The pros and cons of a new Australian diet - and how it compares to popular
By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Feature Reviewed By
South Beach and Atkins, move over. A new diet has emerged from Australia that
will give these low-carb, high-protein plans a run for their money: The Total
The diet was developed by the Australian government in response to an obesity epidemic that
rivals that of the U.S. It claims to balance a well-rounded diet
with a high level of protein, and even a dash of exercise. But is it really
different from the popular U.S. diets?
One of the authors of the Total WellBeing Diet gives WebMD an inside look at
what it is and why it was created, while experts in the U.S. look at its
nutritional value and stack it up against Atkins and South Beach.
"The diet originated as a result of many public
inquiries, as well as inquiries from the medical and health professional
community wanting to know about the validity of some of the popular diets," says
Manny Noakes, PhD. Noakes
is leader of the research team that developed the Total WellBeing Diet at the
Commonwealth Scientific Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia.
"As there was little research in the area at the time," says Noakes, "we
embarked on a body of research to establish the most effective and healthy ways
to lose weight."
A Growing Continent
It's no surprise that the Australian government took action. The rate of
overweight and obese adults in
Australia has almost doubled over the last 20 years, making the country one of
the heaviest developed nations, according to the Australian Department of Health
Funded by organizations including Meat and Livestock Australia, CSIRO
conducted studies to determine whether weight loss diets higher in protein were
at least as good, if not better, than high-carbohydrate diets when it came to
fat loss and muscle preservation, according to the CSIRO web site.
Researchers found that women lost more weight and twice the amount of body
fat on a higher-protein, low-fat plan than women on a high-carbohydrate, low-fat
plan, and as a result reduced the risk factors relating to heart disease and
type 2 diabetes. Thus the Total WellBeing Diet was born.
The Meal Plan
"It is essentially a nutritionally balanced diet with a
higher level of lean protein to prevent hunger," says Noakes. "Most of the
protein is derived from lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy foods. The diet also contains adequate fiber
from whole grains, fruit and vegetables."
Noakes tells WebMD that the Total WellBeing Diet is a lifelong lifestyle
change. A best-selling book called The Total WellBeing Diet provides a sample
menu for 12 weeks, with meals such as these:
- 3/4 cup of high-fiber breakfast cereal with 250
milliliters low-fat milk
- 1 serving of fresh fruit
- Egg-and-salad sandwich on two slices of whole-grain
bread with two boiled eggs, lettuce and spring onions
- 1 banana
a 200-gram chicken breast fillet in Moroccan spices, fry in 2 teaspoons of canola
- Serve with 11/2 cups of steamed sweet corn, broccoli,
and pumpkin While the menu looks appetizing, how does the plan compare to
Atkins and South Beach?
Other than the telltale sign of carbohydrates, one of the biggest differences
Total WellBeing vs. Atkins and South Beach
"Exercise is essential to any weight loss program," says Noakes. "The book
provides extensive information on the role of exercise as part of the Total
While Atkins and South Beach don't emphasize physical activity as part of the
plans -- an attractive feature to some dieters who aren't motivated to move --
the Total WellBeing Diet promotes exercise as one of its cornerstones.
"The authors of the Total WellBeing Diet put a fairly
good emphasis on physical activity, which we didn't hear as much about with
Atkins or South Beach," says Susan Moores, a registered dietitian and
spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "The recommendations were doable for people and
its clear they tried to make it a little more friendly to everyone, like
recommending 10,000 steps a day."
Another key difference is that the Aussie diet throws a token amount of carbs
into the plan.
The authors of the Total WellBeing Diet state on the
CSIRO web site, "Unlike fad high-protein diets, the CSIRO plan is nutritionally
balanced and contains a moderate amount of slow-release carbohydrates essential
for energy and for keeping blood sugars even. You can follow the plan safely and adapt it as a way
of eating for life."
So while the Atkins and South Beach diets often fall apart as people work
carbohydrates back into their lives, the Total WellBeing diet might have a
better chance of long-term success.
"This could have staying power," says Moores. "Whereas
people get tired of
these high-protein diets and not being able to have some of their favorite foods
-- like bread, pasta, and potatoes -- this is moderate enough that someone would
be more willing to hang with it longer. Unlike Atkins, it looks like there are
some fruits, grains and vegetables; it's not as restrictive."
According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.”
But while the Total WellBeing Diet looks like it might
have a leg up on its
U.S. rivals, Americans should know by now there is never an easy answer when it
comes to weight loss.
"This is not a healthful diet," says Dean Ornish, MD,
founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in San Francisco. "As the authors
write, 'Participants in the study ate 200g (raw weight) of lean red meat at
evening meals and 100g (cooked weight) of chicken/fish at lunch. It is essential
that you eat these items daily - these are compulsory foods.'"
This type of diet, Ornish tells WebMD, has just too much
protein; it puts a strain on the kidneys and promotes health problems like osteoporosis and
coronary heart disease, as well as cancers such as breast, prostate, and colon.
"It's important to lose weight in ways that promote
health, not ones that may compromise it," says Ornish, who is a clinical
professor of medicine at the
University of California in San Francisco. "An optimal diet is low in fat, high
in complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and
soy products, along with some fish, and low in simple or refined carbohydrates,
such as sugar, white flour, and white rice."
While Ornish does say that the Total WellBeing Diet is slightly better than
Atkins and somewhat comparable to South Beach, which he reminds us was the diet
President Clinton was on when he was diagnosed with severe coronary heart
disease, he does add, "The research upon which it is based is meager and lasted
only 12 weeks."
From Australia to the U.S.
Before Americans jump on the Total WellBeing Diet bandwagon, Ornish's call
for more research and the words and wisdom of the American Dietetic Association
shouldn't go unheeded: A balanced and well-rounded healthy diet combined with
regular physical activity is always the best route for long-term success.
"Exercise is side by side with a healthy diet in terms of sustainable weight
loss success," says Moores, reminding both Australians and Americans that there
is no magic bullet when it comes to weight loss, whether it's from Total
WellBeing, Atkins, or South Beach. "There's no getting around either one; that's
the bottom line."
Published Oct. 17, 2005.
SOURCES: Susan Moores,
RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, St. Paul, Minn. Manny Noakes,
PhD, senior dietitian/research scientist, CSIRO Human Nutrition, Adelaide BC, Australia. Dean Ornish, MD, founder and president,
Preventive Medicine Research Institute; clinical professor of medicine,
University of California, San Francisco. CSIRO web site.
© 2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.
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