Once considered faddish, mounting research seems to suggest there’s a place for very low calorie diets, not only for weight loss but for added health benefits. Editor Anna Magee reports
Walk through the weight loss aisles of any pharmacy and you will find an array of weight loss shakes, bars and other potions claiming to help you shift the pounds fast.
Traditionally, such diets which dramatically limit your calorie intake have received a bad rap. Now, thanks to new research, low calorie diets restricting food intake to 7-800 calories a day are now being considered not only as a realistic tool for those who need to lose significant amounts of weight but also for helping reverse weight-related issues such as Type-2 diabetes.
a quarter of participants achieved a staggering 15kg weight loss in 12 weeks
The new study, published in December last year, was on such diets which limit food intake to 700-800 calories a day using nutrient balanced shakes, soups and porridges, also known as Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCDs).
The research, carried out at Newcastle University found that almost half of trial participants achieved remission of their Type 2 diabetes, becoming medication-free after one year.
Moreover, a quarter of participants achieved a staggering 15kg weight loss and of those, 86 per cent also put their diabetes into remission.
As a result of the new research, the NHS has announced a scheme to pilot the use of liquid diets in which patients will be prescribed a diet of 800 calories a day in shake form for 12 weeks, as a treatment for obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Around nine out of 10 people with diabetes have Type 2, which is closely linked to obesity and can lead to a string of serious illnesses, including 13 types of cancers.
But is a Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCD) a realistic weight loss option regardless of whether you have Type 2 diabetes or not?
What is a Very Low Calorie Diet?
Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCD) involve taking in around 800-1000 calories a day, usually in liquid form, as a route to weight reduction.
The diet usually involves replacing normal food with low-calorie shakes, soups, bars or porridge containing milk or soy proteins.
To qualify as a VLCD (which is usually stated on the label) the products (that is, shakes, soups etc) should be nutritionally balanced and provide the user with complete nutrition including a balanced ratio of protein, carbs and fatty acids, as well as the RDAs for nutrient intake.
According to the NHS, VLCDs are best suited to the obese, or those with a BMI of over 30 and their side effects – if followed for an extensive period of over 12 weeks – can include headaches, dizziness, cramps and hair loss.
But Dr. Lars Hoie, a Norweigian doctor, who has spent over 30 years in clinical research with overweight and obese people as well as those with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, says that if taken in correct phases, the right VLCD can help a person kickstart their weight loss, even if they aren’t obese.
‘For example, say you’re carrying an extra five kilograms, you can do the ‘attack’ phase for up to 12 weeks,’ says Dr Hoie, who is the founder of Norvia Nutrition, a nutrition company that launched a plant-based VLCD weight loss system based on meal replacement shakes last year.
In this attack phase you would have 3-4 Norvia Weight Loss shakes a day replacing normal meals and one healthy, balanced meal of around 500 calories. Plus one healthy snack during the day and then move on to the maintenance phase, where you have 1-2 weight loss shakes a day replacing normal meals and then two healthy nutritional meals, Dr Hoie asserts.
Weight loss plus other benefits
This was certainly the case for Jessica Craker, a CMO of an education company.
Wanting to reset her lifestyle to make healthier choices, the 36 year old stepmother of two went on a 30 day weight loss trial with Norvia Nutrition.
During the first 30 days, which she did in September last year Jess’s diet consisted Norvia Weight Loss shakes five times a day, every three hour along with low calorie vegetables for snacks, two litres water and black coffee and tea during the day.
At the end of her 30 day trial, Jess had lost more than seven kilos and went from 75.4kg to 68kg, achieving a 7.4kg weight loss.
Then, for the month of October Jess took three Norvia Weight Loss shakes a day, ate low calorie vegetables as snacks and had one healthy meal a day and lost another 3.2 kg.
But perhaps even more impressive were some other results Jess experienced on the programme.
Alongside her weight loss, after 30 days on the Norvia VLCD programme, Jess’s cholesterol was reduced by a staggering 29% (from 4.8 to 3.4), her body fat levels came down by 16% (from 36.1% to 30.4%), her blood glucose levels reduced by an amazing 45% (from 4.2 to 2.3) and visceral fat (that’s fat around the middle) reduced by 20 per cent.
Indeed, Dr Hoie has also co-founded the Centre for Heart Medicine in Oslo where he has treated hundreds of obese patients with cardiovascular disease using the plant-based formulas which are in the Norvia Weight Loss Shakes.
Jess’s cholesterol was reduced by a staggering 29% (from 4.8 to 3.4), her body fat levels came down by 16% (from 36.1% to 30.4%)
‘If you’re clinically obese and facing Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular problems due to your weight, your attack phase would probably consist of 5-6 140 calorie weight loss shakes a day, for 12 weeks or more, ideally with the supervision of your doctor.’
Do VLCDs work for weight loss?
According to a meta-analysis and systematic review of the literature on VLCDs, it seems so.
The review, published in January 2017 in the International Journal of Obesity looked at 17 previous studies done on weight loss using VLCDs in people with and without Type 2 diabetes.
Participants stayed on the diets for anything from 30 days to one year.
The researchers concluded that obese people could lose up to 20 per cent of their body weight, at the rate of around half a kilogram a week; the weight loss rate recommended by most dietetic experts.
Milk versus soy
While most powders that make up the shakes used in VLCDs are based on milk proteins, research appears to suggest that soy proteins may come with added benefits.
For example, in another study looking at the body of evidence on very low calorie diets, researchers concluded that after 24 weeks the majority of participants lost between nine and 21% of their body weight, but those using soy-based preparations lost weight faster in the first eight weeks than those on milk-based proteins.
The cholesterol-lowering effects of soy products have long been documented in the scientific literature.
However, one study found that powders that were created using ultra-heat treatment during the extraction process (this is shown on labels as ‘denatured soy protein’) had few such cholesterol lowering effects.
Indeed, another study published in the journal Advances In Therapy compared the effects of giving one group of participants 25 grams daily of denatured soy protein and another group another type called isolated soy protein which is not treated with heat and still in its most natural form for eight weeks.
At the end of the experiment, the researchers found that both groups saw cholesterol lowering effects, however the group taking the natural form of soy protein saw a cholesterol decrease of 10% which was twice that of the other group.
Cholesterol lowering effects
Most meal replacement shakes used in VLCDs are based on whey protein from milk or denatured soy protein, which is extracted from soya beans using Ultra-Heat Treatment (UHT).
But according to Dr Hoie – who has been the co-author of over 20 peer reviewed publications on Very Low Calorie Diets, including two of those mentioned above – using the most natural form of soy protein, called ‘isolated soy protein’, available has been shown to be most beneficial.
In his further research, Dr Hoie also did a study concluding that adding phospholipids and fibre to natural soy protein could double its cholesterol lowering effects, compared with soy protein alone.
‘By combining the protein with phospholipids [a type of lipid that is essential to healthy cell functioning] and fibres from the soybean, we have doubled the cholesterol lowering effects of soy protein alone,’ says Dr Hoie.
‘In my opinion, head to head we have done more placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind studies than any other commercial plant-based protein on the market.’
Preserving lean muscle mass
One of the side effects of rapid weight loss is a notorious loss of muscle, along with fat. This is a problem because without the fat-burning effects of lean muscle mass, the body’s metabolism can slow down considerably, causing weight gain but also muscle wasting as muscle breaks down.
‘We have three clinical studies on the preservation of lean body mass using the protein found in the Norvia weight loss shakes, one was even done on rheumatoid arthritis patients who often get overweight because they take cortisone in their treatments and all of them have shown that It can help preserve muscle mass in trial participants’.
Of these studies, perhaps the most impressive was one published in the journal Metabolism. It found that obese women taking a combination of the weight loss shakes and low calorie meals over a 12 week period lost an average of 13kg, 88% of which was fat.
Like Jess and according to the recommendations of Dr Hoie, who co-authored the research, the women did this in ‘phases’.
For example, in week one, they gradually exchanged their meals with shakes to have a smooth transition into the VLCD starting in the next 2-9 weeks where they replaced all daily meals with five VLCD shakes.
Then, in week 10-12 they went back to the week one regime by incorporating healthy meals to their daily nutrition plus 2-3 shakes during the day.
Will I get all my nutrients?
To qualify as a Very Low Calorie Diet on the label, all meal replacement weight loss shakes need to have a certain ratio between protein and carbohydrate intake, as well as essential fatty acids and recommended daily allowances of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. So read labels and ingredients lists carefully, before deciding on a product for you.
Healthista have been impressed by the Norvia nutrition weight loss shake system for a number of reasons. First of all, the taste. It’s delicious and comes without the dusty aftertaste many such meal replacements often come with.
read labels and ingredients lists carefully, before deciding on a product for you.
Second, perhaps because of the soy bean fibre it contains, they’re actually quite filling and can really keep hunger at bay.
Thirdly, is the body of peer-reviewed literature showing the formulations it is based on work not only for weight loss, but also for preserving muscle mass and helping lower cholesterol.
Will the weight stay off?
Ah, the £64,000 question…This too has been the subject of Dr Hoie’s research.
‘In several clinical studies conducted patients were followed for two years after their weight loss. On average, we found a third of patients keep all their weight off during these two years,’ says Dr Hoie. ‘About one third gain some of the weight back and the final third will gain all of the weight back.’
How to use Norvia for weight loss
If you’re clinically obese, you may want to go on the ‘attack’ phase of the diet by using five 140 calorie shakes for up to 12 weeks, with the supervision of your doctor.
Alternatively, for more modest weight loss and to kick start eating less, the makers recommend replacing 2-3 daily meals with Norvia Weight loss shakes plus one healthy meal and one healthy snack during the day for up to 12 weeks.
It’s delicious and comes without the dusty aftertaste many such meal replacements often come with.
To maintain weight, Dr Hoie recommends replacing just one meal daily with one of the 140 calorie weight loss shakes, which could help keep off the weight you have lost.
If you’re not after weight loss, Norvia Active Performance is also based on soy protein but designed as an addition to a healthy diet, to help fuel the body with extra nutritional supplementation after exercise.
Remember though, it’s recommended to seek advice from your GP before starting a weight loss system, especially if you replace all meals with shakes for a longer period than two weeks.
Norvia Weight Loss (VLCD) shakes cost EUR 2.49 per sachet/portion and EUR 34.95 for the box of 14 sachets and Norvia Active Performance shakes cost EUR 2.99 per sachet/portion EUR29.95 for the box holding 10 sachets are available from Norvia.com. Follow Norvia on Instagram @norvianutrition.
This content was sponsored by Norvia Nutrition.