Diet trends dawn anew

by Eric Schroeder
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With the onset of the new year comes a slew of resolutions. Perhaps it’s a pledge to be more fiscally responsible. Maybe it’s making time for exercise. In many cases, though, New Year’s resolutions revolve around dieting.

For a nation that shows an almost frightening dedication to such things as sports, movie stars and reality television, it oftentimes borders on amazing how quickly people are willing to change their eating patterns, a behavior that has a direct impact on their physical well being.

Heading into 2006 the food and beverage industry finds itself in an interesting position in regards to diet trends. The Atkins diet, which captured the attention of many for the past several years, has effectively faded into the background. On the other end of the spectrum, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 is approaching the first anniversary since its release. Companies are still searching for the best way to capitalize on the guidelines.

Small changes lead to big results

The Calorie Control Council, a non-profit trade association established in 1966, recently found 33% of Americans, or about 71 million people, are currently on a diet — the most in the past 15 years. The Council, which is comprised of companies that make low-calorie, reduced-fat and lighter versions of foods and beverages, has identified "small changes" as being key to dieting trends in 2006.

"Making small changes can have big results," said Beth Hubrich, executive director of the Council. "By reducing portions, controlling calories, adding more activity, people cannot only lose weight but also control their weight without feeling deprived. These small changes are lifestyle changes and hopefully that is what 2006 will bring — a focus on healthy changes that can be maintained for life." The Council pointed to several trends it expects to take hold as consumers make decisions about weight loss and obesity in 2006.

• Portion control becomes easier. "For many consumers who have a hard time knowing when to stop, pre-portioned snacks may be an answer," the Council said.

• Consumers will make simple substitutions. "Many companies now feature light, low-calorie or sugar-free versions of their products and consumers will increasingly use these products to save calories," the Council said.

• Companies will continue to fight obesity with more corporate wellness. "Corporate wellness and e-dieting programs discourage the ‘fad diet’ mentality and instead teach health-conscious employees to count calories and make lifestyle changes," the Council said.

• Sugar-free gum gains popularity. "The popularity of sugar-free gum will continue to rise as consumers find small ways to cut calories from their diet," the Council noted. "Sugar-free gum is a great alternative to a higher-calorie snack or dessert."

• Pedometers track success at little cost. "To help incorporate physical activity into their hectic schedules, more consumers will take advantage of the pedometer in hopes of walking 10,000 steps a day, which is approximately 5 miles," the Council said.

The Council’s survey findings were based on a national sample of 1,200 Americans ages 18 and older. The survey was conducted by Booth Research Services, Inc., for the Calorie Control Council.

With these trends in mind, several dieting regimes could gather steam in 2006.

Low-glycemic-load diet

In December, results from a study funded by the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture found a low-glycemic-load diet enhanced weight loss among certain volunteers on a reducedcalorie diet for six months. The study, which examined data on 979 adults with normal and impaired glucose tolerance, found the significant level of weight loss was limited to those among the study participants who were considered "high-insulin-secreting."

The study was conducted by Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory, and Andrew Greenberg, director of the Obesity and Metabolism Laboratory, at the Jean Mayer U.S.D.A. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

Each of the 979 adults was given a diet that provided 30% fewer calories than his or her baseline calorie needs, with half randomly assigned to a low-glycemic-load diet of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat. The other half consumed a highglycemic-load diet of 60% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 20% fat.

What the researchers found was that while all participants lost some weight as a result of restricting calories those who lost the most had high baseline levels of insulin secretion and ate the low-glycemic-load diet.

While the findings could lead to more customized weight-loss strategies in the future, the study’s researchers pointed out the results must be replicated in a larger study before being considered definitive.

Enjoy foods with flavor

Like the Atkins Diet and South Beach Diet before it, the new Sonoma Diet is one of the latest weight management plans to attract followers by making a splash on the book shelf.

Backed by "The Sonoma Diet" written by Dr. Connie Guttersen of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, this latest diet is based on a plan of eating easy-to-prepare meals that program the body to lose weight. The diet is divided into three phases. Phase one lasts 10 days and triggers the most rapid weight loss by cutting out unhealthy foods while filling up on rich meals made with whole grain bread or cereal, meat or fish, and vegetables. Phase two adds a broader range of food options and comprises the main leg of the diet. During this stage, wine and a broad array of fruit may be added to meals. Phase three begins the day the target weight is reached, at which point dieters are encouraged to customize their diet based on individual experience.
"You’ll never be asked to track calories or keep score of any ‘points,’" Dr. Guttersen said. "You’ll barely remember you’re on a diet."

Push away the plate plan

For those who like to eat what they want when they want, a health science professor at Brigham Young University believes he’s found the answer.

Through a lifestyle change he calls "intuitive eating," Steven Hawks is pushing a plan where people only eat when hungry and stop when full.

"One of the advantages of intuitive eating is you’re always eating things that are most appealing to you, not out of emotional reasons, not because it’s there and tastes good," he said. "Whenever you feel the physical urge to eat something, accept it and eat it. The cravings tend to subside. I don’t have anywhere near the cravings I would as a ‘restrained eater.’"

In a small study published in the American Journal of Health Education, Mr. Hawks and a team of researchers examined a group of B.Y.U. students and found those who were intuitive eaters typically weighed less and had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than other students.

He said the study indicates intuitive eating is a viable approach to long-term weight management and he plans to do a larger study across different cultures. Ultimately, he’d like intuitive eating to catch on as a way for people to normalize their relationship with food and fight eating disorders.

In with vegetables

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is pushing a low-fat vegan diet as the way to go in 2006.

Pointing to results from a weight-loss study published in the September issue of The American Journal of Medicine, the P.C.R.M. said data supports the fact low-fat, plant-based diets are more effective at helping women lose weight and improve insulin sensitivity then an omnivorous diet.

"The study participants following the vegan diet enjoyed unlimited servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthful foods that enabled them to lose weight without feeling hungry," said Dr. Neal Barnard, the study’s lead author. "Anyone who wants to make changes in the new year will do well to try a plant-based diet."

The vegan diet study size was small, though, as only 59 overweight, postmenopausal women were examined. Balance, balance, balance While consumers may find ways to achieve weight loss and health and wellness through specific diets, the key is to maintain balance, most researchers agree.

Foods labeled as rich in antioxidants have grown into a $526 million industry, and while antioxidants have shown the ability to minimize the damage caused by certain chemicals within the body, several researchers believe diets based solely on eating one particular antioxidant should be avoided.

Diets rich in beta carotene, for example, have been found to help prevent heart disease and cancer, but studies of beta carotene supplements alone have been mostly disappointing.

Research also has failed to establish whether the quantity of antioxidants consumed matters to health.

Going forward many researchers believe the most important aspect of any dieting program is to think of the big picture. Even when addressing specific health problems it oftentimes is better to eat a broad mix of foods than it is to tailor diets around certain ingredients.

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