The national cholesterol education program diet vs a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and monounsaturated fat: a randomized trial

Arch Intern Med. 2004 Oct 25;164(19):2141-6. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.19.2141.


Background: In the United States, obesity is a major clinical and public health problem causing diabetes, dyslipidemia, and hypertension, as well as increasing cardiovascular and total mortality. Dietary restrictions of calories and saturated fat are beneficial. However, it remains unclear whether replacement of saturated fat with carbohydrates (as in the US National Cholesterol Education Program [NCEP] diet) or protein and monounsaturated fat (as in our isocaloric modified low-carbohydrate [MLC] diet, which is lower in total carbohydrates but higher in protein, monounsaturated fat, and complex carbohydrates) is optimal.

Methods: We randomized 60 participants (29 women and 31 men) to the NCEP or the MLC diet and evaluated them every 2 weeks for 12 weeks. They were aged 28 to 71 years (mean age, 44 years in the NCEP and 46 years in the MLC group). A total of 36% of participants from the NCEP group and 35% from the MLC group had a body mass index (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) greater than 27. The primary end point was weight loss, and secondary end points were blood lipid levels and waist-to-hip ratio.

Results: Weight loss was significantly greater in the MLC (13.6 lb) than in the NCEP group (7.5 lb), a difference of 6.1 lb (P = .02). There were no significant differences between the groups for total, low density, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, or the proportion of small, dense low-density lipoprotein particles. There were significantly favorable changes in all lipid levels within the MLC but not within the NCEP group. Waist-to-hip ratio was not significantly reduced between the groups (P = .27), but it significantly decreased within the MLC group (P = .009).

Conclusions: Compared with the NCEP diet, the MLC diet, which is lower in total carbohydrates but higher in complex carbohydrates, protein, and monounsaturated fat, caused significantly greater weight loss over 12 weeks. There were no significant differences between the groups in blood lipid levels, but favorable changes were observed within the MLC diet group.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cholesterol
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted*
  • Diet, Reducing*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Female
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Lipids
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / diet therapy*
  • Waist-Hip Ratio
  • Weight Loss


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Lipids
  • Cholesterol