Feature Archive

The Diet From Down Under

The pros and cons of a new Australian diet - and how it compares to popular U.S. diets.

By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Feature Reviewed By Louise Chang

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 WellBeing Diet.

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 and Aging.

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:

Breakfast

  • 3/4 cup of high-fiber breakfast cereal with 250 milliliters low-fat milk
  • 1 serving of fresh fruit
Lunch
  • Egg-and-salad sandwich on two slices of whole-grain bread with two boiled eggs, lettuce and spring onions
  • 1 banana
Dinner
  • Coat a 200-gram chicken breast fillet in Moroccan spices, fry in 2 teaspoons of canola oil
  • 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 is exercise.

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 WellBeing Diet."

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.