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posted: 8/11/2010 12:01 AM

HCG diet no panacea for losing weight

Ask the Nutritionist

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Q. Are the claims of amazing weight loss on the HCG diet really true?

A. The HCG diet, also known as the Simeons therapy, has two components: One is a 500-calorie diet (occasionally increased to 800 calories a day) and the other is use of HCG hormones, usually by injection or drops taken under the tongue.

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HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is a hormone secreted by the placenta during pregnancy and obtained from the urine of pregnant women. A study in the 1950s suggested that HCG along with this very low calorie diet allowed weight loss without hunger and promoted fat loss without muscle loss. However, an analysis of all available research on HCG-aided weight loss found only two of the 14 studies showed benefit.

One of these two lasted only three weeks and the other stopped at six weeks. The remaining 12 randomized trials showed that weight-loss with the use of HCG was no greater than with the use of a placebo or with the diet only.

According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, there is no evidence that HCG supports weight loss and although it may be safe for use under very close medical supervision on a short-term basis, it does increase production of androgens (male hormones), so it could promote development of prostate cancer.

That leaves the question of whether diets supplying only 500 calories per day promote long-term weight control. Cutting calories so drastically will almost certainly lead to weight loss if the diet is followed, and under close medical supervision it can be safe for those who are extremely obese. However, research suggests that it is very difficult to prevent significant loss of lean body tissue (muscle and organs) when calories and protein are as low as those in a 500-calorie diet, and long-term success of weight loss is questionable.

The American Society of Bariatric Physicians (doctors who treat obesity with surgery or medical therapies, which could include HCG) has issued a statement concluding that neither the HCG diet nor HCG treatments are recommended for weight loss.

Q. How does the nutritional value of white asparagus compare to green asparagus?

A. We don't have nearly as much nutrition data about white asparagus as for green.

To produce white asparagus, growers cover the shoots so they don't produce chlorophyll, the substance responsible for the usual green color. White asparagus does not seem to be as high in phenols - natural antioxidant plant compounds - as its green relative. Some analysis shows vitamin C content in white asparagus higher than the content listed in official USDA tables for green asparagus; however it's not clear whether testing methods in these reports give directly comparable results.

Green asparagus is an excellent source of the B vitamin folate, but I can't find documentation of how much is in the white version. Overall, white asparagus probably offers fewer nutritional benefits than green asparagus, but if you enjoy the variety it adds to your diet, it's certainly a healthy choice.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Learn more about the group and its New American Plate program at aicr.org.

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