Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

In search of the 'holy grail' of dieting

By Eleanor Bradford
BBC Scotland health correspondent


The holy grail of dieting?

For years nutritionists have been in search of the most effective diet but they all seem to have one problem - they leave us feeling hungry.

It is a problem being encountered by Lisa Jane Laurie and Lyndsay McIntyre, who are dieting ready for Lisa Jane's wedding in July.

Lyndsay is having the worst hunger pangs.

She is using the Cambridge diet which replaces meals with shakes.

She said: "I fell off the wagon on Saturday. I went out for lunch and had a two-course meal. Today I've felt quite hungry and had a bad headache."

Weight loss

Despite her lapse, Lyndsay has lost 11.5lbs (5.2kg) in the past two weeks.

Lisa Jane, who is using Weightwatchers, has not felt as hungry but has not seen such dramatic weight loss.

She said: "The week-before-last I stayed the same, but last week I lost 2lbs (0.9kg) so I was quite pleased with that."

Dr Alexandra Johnstone, a nutrition scientist at the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen, has been trying to solve this problem.

She said: "The 'holy grail' of dieting for me is how to develop dietary strategies which allow people to lose weight, without feeling hungry."

Dr Johnstone's work on different types of foods has thrown the spotlight on one particular candidate: protein.

Dr Johnstone (right) explains her research
Could protein offer the answer to dieting's search for the holy grail?

To explain how it works, nutrition scientists at the Rowett Institute have made up two dishes of food for me.

One is a vegetable bolognese with spaghetti and a slice of garlic bread. The other is meatballs in tomato sauce, spaghetti and a slice of garlic bread.

"We have two plates of food here," explained Dr Johnstone.

"They're identical in weight and in energy content, but the meatballs are going to help you feel fuller for longer."

The meatballs meal contains 30% protein - twice as much as the vegetable meal but still within dietary guidelines.

Dr Johnstone said: "Protein is an incredibly important nutrient in helping suppress the hunger signals that are produced in the stomach, and relaying fullness signals back to the brain."

High protein diets were made famous by the Atkins diet, which had many celebrity followers, but it has been linked to heart disease.

Dr Johnstone suggested a different approach: eating more protein as part of a balanced, low fat diet.

"Most people could increase their protein intake by about 20%. Both these meals are incredibly healthy, the meatballs dish simply contains a bit less spaghetti."

If you're a veggie, vegetarian sources of protein such as soya, have the same effect.

Later in the week I'll be finding out how the food industry has adapted this science to develop foods that keep you fuller for longer, but on Wednesday I will be investigating whether some of us are born with such a sweet tooth that we're destined to be fat.

How the dishes compare:

Meatballs: 797 calories
27g fat
58g protein
Veggie Bolognese: 797 cals
27g fat
29g protein

165g pork mince
15g tomato ketchup
15g white bread
45g onions
25g red peppers
Veggie bolognese:
25g red peppers
45g courgette
45g canned mushrooms
40g mange-tout
30g spring onions
32g sweetcorn

For the sauce:
24g carrots
38g mushrooms (canned)
37g green peppers
0.4g chilli powder
0.3g garlic puree
0.3g oregano
0.3g basil
1.2g olive oil
120g tomato pasta sauce
8g tomato chutney
0.4g demerara
2g lemon juice
Salt and pepper
19g double cream
0.3g chilli powder
0.3g garlic puree
0.3g oregano
0.3g basil
30g tomato chutney
125g canned tomatoes
2g lemon juice
0.5g demerara sugar
salt and pepper

Served with pasta, cheese and garlic bread.

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