating out, people either eat more or eat higher-calorie foods or both.”

Parker here. I’m well aware that these data points don’t prove that increased eating-out, increased snacking,  and increased total calorie consumption have caused our overweight and obesity problem. But they sure make you wonder, don’t they? None of these factors was on a recent list of potential causes of obesity.

If accurate, the increased calories alone could be the cause. Fast-food and other restaurants do all they possibly can to satisfy your cravings and earn your repeat business.

If you struggle with overweight, why not cut down on snacking and eating meals away from home?

Steve Parker, M.D.

Update January 23, 2013:

Here’s a pie chart I found with more current and detailed information from the U.S. government (h/t Yoni Freedhoff):

feb13_feature_guthrie_fig03

Low-Carb Diets Poised for Resurgence?

I’ve been predicting major renewed interest in l0w-carb weight loss diets for the  last three or four years. Perhaps it’s starting. Evidence? Two recent online articles noting increased sales at Atkins Nutritionals. Here’s one at NPR and one at TakePart. The search terms “low-carb diet” didn’t reveal any blip at Google Trends, however.

My Advanced Mediterranean Diet (2nd edition) offers a low-carb option that’s worked well for many, along with a traditional portion-control program.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Dr. Oz Discovers the Cure for Overweight….Again

Dr. Harriet Hall writes about it:

Dr. Oz has promoted a series of weight loss supplements on his show.  Raspberry ketones were presented as a fat-busting miracle, thengreen coffee bean extract was touted as “magic,” “staggering,” and “unprecedented.”  And now both of those miracles have apparently been superseded by an even greater miracle: Garcinia cambogia extract.

Dr. Oz calls it “The newest, fastest fat buster.” A way to lose weight without “spending every waking moment exercising and dieting.” “Triples your weight loss.”  “The most exciting breakthrough in natural weight loss to date.”  “The Holy Grail.” Oz claims that “Revolutionary new research says it could be the magic ingredient that lets you lose weight without diet or exercise.”

But does it work? Click for details at Science-Based Medicine.

Ketogenic Diet Overview

We’re starting to see a resurgence of interest in ketogenic diets for weight loss and management, at least in the United States. Also called “very-low-carb diets,” ketogenic diets have been around for over a hundred years. A few writers in the vanguard recently are Jimmy Moore, Dr. Peter Attia, and Dr. Georgia Ede. Before them, Dr. Robert Atkins was a modern pioneer with his famous Atkins Diet and its Induction Phase.

What is a Ketogenic Diet?

There are many different programs but they tend to share certain characteristics. They restrict digestible carbohydrate consumption to 50 or fewer grams a day, sometimes under 20 grams. This totally eliminates or drastically reduces some foods, such as grains, beans, starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes, peas, etc), milk, and sugar. Nor can you have products made from these, such as bread, cookies, pies, cakes, potato and corn chips, and candy. You eat meat, eggs, fish, chicken, certain cheeses, nuts, low-carb vegetables (e.g., salad greens, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower), and oils. Total calorie consumption is not restricted; you count carb grams rather than calories. This is a radical change in eating for most people.

You’re may be wondering what “ketogenic” means. First, understand that your body gets nearly all its energy either from fats, or from carbohydrates like glucose and glycogen. In people eating normally, 60% of their energy at rest comes from fats. In a ketogenic diet, the carbohydrate content of the diet is so low that the body has to break down even more of its fat to supply energy needed by most tissues. Fat breakdown generates ketone bodies in the bloodstream. Hence, “ketogenic diet.” Some of the recent writers are using the phrase “nutritional ketosis” to summarize this metabolic state.

Ketogenic Versus Traditional Calorie-Restricted Dieting

Are there advantages to ketogenic diets for weight loss and management? Numerous recent studies have demonstrated superior weight-loss results with very-low-carb diets as compared to traditional calorie-restricted diets. Weight loss is often faster and more consistently in the range of one or two pounds (0.5 to 0.9 kg) a week. Very-low-carb dieters have less trouble with hunger. If you do get hungry, there’s always something you can eat. From a practical, day-to-day viewpoint, these diets can be easier to follow, with a bit less regimentation than calorie-restricted plans.

Ketogenic diets typically lower blood sugar levels, which is important for anyone with diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome. We see higher levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind), lower triglyceride levels, and a shift in LDL cholesterol to the “large fluffy” kind, all of which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Getting even further into the science weeds, very-low-carb diets reduce insulin levels in people who often have elevated levels (hyperinsulinemia), which may help reduce chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers, and coronary heart disease.  Clearly, ketogenic diets work well for a significant portion of the overweight population, but not for everybody.

Sounds great so far! So why aren’t very-low-carb diets used more often? Many dieters can’t live with the restrictions. Your body may rebel against the switch from a carbohydrate-based energy metabolism to one based on fats. Most of us live in a society or subculture in which carbohydrates are everywhere and they’re cheap; temptation is never-ending.

What Could Go Wrong on a Ketogenic Diet?

Very-low-carb ketogenic diets have been associated with headaches, bad breath, easy bruising, nausea, fatigue, aching, muscle cramps, constipation, and dizziness, among other symptoms.

“Induction flu” may occur around days two through five, consisting of achiness, easy fatigue, and low energy. Atkins dieters came up with the term. It usually clears up after a few days. Some people think of induction flu as a withdrawal syndrome from sugar or refined carbohydrate. My conception is that it’s simply an adjustment period for your body to switch from a carbohydrate-based energy system to one based on fat. Your body cells need time to rev up certain enzymes systems while mothballing other enzymes. To prevent or minimize induction flu, Drs. Stephen Phinney, Jeff Volek, and Eric Westman routinely recommend eating 1/2 tsp of table salt daily.

Very-low-carb ketogenic diets may have the potential to cause osteoporosis (thin, brittle bones), kidney stones, low blood pressure, constipation, gout, high uric acid in the blood, excessive loss of sodium and potassium in the urine, worsening of kidney disease, deficiency of calcium and vitamins A, B, C, and D, among other adverse effects. From a practical viewpoint, these are rarely seen, and many experts say they don’t occur in a well-designed ketogenic diet eaten by an essentially healthy person. I favor ketogenic diets designed by physicians or dietitians. In view of these potential adverse effects, however, it’s a good idea to run your ketogenic diet of choice by your personal physician before you get started. This is especially important if you have diabetes, chronic kidney or liver disease, or a history of gout, low blood pressure, or kidney stones.

Athletic individuals who perform vigorous exercise should expect a deterioration in performance levels during the first four weeks or so of any ketogenic very-low-carb diet. Again, the body needs that time to adjust to burning mostly fat for fuel rather than carbohydrate.

Competitive weightlifters or other anaerobic athletes (e.g., sprinters) may be hampered by the low muscle glycogen stores that accompany ketogenic diets. They may need more carbohydrates, perhaps 150 grams a day.

What’s Next After Losing Weight on a Ketogenic Diet?

A majority of folks eventually increase their carbohydrate consumption above 50 grams a day, which usually takes them out of nutritional ketosis. If they return to the typical 200-300 grams a day that most people eat, they’ll probably gain the lost weight back. Many have found, however, that they can go up to 70-100 grams and maintain at a happy weight. A well-designed program should give careful instructions on the transition out of ketosis and avoidance of regain.

To see a ketogenic diet I designed for my patients, visit:

http://diabeticmediterraneandiet.com/ketogenic-mediterranean-diet/

Steve Parker, M.D.

Steve Parker, M.D., is a leading medical expert on the Mediterranean diet and creator of the world’s first low-carb Mediterranean diet.  He has three decades’ experience practicing Internal Medicine and counseling on effective weight-loss strategies.  Dr. Parker is the author of “The Advanced Mediterranean Diet: Lose Weight, Feel Better, Live Longer (2nd Edition),“Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet, “ and “KMD: Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet.”