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Health Discovery: Moderate-Protein Diet May Help Keep the Weight Off

One diet is not as good as another for losing weight, keeping it off and improving your health all at the same time, according to a study published in the March Journal of Nutrition.

Researchers led by nutrition professor Donald Layman at the University of Illinois put 130 overweight volunteers on two food plans equal in calories—one a moderately high protein diet with 30 percent protein, the other a conventional high-carbohydrate diet with 15 percent protein—and followed their progress for a year.

The two groups lost similar amounts of weight, but those on the diet with twice as much protein lost 38 percent more body fat, radically lowered their triglyceride levels and significantly increased their high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol.

The high-protein dieters also found their regime easier to follow and maintain and were less tempted to cheat. Among the reasons, explains Layman, is that protein helps preserve muscle, which burns calories and makes people feel fuller, curbing cravings for snacks and sweets. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Kraft Foods funded the study.

“It‘s not surprising that there’s good compliance with this diet because protein gives you a sustained sense of satiety,” says Maudene Nelson, a dietitian with the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “Any diet that takes off excess weight and keeps it off is good news if it doesn’t do any harm, but because there’s so much evidence that a plant-based diet is healthier than an animal-based diet, aim for more plant sources of protein.”

Joan Rattner Heilman writes about health and consumer issues.