Substituting regular meals with total diet replacements could aid weight loss, control diabetes

Total diet replacements or TDRs are nutritionally balanced formula foods such as shakes, soups, ready-to-drink options, dehydrated meals, nutrition bars, porridge, or negative-calorie desserts that are supposed to replace your entire diet

Representational image. Jade Wulfraat/Unsplash

Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are some of the biggest health concerns of the 21st century. Not only are these two chronic yet preventable diseases mutually reinforcing but both are also increasing in prevalence globally and are now largely referred to as epidemics. One of the most effective ways to manage both is diet, and so, many diet interventions have been designed by scientists, doctors and nutritionists over the last few decades.

A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests one such diet intervention, which is actually a combination of two effective methods, that is likely to help weight loss and thereby control obesity.

A high-protein total diet replacement for obesity

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, combines two potent diet strategies: a high-protein diet and total diet replacement products. A high-protein diet promotes the feeling of fullness while also providing energy-dense foods. Total diet replacements (TDRs), on the other hand, are nutritionally balanced formula foods that are supposed to replace your entire diet for a fixed period of time to promote weight loss and improve other metabolic markers. These TDRs usually consist of shakes or soups, ready-to-drink options, dehydrated meals, nutrition bars, porridge, or negative-calorie desserts. Many TDRs with high-protein content are already available in the market.

For this study, the researchers selected 18-35-year-old adults with normal weight. One group was fed high-protein TDRs consisting of 35 percent carbohydrate, 40 percent protein, and 25 percent fat. The other group was given a normal diet of 55 percent carbohydrate, 15 percent protein, and 30 percent fat.

The participants were given their prescribed diets for a 32-hour period while inside a metabolic chamber.

After this period, the researchers found that those who consumed high-protein TDRs had a higher energy expenditure rate, an increased rate of fat burning, and had reduced fat balance at the end of the 32-hour period.

The effectiveness of total diet replacements

While the results of this study are promising and suggest that high-protein TDRs are effective methods of burning body fat and reducing weight, this is not the first study to highlight the benefits of TDRs. A study published in January 2020 in The BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care suggests that patients with long-standing Type 2 diabetes and obesity can benefit immensely from low-calorie TDRs.

This study indicated that even when the participants stopped their insulin therapy and continued to stick to TDRs, their glycemic control, insulin burden and overall quality of life improved.

Another study published in September 2020 in PLoS One suggested that the participants recommended TDRs by their general physicians for a period of 24 weeks not only lost 10.7 kilos on average but also found this intervention cost-effective.

This cost-effectiveness of TDRs was also highlighted in a previous study in Obesity (2019), which suggested that TDRs can be considered a long-term treatment option for those with obesity but in monitored healthcare settings.

Total diet replacements – a view of the future

In September 2020, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) announced that people across the country will be able to access NHS-approved soup-and-shake TDR plans.

The NHS expects the ready availability of these TDRs will not only help people with obesity but also aid those with Type 2 diabetes. This programme will help those who choose to adopt these TDR plans for three months by also providing support to increase their exercise levels — another necessary part of any weight loss plans and diabetes therapy programme.

The adoption of such a programme on a nationwide scale by one of the world’s leading health systems indicates that healthcare professionals across the globe are now evaluating the benefits of recommending TDRs to their patients for obesity and diabetes.

Can the adoption of TDRs effectively reduce the burden of obesity and diabetes globally if utilised by more health systems and agencies? Only time will tell, but current scientific trends indicate this diet intervention has true potential.

For more information, read our article on Healthy foods to aid weight loss. 

Health articles in Firstpost are written by, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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