Weight watch: diet plans compared

If you have jumped on to the bandwagon of diets to fight the battle of the bulge, here is the analysis of some of the most 'famous' ones

THE ATKINS DIET

This is one of the most controversial diets around, but it is also the most popular. It works on the premise that you can eat all the fried, high-fat and high-protein foods that you want, but deprive yourself completely of carbohydrates.

Developed by late Dr Robert C Atkins, it's a great diet for those who love starting their day on fried food—from bacon, eggs, sausages, butter, cream. This diet actually recommends all the above!

The logic behind this diet is that if you do not provide any carbohydrates to your system, your body will go into a state of ketosis, meaning fat will have to be broken down to provide energy.

The verdict

Carbohydrates are the first choice of the body as an energy source. Fat always burns in the flame of carbohydrates, especially if we are talking about burning fat 'safely'. It is more sensible to burn fat through exercise because that's when it is oxidised, where the only by-products are water and carbon dioxide. Ketones too are produced, but in very small amounts.

However, when you are on an Atkins diet, ketones are produced in large amounts, which puts extra load on the kidneys. Another, rather unpleasant, side effect is bad breath, which is caused by the ammonia that is produced as a by-product of ketosis.

During the initial period, this diet can be very difficult, particularly for us Indians who are used to large quantities of carbohydrate in our diets. The sudden omission of carbohydrates can have a variety of side effects. Common ones during the first few days are dizziness, nausea, headaches and faintness. Since carbohydrates are restricted to a large extent in this diet, another side effect will be improper intake of vitamins and minerals.

The Atkins diet promotes an increase in the body levels of saturated [bad] fat. So, if you want to follow this diet, get your lipid profile analysed first and keep a check on it regularly. If you find an increase in your levels, stop immediately.

THE SOUTH BEACH DIET

This diet was designed by Dr Arthur Agaston to help his patients with heart and cardiovascular problems.

The first phase is a strict period and lasts for two weeks. Here, dieters are not allowed to consume dairy products, breads, cereals, pastries, potatoes, pasta, starchy foods and most vegetables and fruits.

The second and third phases slowly reintroduce the 'good carbohydrates', but in moderation. These good carbs include whole grain cereals, fruits and vegetables. The diet also emphasises on using heart-friendly unsaturated fat.

The verdict

The initial phase being very strict concentrates only on protein foods. But since the carbohydrates are cut off, it can cause rapid weight loss. However, gradually as they are reintroduced, you may regain weight, if the intake is not kept in check.

The diet may prove to be difficult to follow for vegetarians, especially in phase one, and also for us Indians since we primarily consume a cereal-based diet. However, it is much more balanced than the Atkins diet and does not rely on high saturated fat levels.

THE WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS DIET

If properly followed, it is one of the best diets. A list of all the possible foods that can be consumed is given to every dieter and each food is given points. Dieters are weighed weekly and are told how many points they can consume daily. This helps them choose the foods according to the points and thus plan their own daily menu.

All dieters are asked to maintain a daily log of the food they consume. In case of special occasions, they can save up points from the previous day and use them. A lot of foods available in supermarkets and restaurants also feature in their point list, thus making it easy for the dieter to make a good choice.

The verdict

The entire focus of the diet is on calories alone. If you stick to meeting the total points of your diet by eating the right way, then it is possible to have a diet that is nutritionally perfect. However, on the days that you 'cheat' you might end up eating all the points at one meal, which means you will have to give up the other meals in the day, compromising your body's nutrition.

THE ZONE DIET

The Zone diet, created by Dr Barry Sears, is based on consuming the correct ratio of carbs, fats, and protein. According to Dr Sears, sticking to the pre-calculated ratios will help control insulin levels, which in turn, will speed up the fat-burning process within our bodies.

The theory behind this diet is that the daily calorie intake should be split into a 40/30/30 ratio. This means that 40 per cent of our daily calories should come from carbohydrates, 30 per cent should come from protein foods, and the remaining 30 per cent should come from fat. The diet also helps you to track the quantity of food you eat daily and permits two snacks per day.

Dr Sears' book on this diet gives a listing of foods that can be enjoyed, both at meal times and as snacks. Although this diet does not cut out carbohydrates, it demands that the 40 per cent of carbohydrate-rich foods that are consumed each day are 'healthy' carbs such as those found in fruit and vegetables while avoiding starchy carbohydrates like those found in bread and pasta.

The verdict

By far, the Zone diet is the most balanced and definitely one of the most sensible diets. It does not compromise on your body's nutrition and is quite agreeable with Indian eating habits.

The diet trains you to develop good habits like portion control and reducing sugar intake. It also insists on higher consumption of fruits and vegetables. So you do not end up compromising on your vitamin and mineral intake and at the same time eat fibre-rich foods, which keep you satiated throughout the day [and keep cravings at bay].

Although rapid weight loss is also listed as an advantage, most habitual dieters will know that rapid weight loss is often swiftly followed by rapid weight gain. This diet, if done correctly, can help you gradually rid yourself of the extra kilos. If you change to these healthy eating habits for good, there is no reason why you will not be able to keep the weight off.

Whichever the diet you follow, make sure you are not upsetting the all-important nutrient balance of your body. What works for someone else may not work for you. S choose a diet that suits you the best. Most importantly, eat sensibly and work on weight loss not health loss. Samreedhi Goel, a nutritionist and personal trainer, writes fitness columns in newspapers and magazines. She lives in Mumbai.

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Samreedhi Goel
Samreedhi Goel is a Nutritionist and Personal trainer & fitness columnist who has been a part of the fitness industry since 1999. She has helped hundreds of people shape up, lose weight, achieve the body of their dreams, become fitter and healthier individuals and overcome chronic health problems through her fitness studio Size Wise.Her fitness columns and interviews appear on a regular basis in prestigious publications like Complete Wellbeing, Sunday Midday, Rediff.com, Seventeen India, Mumbai.

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