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The science behind those cookie diets

Research is sketchy, but protein and fiber in cookies might help curb appetites.

January 19, 2009|Karen Ravn

Others believe just the opposite. They argue that frequent smaller meals lead to frequent releases of smaller amounts of insulin, and those in turn lead to frequent releases of leptin, a hormone thought to send messages to the brain that the body is full. This means the leptin is hanging around almost all the time, which might sound like a good thing, but unfortunately, the theory goes, it's not. The leptin receptors get so used to it that they no longer feel inspired to tell the brain to tell the mouth to stop eating.

That view would seem to support the rather maverick-y position Dr. Eric R. Braverman takes in his book "Younger You: Unlock the Hidden Power of Your Brain to Look and Feel 15 Years Younger." He says frequent small meals aren't all they're cracked up to be and recommends "eating large breakfasts and dinners with little else in between."

A middle course might be best, says Susan B. Roberts, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University and a leading nutrition researcher. Three meals and up to two snacks a day are a good routine for dieters, she says, and the routine part is actually important. "If you eat at regular times, your body learns not to expect food at other times," she writes in her book "The Instinct Diet."

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Related research

Although there's a dearth of cookie-diet research, a 2004 study asked 108 participants to rate their hunger and stomach fullness after eating a meal-replacement bar designed for overweight people. Hunger ratings remained significantly below a previously established baseline for five hours, while fullness ratings remained significantly above the baseline.

The authors compared these results to an earlier study finding similar changes for liquid meal replacements, but only for three hours. They noted that the bar had 30 more calories than the liquid but believed that the increased hunger-suppression time was more related to the difference between solids versus liquids.

The bar in their study had 250 calories, with 4 grams of dietary fiber, 14 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat. In terms of nutrient content per calorie, cookie-diet cookies don't have an extremely different profile for the most part. But in absolute terms, the differences in nutrient content between the bar and the cookies may be significant. For instance, the cookies have just 4 or 5 grams of protein, instead of 14.

Besides, the difference in calorie content itself is major -- with the bar providing two-thirds more than even the highest-calorie cookies, Soypal and Hollywood Cookies. (For Soypal, that's for a packet of seven cookies meant to be eaten as one meal.)

So the bar had a big advantage over all the cookies to the extent that hunger satisfaction is related to calorie consumption.

And -- alas -- that's one theory no one really doubts.

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health@latimes.com

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