Danish researchers finally solve the obesity riddle

November 24, 2010, University of Copenhagen
This chart shows changes in body weight. Credit: Figure

Researchers at the Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE), University of Copenhagen, can now unveil the results of the world's largest diet study: If you want to lose weight, you should maintain a diet that is high in proteins with more lean meat, low-fat dairy products and beans and fewer finely refined starch calories such as white bread and white rice. With this diet, you can also eat until you are full without counting calories and without gaining weight. Finally, the extensive study concludes that the official dietary recommendations are not sufficient for preventing obesity.

The large-scale random study called Diogenes has investigated the optimum composition for preventing and treating obesity. The study was conducted by eight European research centres and headed by Thomas Meinert Larsen, PhD, and Professor Arne Astrup, DrMedSc and Head of Department at the Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) and is funded by an EU grant of EUR 14.5 million.

The results were recently published in the distinguished and have already attracted considerable international attention.

The objective of the Diogenes study has been to compare the official dietary recommendations in Europe, including the Danish recommendations, with a diet based on the latest knowledge about the importance of proteins and carbohydrates for appetite regulation. A total of 772 European families participated, comprising 938 adult family members and 827 children. The overweight adults initially followed an 800 kcal/day diet for eight weeks, losing an average of 11 kg. They were then randomly assigned to one of five different low-fat diet types which they followed for six months in order to test which diet was most effective at preventing weight regain. Throughout the project, the families received expert guidance from dieticians and were asked to provide blood and urine samples.

The five diet types

The design comprised the following five diet types:

  • A low-protein diet (13% of energy consumed) with a high glycemic index (GI)
  • A low-protein, low-GI diet
  • A high-protein (25% of energy consumed), low-GI diet
  • A high-protein, high-GI diet
  • A control group which followed the current dietary recommendations without special instructions regarding glycemic index levels
A high-protein, low-GI diet works bestA total of 938 overweight adults with a mean body mass index (BMI) of 34 kg/sq m were initially placed on an 800-kcal-per-day diet for eight weeks before the actual diet intervention was initiated. A total of 773 adult participants completed this initial weight-loss phase and were then randomly assigned to one of five different diet types, where 548 participants completed the six-month diet intervention (completion rate of 71%).

Fewer participants in the high-protein, low-GI groups dropped out of the project than in the low-protein, high-GI group (26.4% and 25.6%, respectively, vs. 37.4%; P = 0.02 and P = 0.01 for the two comparisons, respectively). The initial weight loss on the 800-kcal diet was an average of 11.0 kg.

The average weight regain among all participants was 0.5 kg, but among the participants who completed the study, those in the low-protein/high-GI group showed the poorest results with a significant weight gain of 1.67 kg. The weight regain was 0.93 kg less for participants on a high-protein diet than for those on a low-protein diet and 0.95 kg less in the groups on a low-GI diet compared to those on a high-GI diet.

The children's study

The results of the children's study have been published in a separate article in the American medical journal Pediatrics. In the families, there were 827 children who only participated in the diet intervention. Thus, they were never required to go on a diet or count calories – they simply followed the same diet as their parents. Approx. 45% of the children in these families were overweight. The results of the children's study were remarkable: In the group of children who maintained a high-protein, low-GI diet the prevalence of overweight dropped spontaneously from approx. 46% to 39% – a decrease of approx. 15%.

Proteins and low-GI foods ad libitum – the way ahead

The Diogenes study shows that the current are not optimal for preventing weight gain among overweight people. A diet consisting of a slightly higher protein content and low-GI foods ad libitum appears to be easier to observe and has been documented to ensure that overweight people who have lost weight maintain their loss. Furthermore, the diet results in a spontaneous drop in the prevalence of overweight among their children.

More information: References:

1. "Diets with High or Low Protein Content and Glycemic Index for Weight-Loss Maintenance" Thomas Meinert Larsen, PhD, Stine-Mathilde Dalskov, MSc, Marleen van Baak, PhD, Susan Ann Jebb, PhD, Angeliki Papadaki, PhD, Andreas F.H. Pfeiffer, MD, J. Alfredo Martinez, PhD, Teodora Handjieva-Darlenska, MD, PhD, Marie Kunešová, MD, PhD, Mats Pihlsgård, PhD, Steen Stender, MD, PhD, Claus Holst, PhD, Wim H.M. Saris, MD, PhD, and Arne Astrup, MD, DrMedSc, for the Diet, Obesity, and Genes (Diogenes) Project; New England Journal of Medicine, published online 25 Nov. 2010.

2. The Effect of Protein and Glycemic Index on Children's Body Composition: The DiOGenes Randomized Study; Angeliki Papadaki Manolis Linardakis, Thomas M. Larsen, Marleen A. van Baak, Anna Karin Lindroos, Andreas F. H. Pfeiffer, J. Alfredo Martinez, Teodora, Handjieva-Darlenska, Marie Kunesová, Claus Holst, Arne Astrup, Wim H. M. Saris and Anthony Kafatos on behalf of the Diogenes Study Group; Pediatrics, Vol. 126, 5 Nov. 2010.

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17 comments

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Ratfish
5 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2010
I can confirm that this works in practice. Replacing grain with fruit was the best thing I ever did for my health, although it's not necessary at all to avoid fat. The avoidance of fat meme from the 70s needs to just die out.
Bob_B
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2010
3 (maybe 4) slices of bacon, 2 eggs, toast, fruit for breakfast.

No lunch, but snack on friuts.

Regular dinners.

142+-3 lbs. for my entire adult life.

I should be dead according to food scientists.
KwasniczJ
1 / 5 (4) Nov 24, 2010
High protein diet isn't recommended for advanced cases of diabetes with dysfunction of liver and kidney, when renal function drops to around 25-50% of normal (CrCl above 120 or so).
Damon_Hastings
3 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2010
I can confirm that this works in practice. Replacing grain with fruit was the best thing I ever did for my health, although it's not necessary at all to avoid fat. The avoidance of fat meme from the 70s needs to just die out.

So you can confirm that a low-GI lean meat diet works well in practice, because you had success by switching to higher-GI carbs and by not avoiding fat?
Damon_Hastings
4 / 5 (4) Nov 24, 2010
My bad -- it turns out that, on average, fruits actually have a lower GI than grains (even unprocessed whole grains). I did not expect that. Wish I could delete my previous comment! Well, at least I'll have a nice meal as soon as this egg slides off my face. ;-)
Ratfish
not rated yet Nov 24, 2010
My bad -- it turns out that, on average, fruits actually have a lower GI than grains (even unprocessed whole grains). I did not expect that. Wish I could delete my previous comment! Well, at least I'll have a nice meal as soon as this egg slides off my face. ;-)


Yeah, even the fruit that is classified as "high GI" actually has a low glycemic load. I would recommend that everyone at least try it out for a few weeks and see how it goes. You end up eating a lot more fruits and vegetables while requiring less food in general. It's really quite liberating.
murray
not rated yet Nov 25, 2010
What about a moderate to high protein, high-fat, low-GI diet. This alternative was not tested. Where is the evidence from this study to recommend low-fat? Yet again the prescription goes beyond the evidence. The data seems to show reduction of high GI carbs is most effective, followed by replacement of carbs, in this study by boosting protein. What about low GI and replacing carbs with fat?
freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Nov 25, 2010
To lose weight reduce calories and increase exercise. A very simple rule. Health wise different diets are healther than others, for example though the twinkie diet can reduce your weitht, I dont think long term it is health.

In general, lean protien, whole grains, veggies, fruits, all balanced is the healthiest.
droid001
5 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2010
Not even close. Every human is different, all you need is balance between calorie intake and your body metabolism.
Awoid sugary drinks and ice cream, walk at least an hour a day.
freethinking
3 / 5 (4) Nov 25, 2010
I eat what I like. I like my ice cream and fries, but eat in moderation.

Eat what you like in moderation, exercise, listen to your body, and you will be normal weight and healthy.
Feynman007
not rated yet Nov 25, 2010
Danish researchers finally solve the obesity riddle? What an exaggerated claim to make based on a study of 772 European families consisting of 938 adult family members and 827 children!! Even my 7-year old daughter knows that the differences in ethnicity and genetic makeup matters - a diet that is healthy for Northern Europeans can be extremely unhealthy for Asians or Africans. This study appears to be an attempt to increase the sale of Danish dairy and meat products. Shame on physorg for propagating lies!!
Ratfish
not rated yet Nov 26, 2010
In general, lean protien, whole grains, veggies, fruits, all balanced is the healthiest.


Any diet that includes grains in any significant quantity is not the healthiest, especially if gluten is present.
What's the "normal" weight that you have achieved with your ice cream and fries?
Andrew_Zacharuk
not rated yet Nov 27, 2010
It's good to see that more researchers are finally catching up with what some people realized a long time ago: That cheap, mass produced neolithic carbohydrates are the foundation upon which the obesity epidemic has been built.

My girlfriend and I cut all grains (doesn't matter if it's whole grain or not) from our diet about 6 months ago.

She has lost 30lbs and I have gained muscle mass while losing body fat. We don't spend hours in the gym, and yet she continues to lose weight simply from diet alone. We eat high protein, high fat (good fats), and we get carbs exclusively from fruits and veggies. We do a max of 30mins of anaerobic exercise every 3 days or so.

It's time to change the food pyramid, 7-10 servings of grains per day is not part of a healthy balanced diet for anyone.

People should be getting the vast majority of their carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables, which digest much more slowly and are much more nutritionally dense. Starchy tubers are the next best option
Magus
not rated yet Nov 27, 2010
I drink ~3 pepsi cans per meal for the last too meals I eat in a day, and eat tons of candy. I love fast food, and when I enter tried to figure out my daily calorie intake it was ~10,000. I don't gain or lose weight. I not sure what "rules" my body follows.
Fionn
not rated yet Nov 27, 2010
I can confirm that this works in practice. Replacing grain with fruit was the best thing I ever did for my health, although it's not necessary at all to avoid fat. The avoidance of fat meme from the 70s needs to just die out.


Exactly. Eating fat does not make one fat any more than eating brains makes one smart. Its's all too many calories, too many carbs, and too little exercise. Ban HFCS and end farm subsidies and we'd be halfway to solving the obesity crisis, imho.
topor
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
I drink ~3 pepsi cans per meal for the last too meals I eat in a day, and eat tons of candy. I love fast food, and when I enter tried to figure out my daily calorie intake it was ~10,000. I don't gain or lose weight. I not sure what "rules" my body follows.

Don't worry. Once you get diabetes, doctors will tell you the rules. And these rules will be strict.
freethinking
1 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2010
I think what this debate has proved is that the Government has no right to determine or regulate what people eat. Some like myself think whole grains are good, other think its not, yet both are healthy weight.

So can we agree the keep Progressives out of food choices? Let the marketplace determine what people eat. If you want to eat hight salt, high fat foods and someone wants to make it, leave them be.

If you want low salt, low fat, gluten free foods and someone wants to make it, leave them be.

Let us all agree that we can say the other diet is bad (or stupid like eating 10K a day), and ours is better, but we wont try and regulate the other.

Lets keep meddling progressive big government out of our food choices.

BTW, my body fat is 12% HGL 45, LDL 130, bp-

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