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Low calorie drinks and low-fat foods effective for weight loss

By Stephen Daniells , 25-Aug-2009

Regular consumption of low-calorie beverages and low fat foods may help maintain weight loss and a stable body weight, suggests findings from a new study.

New Zealand and American researchers examined the consumption of low calorie and low fat foods in people who have lost weight and are now maintaining their new slimness, and compared this to people who have always maintained a ‘normal’ weight.

Writing in the International Journal of Obesity, a journal published by the Nature group, the researchers report that the so-called weight loss maintainer group consumed a diet that about 5 per cent lower in fat, and three times more daily servings of artificially sweetened soft drinks, compared to the normal weight people.

“These findings suggest that WLM use more dietary strategies to accomplish their weight loss maintenance, including greater restriction on fat intake, use of fat- and sugar-modified foods, reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and increased consumption of artificially sweetened beverages,” wrote the researchers, led by Suzanne Phelan from California Polytechnic State University.

“Ways to promote the use of fat-modified foods and artificial sweeteners merits further research in both prevention- and treatment-controlled trials,” they added.

The results will go some way to vindicating the growing low-calorie and low fat formulations being offered by food manufacturers as weight conscious consumers seek waistline-friendly versions of their favourite foods.

Indeed, a study conducted by global market research firm Synovate last year found that low fat food products are most popular when attempting weight loss.

Obesity and the related health issues are ever-increasing problems in Europe. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight. The prevalence of obesity in the UK has more than doubled in the last 25 years.

Study details

Phelan and her co-workers recruited 172 weight loss maintainers and 131 normal weight people and compared the dietary strategies, and use of fat- and sugar-modified foods and beverages, between the groups. Weight loss maintainers were defined as people who had lost at least 10 per cent of their weight and maintained this for almost 12 years.

According to their findings, both groups had similar body mass indexes (BMI) of between 21 and 22 kg/m2.

In general, the weight loss maintainers’ diets were 5 per cent lower in fat, and their overall diet contained more fat-modification strategies than the normal weight people.

Furthermore, they also consumed 11 per cent more modified dairy and 11 per cent more modified dressings and sauces than their counterparts in the normal weight group.

The weight loss maintainers also reported consuming significantly more servings every day of artificially sweetened soft drinks.

Commenting on the study, Adam Drewnowski, director, Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington said: "Low-calorie sweeteners and reduced-calorie products are not magic bullets, which means using these products will not result in automatic weight loss.

“Instead, people looking to lose or maintain weight, can use low-calorie sweeteners in addition to other tools (such as portion control, exercise, etc.) to help manage their calories."

While Drewnowski was not involved in the current study he did co-author a review of low-calorie sweeteners, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found that low-calorie sweeteners and the products that contain them can help people reduce their calorie intake and were associated with modest weight loss.

Source: International Journal of Obesity
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1038/ijo.2009.147
“Use of artificial sweeteners and fat-modified foods in weight loss maintainers and always-normal weight individuals”
Authors: S. Phelan, W. Lang, D. Jordan, R.R. Wing

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