Danish researchers have come up with a recipe for preventing and treating obesity: a diet high in proteins and low in refined starches such as white bread and white rice.

Researchers from the Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE), University of Copenhagen, compared official European dietary recommendations with a diet based on more recent knowledge on the importance of proteins and carbohydrates for appetite regulation.

Details of the project, code-name "Diogenes," appear in the November 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"If you want to lose weight," read a statement announcing the research, "you should maintain a diet that is high in proteins with more lean meat, low-fat dairy products and beans and fewer finely refined starch calories such as white bread and white rice.

"With this diet, you can also eat until you are full without counting calories and without gaining weight," read the statement.

A total of 772 European families participated in the study, comprising 938 adult family members and 827 children. The families had at least a child between the ages of five and 17 years in good health, and a parent between the ages of 18 and 65.

The overweight adults at first followed an eight-week diet and lost an average of 11 kilos (24 pounds).

Participants were then randomly assigned to one of five different low-fat diet types which they followed for six months, to test which diet was most effective at preventing a regain of weight.

Throughout the project, dieticians gave the families help, and asked them to provide blood and urine samples.

The children's study, published separately in the US journal Pediatrics, covered 827 children, 45 percent of whom were overweight. After following their parent's diet the rate obesity dropped by 15 percent.

The researchers conclude that the official European dietary recommendations "are not sufficient for preventing obesity."