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Three Cheers for Oprah – A Celebrity Affirming Science

Dr. Julie Miller Jones, LN, CNS

Oprah’s statement that bread every day was part of her weight loss diet jolted consumers into questioning current popular press claims that bread and grains are making us fat.  Yah for Oprah! I am delighted when a celebrity affirms what science has been saying since the beginning of nutrition science and advice such as USDA MyPlate and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.1 ,2

Oprah’s diet success and the success of millions who use Weight WatchersTM challenge the prevailing view that when dieters restrict, or eliminate, bread they will become suddenly slim. Her statement also raises questions about fad diets and easy fixes, and those who promote them.  Consumers should consider that if any fad diet effectively addressed overweight for the long term, there would be no need for another book or miracle diet.

In terms of bread and weight, the medical literature provides supporting evidence to back up Oprah’s statements.   For example, her testimonial with an ‘n of one’ reflects findings from a study on over 120 middle-aged, overweight or obese women who went on a low calorie diet. They were divided into two groups – one included bread in the diet and one eliminated it.  Despite the bread group eating more carbs, this group consumed fewer total calories – a good start on weight loss. More importantly, only 6% of the bread group dropped out, compared to over 20% of the non-bread group. Satiety data also differed with subjects who ate bread reporting they felt more satiated than those not including bread.3

Satiety while dieting helps with diet compliance,4  and compliance is one key to successful weight loss.  For long-term diet success, a large study published in JAMA documented that the diet subjects stayed with was one associated with weight loss and maintenance. In other words, diets that enable a sustainable, long-term dietary change provide the key to long-term weight loss success. In fact, the JAMA study also showed that those on the Weight WatchersTM diet were more likely to have long-term success than those assigned to a low-carb diet.5 6 ,  One potential reason is that the diet is one that is not radically different from mainstream diets.

The Weight WatchersTM plan, like the Mediterranean Diet or the DASH diet, is balanced with the “right stuff” for all food groups.  For the bread and cereal group, this means both the right quantity and balance of whole and enriched bread and grain products. The right balance continues to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendation to make “half your grains whole.”1   In conclusion, diet patterns that include breads, whole grains, and cereals in the right balance are associated with lower body weights and less weight gain over time. Dietary patterns such as DASH or Weight Watchers that include bread do allow weight loss.  Such dietary strategies encourage adherence, which means there is a greater likelihood of maintaining weight loss over the long term.

[1] Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 8th Edition health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

[2] USDA MyPlate. www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate

[3] Loria-Kohen V, Gómez-Candela C, Fernández-Fernández C, Pérez-Torres A, García-Puig J, Bermejo LM.  Evaluation of the usefulness of a low-calorie diet with or without bread in the treatment of overweight/obesity. Clin Nutr. 2012 Aug;31

[4]:455-6 Hetherington MM, Cunningham K, Dye L, Gibson EL, Gregersen NT, Halford JC, Lawton CL, Lluch A, Mela DJ, Van Trijp HC. Potential benefits of satiety to the consumer: scientific considerations. Nutr Res Rev. 2013 Jun;26(1):22-38.

[5] Gardner CD, Kiazand A, Alhassan S, Kim S, Stafford RS, Balise RR, Kraemer HC, King AC. Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A TO Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2007 Mar 7;297(9):969-77.

[6] Atallah R, Filion KB, Wakil SM, Genest J, Joseph L, Poirier P, Rinfret S, Schiffrin EL, Eisenberg MJ. Long-term effects of 4 popular diets on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2014 Nov;7(6):815-27.

Dr. Jones is a Professor Emeritus of food science and nutrition at St. Catherine University. She also serves on the Wheat Foods Council Advisory Board.