Diet advice from Israel: Eat your vegetables

While loading up on vegetables is one study’s conclusions, other dietary experts make room for dessert.

Grocery bag full of vegetables 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Grocery bag full of vegetables 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Deciding between the Atkins Diet, Mediterranean diet or a traditional low-fat/high-carbohydrates diet?
It really doesn’t make a lot of difference, says a team of Israeli nutrition experts. Your chances of losing weight with any of the three hinges on eating more vegetables and cutting down on sweets than on whether you consume lots of meat and fish (as Atkins advises), olive oil and legumes (Mediterranean-style) or pasta and potatoes (the low-fat route).
“We took the three different diets and divided them into 12 food groups – vegetables, fruit, liquids and others – and we assessed the impact of each food group on weight loss,” Yftach Gepner told The Media Line. “We found that it doesn’t really matter which kind of diet you choose – the outcome depends on increasing vegetable consumption and decreasing sweets.”
Gepner, a doctoral student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was part of a 13-person team to study the impact of the eating regiments on 322 people, nearly 90% of them men, over a two-year period. The subjects were all employed at Israel’s nuclear research center in Dimona, which Gepner said was chosen because it was an easy way to create an easily monitored group.
What they found was that the low-carbohydrate diet, popularized by the American doctor Robert Atkins, achieved the best results, with those put on the regiment losing an average of 6.4 kilograms (14 pounds) in the first six months. Mediterranean dieters lost an average of 4.7 kilos and low-fat dieters shed 4.3 kilos.
All three diets were less successful over two years, with dieters regaining some of their lost fat. But those on the low-carb diet did the best at keeping the weight off while those on the low-fat/high carb regime were only 2.9 kilos lighter on average compared to when they started.
But the differences in the results between the three diets’ menus were less important than how much of their diet consisted of vegetables, according to the study, whose title “Effect of Changes in the Intake of Weight of Specific Food Groups on Successful Body Weight Loss during a Multi–Dietary Strategy Intervention Trial” could afford some slimming, too.
It was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in January.  Iris Shai, a researcher at Ben-Gurion’s S. Daniel Abraham International Center for Health and Nutrition, led the study.
“Even if the weight loss was different between the diets, the consumption of food groups that were similar was the biggest factor,” said Gepner, adding that the proportion of vegetables depends on the dieter. “There’s no one diet fit for all. The main thing, if you want to have successful weight loss, is you should increase your consumption of vegetables.”
If the prospect of broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes meal after meal seems unappealing, another Israeli nutrition expert, Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine, contends that having some sweets does more good than harm. The catch is when you eat them and how much.
Since a study she published with other researchers in the journal Steroids last December, Jakubowicz has emerged as something of a Marie Antoinette of weight loss for advocating a policy for the world’s dieters of Let Them Eat Cake. More perversely, Jakubowicz said it should be consumed at breakfast.
That has set off a media deluge of stories recommending dieters start their day with ham, eggs and Twinkies. But Jakubowicz said she advocates a very specific kind of breakfast, with the dessert just a small part of menu.
“The cake is very nice, but it’s not the diet,” she told The Media Line. “Breakfast should basically be protein, which increases metabolism and decreases hunger, especially tuna, low-fat cheese, slices of chicken and milk – this is the main part … The other part is a small piece of chocolate, maybe 40 grams [1.4 ounces] something like half of a small Tobleron.”
Dessert in the morning serves as a way of tamping down on cravings for sweets later in the day and inhibits hunger, according to the research Jakubowicz conducted with Julio Wainstein and Mona Boaz, two colleagues from Sackler, and Oren Froy of the Hebrew University Jerusalem.
They put 193 obese adults into one of two diet groups with identical intake of 1,600 calories a day for the men and 1,400 for the women. But the unlucky first group was given a paltry 300-calorie, low-carb breakfast while the second feasted on a 600-calorie morning repast high in protein and carbohydrates – and topped of with dessert, which accounted for about a quarter of the caloric intake.
“Those who ate a big breakfast didn’t feel hunger during the day …. [and] the non-compliance was minimal because they weren’t hungry. Their hunger was inhibited by the proteins,” Jakubowicz explained.
Halfway through the 32-week study, participants in both groups had lost an average of 15 kilos. But in the second half of the study, the low-carb group regained an average of 10 kilos, while the big-breakfast eaters kept on shedding. At the end, they were 18 kilos lighter than those who had eaten the small breakfast.
Jakubowicz insists that obese people eat their breakfast, even if it means splitting up into three separate mini-meals consumed in the first hours of the day.
“Usually people who are obese do not like to eat breakfast … [but] there is strong correlation between absence of breakfast and obesity,” she said.  “Breakfast is less fattening because hormones increase the metabolism, so what you eat in the morning is not the same as you eat in the evening.”