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Can a Paper Strip Show Fat Loss?

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Could a small strip of paper show a dieter's success in burning fat?

Alva-Amco Pharmacal Co. has been marketing the THINZ MetaboSTIX test strips for dieters since 2001. Dieters place the strip in their urine. If the strip changes color, it means the urine is high in ketone content and that the body is burning fat, said Michael Reisner, vice president of marketing at the Niles, Ill.-based company.

Reisner said the strips are best used in conjunction with a responsible, low-carbohydrate diet.

Ketone content indicates fat loss because "the immediate use of fat generates ketone bodies as a byproduct. These can be measures in blood or as acetone in the urine," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in Derby, Conn.

Though the strips prove an accurate indication that fat is being used as energy, some question the benefit of using a strip over just stepping on a scale. Others say a diet that results in high ketone production is not necessarily healthy.

"You and I burn fat every day yet we do not produce ketones," said Dr. Robert Kushner, medical director of the Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "The metabolism strips are misleading because they suggest that if ketones are not present, weight loss is not happening -- which is untrue."

Jackie Berning, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and associate professor of nutrition at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, agreed. She said dieters should know that a strip cannot reveal calories burned or weight lost.

Misleading Reading or Helpful Hint?

Others questioned the need for the urine tester.

"It won't harm you. It could certainly keep you on track," said Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

But Fernstrom said she does not see a particular advantage to testing urine content over just checking to see if one's clothes fit the same. "You don't need the strips to tell you you're doing a good job ... if you have the extra money, you're better off buying a calorie counter."

The strips can confirm the obvious -- that during a diet, calorie intake is low and fat is used, according to Katz.

"The strips place unnecessary emphasis on ketones because the fundamental message remains what it has always been: take in fewer calories than you use up each day, and you will lose weight .... The strips are a gimmick superimposed on this very simple, reliable concept," Katz said.

Reisner said the product can do no harm, and it serves to keep dieters on the right path. This product encourages good dieting "because what it really measures is fat loss ... whatever responsible diet someone goes one, this encourages them," he said.

Dangerous Dieting

Ketone production occurs in the absence of carbohydrates. A diet high in protein and low in starch, such as the Atkins diet, would force the body to use up fat as an energy source. But without carbohydrates, fat cannot be completely metabolized, Berning said.

Kushner said the use of the strips can serve as a visual marker to show that Atkins dieters are on track. But he questioned the healthfulness of the diet itself. The only time that a person's urine should be high in ketones is if the individual is not eating enough carbohydrates to stay healthy, he said.

The Atkins diet is popular, as is the Atkins style of eating -- a diet low in starch and high in protein, said Fernstrom. However, she emphasized that a diet void of carbohydrates is not necessarily healthy. Lean protein with fruits and vegetables to substitute starchy carbohydrates is ideal.

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Copyright 2003 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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