Alternative diet may give hope to Americans disappointed by latest news on low-fat diets

The LGL diet focuses on calculating how quickly starches in foods turn into sugar in the bloodstream.

Millions of Americans who have religiously followed a low-fat diet recently learned some discouraging news. The New York Times reports that a $415 million federal study found that a low-fat diet does not reduce the risk of cancer or heart disease. So, is there an alternative?

Researchers at the Health Science Center are conducting a study of a different type of diet called the Low-Glycemic Load Diet (LGL). They believe this diet may provide a healthier and more effective way for people, especially diabetics, to lose weight, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, keep their blood sugar in check, and to avoid heart disease, cancer and diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths. The risk for stroke is two to four times higher among people with diabetes. Diabetics also are at increased risk for some types of cancers.

“The Low-Glycemic Load diet has been around for 20 years, but has not received the same attention that the Atkins, low-fat or South Beach Diets have,” said Raymond George Troxler, M.D., M.P.H., clinical associate professor of medicine at the Health Science Center and the principal investigator of the study. “Research has proven that there is a link between how quickly starches turn into sugar in the blood (Glycemic Load), and heart disease and diabetes, so further research on this diet is important.”

Many fad diets discourage eating all forms of carbohydrates. Yet, just as we know that not all fat is bad, the same is true for carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates, when digested, cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly in
some people, while in others they have little effect.

The LGL diet focuses on calculating the glycemic index (rate at which foods turn into sugar in the body) of particular foods. The purpose is to allow individuals to reap the health benefits of consuming carbohydrates or sugar while reducing the overall “glycemic load” or total amount of glucose in a meal that may cause the body’s blood sugar levels to rise to unhealthy levels.

Health Science Center researchers are recruiting 30 individuals ages 18 or older with type 2 diabetes for the study. Participants will be separated into two groups: the experimental group, which will receive the LGL diet, and the control group, which will receive a standard low-carbohydrate diet. Those on the LGL diet must consume a glycemic load of between 20 and 30 per meal. All will receive free nutritional counseling, blood work and body fat analysis, and pedometers to track the amount of walking they are doing.

“Our goal is to determine how well the LGL diet helps participants achieve weight loss and lower cholesterol and glucose levels,” said Darlene Gilcreast, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of chronic nursing care at the Health Science Center and a co-principal investigator of the study. “We hope to introduce the LGL diet as one of the best methods to help diabetics avoid the deadly complications that result from the disease, and to improve their overall quality of life.”

Dr. Gilcreast said calculating dietary glycemic load isn’t simple. However, knowing the glycemic index of certain foods can help people make healthier choices. Some food distributors also may begin making it easier for consumers by providing LGL information on food labels.

“We hope to help people who are or might become insulin resistant to create a healthy eating pattern that minimizes insulin secretion and reduces insulin resistance,” Dr. Gilcreast said. “For those who are not diabetic, the diet is a great way to avoid putting on those extra pounds that might put them at risk for the disease later in life.” The study is funded by a grant from the School of Nursing, from the Lt. Col. Philip Piccione and Col. Jean Migliorino Faculty Award, and by the Dr. Rosemary Kerr McKevitt Memorial Research Award.

For more information about enrolling in the study, call (210) 567-0345.

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