February 12, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Can hamburgers, French fries, and pizza be part of a low-fat diet? A study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine says yes.
"You don't have to eat like a monk to be on a low-fat diet," says Dr. Michael Davidson of Ruth Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center. "You can still eat foods you enjoy as long as you balance it out through the day or the week." (102K AIFF sound or 102K WAV sound)
The study was paid for by McDonald's -- but independently done by researchers at Chicago's Rush Presbyterian and the University of Toronto. The researchers looked at 100 people with high cholesterol, placing them into one of two groups.
Over an eight-week period, one group ate a cholesterol- lowering diet recommended by the government known as a "Step I" diet. The other group followed a similar plan, but one that allowed five meals a week at a fast food restaurant. A typical fast food meal consisted of a quarter-pound hamburger and a garden salad.
The results: both groups lowered their cholesterol and lost weight. But a government official cautions that the fast food groups did not do as well.
"They got substantially less cholesterol-lowering than those who were on the regular Step I diet," said Dr. James Cleeman of the National Cholesterol Education Program.
The non-fast food group lowered its LDL -- or bad cholesterol -- by 10 percent compared to only a 4 percent reduction for the fast food group.
Another important point: the groups worked with a nutritionist, making one consumer group skeptical of the study's relevance to most people.
"If you have a personal nutritionist who's gonna follow you around all day and make sure that you stay with 20 grams of saturated fat, you can eat at McDonald's," said Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "But everybody else had to be really careful."
But the researchers defended the results, saying that some people are more likely to stick to a diet that allows fast food -- even in small portions -- than one they may not be happy with.
Government health experts say while that's true for some people, it is not a green light to suddenly load up on large amounts of fatty fast food.
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