Obesity has serious consequences on health as it increases the risk of co-morbidities such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart diseases, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver especially for those with high abdominal fat. Recent studies have shown that the prevalence of obesity, particularly abdominal obesity, is on the rise; between 13% and 50% of the urban Indian population suffer from obesity. Research also indicates that obesity is more common among women than men. Regardless of the health hazards associated with obesity, weight loss diets are gaining prominence due to aesthetic reasons.
Right nutrition plays a vital role in tackling obesity. National Institute of Nutrition recommends a low calorie, nutritionally-balanced dietary regimen with exercise and lifestyle modification for successful and healthy weight loss.
Healthy weight loss
Achieving a loss of about one kg of weight weekly is the maximum weekly weight loss recommended as any diet that is lower than 1,000 Kcal may not be nutritionally adequate.
A balanced diet is one that provides around 50-60% of total calories from carbohydrates, mainly from complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat, brown rice, oats and millets; about 10-15% from proteins in both vegetarian sources that include pulses, nuts, seeds, dairy and dairy products and non-vegetarian sources such as eggs, meat and fish and 20-30% from fat with moderate use of visible fat such as cooking oils, very little intake of ghee, butter and moderate intake of invisible fats such as red meats, egg yolks and organ meats.
Weight loss is achieved through energy-restriction using low fat diets but these diets have been challenged by various diets claiming fast weight loss especially by low carbohydrate diets. Some of the popular diets recommended for weight loss are Atkins diet, a very low carbohydrate diet; DASH diet that emphasises on the consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy and reduced consumption of sodium); Mediterranean diet (emphasises on eating plant-based foods and the use of healthy oils such as olive oil); Ketogenic diet (high fat diet); Paleolithic/Caveman diet (involves the consumption of foods available in the Paleolithic era excluding common foods such as grains, legumes and dairy); and Zone diet (low carbohydrate plan with 40% of the calories from carbohydrates, 30% from protein and 30% from fats) to name a few. These diets are either high in protein, high in fat or low in carbohydrates which are different from the typical Indian diet. These diets have become increasingly popular but dieticians have raised concerns regarding the effectiveness and safety of such diets since data regarding the benefits, risks, and effectiveness, if any, on body composition, metabolic parameters such as blood glucose, lipid levels, uric acid and sustainability of these diets is limited.
Fad diets, especially low carbohydrate diets, lack fibre and micro nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B and C. These diets primarily concentrate only on macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fat as these are the major fuels which have a direct impact on weight loss. In the long run, this would result in a lack of vital micronutrients and lead to a decline in overall health. Apart from that, low-carbohydrate diets could also lead to some adverse reactions such as constipation, headache, halitosis, muscle cramps, general weakness and rash. Though all popular diets report weight loss, the resulting weight loss may be due to water loss and not fat loss. This water may be regained eventually leading to regaining the lost weight.
In recent times, many of these weight loss diets have gained prominence due to the easy access to social media and health-related apps. There is always a high risk attached to committing to such plans as most of the contents are not regulated by authorities. Also, the effectiveness of a particular diet is dependent on many factors that differ between individuals such as age, gender, activity levels and health conditions. In view of this, be cautious as to not blindly follow such diets without prior consultation with a qualified dietician/nutritionist.
Due to the increasing popularity of fad diets, our traditional recipes are taking a backseat. There are limited studies on the Indian population, especially women and their responsiveness to diet plans. A study comparing the effects of Zone diet and a balanced Indian diet on weight loss, body composition and metabolic parameters found that both diets were equally effective in terms of weight loss but the balanced Indian diet with high fibre content had an edge over the Zone diet as there was additional improvement in biochemical parameters namely, fasting blood sugar, lipid profile, serum creatinine and uric acid. It was also found that balanced diet, which consisted of common dishes from traditional Indian cuisine, was easier to adhere to. To achieve a healthy weight loss, it is suggested that one follow a nutritionally balanced diet and an active lifestyle.
(The authors are attached to Smt VHD Central Institute of Home Science)