Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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A low fat or low carbohydrate diet: Which is it? The DIETFITS study


Will this debate ever end ?- there is hope after reading this study. The results were not so new – other studies have shown similar results.

This study showed that it made little difference whether a dieter chooses a low fat or low carbohydrate diet, but it was the quality of the foods in both groups that resulted in a meaningful weight loss instead of dwelling on calorie restriction. The low carbohydrate group had a larger loss, but the differences were not significant.

The weight loss range was substantial -some losing a lot of weight while a few even gained weight on both of the diets. The distribution curve was startlingly similar between the groups.

This study scored a win for whole foods rather than consuming highly processed foods. Refined carbohydrates are still defined as “junk” so sugar and flour more than likely are not very good food choices for health and/or weight control.

“Before worrying about the details, one should ensure their diet is more whole foods (with ample vegetables) than processed foods. If your chosen diet leaves you feeling hungry, you will likely revert back to old eating habits.” was a quote from the lead author of the study. All weight loss programs/plans should include a weight loss maintenance phase since it makes no sense to lose weight and not be able to keep the weight off permanently. If you plan to lose some weight, this study should be a “must read.” You can find the whole study HERE.

CLICK HERE for a brief summary.


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The Best Diet? The Debate Continues


The debate about the best diet for health (not weight loss) continues with the latest report from U S. News and World Report. Winning top awards are three diets: the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH diet and coming in third, the Flexitarian Diet. These diets are basically saturated fat restricted and recommend the conventional wisdom of a more plant-based approach of whole grains and fruits and vegetables in order to prevent heart disease and diabetes.

On the other hand, there are critics of the report that include the proponents of the low carbohydrate, high fat ketogenic (LCHF-keto) diet that is lately gaining some attention at least for weight loss and claims to reverse diabetes. Many of these claims appear to be anecdotal on the Internet. By the way, the LCHF-keto diet came in last in the report by the nutrition experts. See my previous post HERE.

It still remains to be seen conclusively if  any of these diets can be protective against heart disease.  There is a great deal of research on the Mediterranean Diet and the lower risks of many chronic diseases.  To be fair, research on low carb diets is increasing due to interest on the LCHF diet claims for weight loss, diabetes prevention and lowering some risk factors of heart disease.  At the heart of the conflict is whether saturated fat is an unhealthy or healthy fat. The LCHF diet recommends using saturated fat liberally.

Partisans of both sides may be right or wrong. One fact is that  both are very restrictive and are very hard to follow for long periods of time, especially in our current food environment. There is fat and /or sugar (carbs) in almost every brand and type of processed food products. Often the food industry intentionally puts them there to increase the palatability of the product and to increase profits.

In the meantime,  the best diet remains to be the food choices you make and can incorporate into your lifestyle whether it is vegan, low fat or low carb.  One diet is not for everyone. It is important to consider your genetic background and health history. If you change your diet please consult with your physician for his/her opinions.


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Low Carb/Low Fat: Which Diet is Best?

Which diet is best for weight loss? This debate has been a hot topic of nutritionists and dieters that began when Nathan Pritikin (a low fat guru) and Dr. Robert Atkins (a low carb supporter) faced off at a diet conference decades ago.

As People Magazine described it:

“Breakfasting within sight of each other during a recent diet conference, two of America’s leading gurus of weight loss were in no mood to break bread—or chew the fat. At one table Dr. Robert Atkins gobbled down bacon, ham and eggs, but carefully pushed the toast to the side of his plate. Nearby, he says, Nathan Pritikin was munching on nothing but plain toast. “I looked over at him eating his dry bread,” Atkins recalls scornfully. “And he looked so pathetic.” What does Pritikin think of Atkins’ bill of fare? “His diet is a monstrosity,” Pritikin says. “It’s really a malignancy of nutrition.” From People Magazine, December 3, 1979.

Since then, this controversy  has continued relentlessly – until now.  Maybe, just maybe, we can accept one “truth” – it really doesn’t matter for weight loss.

However, the following article does not address that there are some major differences in health affects between the two diets- namely, their effects on heart disease risks (LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol). Those differences in time may help to clarify the debate about the lipid hypothesis of heart disease. Check out my previous post HERE.

Read the article HERE.

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A Case for High Carbohydrates?

What can we learn about diets from the Japanese? They have low rates of major chronic disease and have a high life expectancy. They eat a diet high in carbs and still have a low incidence of obesity. How do they do it?  Again, it may be the kinds of carbs (there are some healthy carbs) they eat, get more exercise and follow a low fat diet.

The Traditional Japanese Diet:

  • The diet is one of the lowest in fat – traditionally the Japanese get  26% of their calories as fat – about 8% lower than the U.S.
  • Fish is favorite protein source.
  • Soy foods are abundant.
  • They focus on presentation enhancing the  enjoyment of food.
  • They eat little processed food. They eat real food.
  • They eat about 65% of their calories from carbohydrate – mainly rice.

Bottom Line:

Japan: High carbs, more exercise, low fat

U.S.: High carbs, less exercise, high fat. Think of the popularity of ice cream or a candy bar. Sugar plus fat wins out every time. Much of our highly processed foods are loaded with both.


For more on Asian diets, CLICK HERE.

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The Demise of the Low Fat Diet?


Oh my – all those years of counting fat grams and eating Snackwell cookies?  What a waste of time.  Good riddance to the low-fat diet.  Some say it made us all gain weight?  The low carbohydrate diet has a long history whereas the low fat diet appeared in the 1980’s due to the concerns about fat and heart disease.  You may enjoy a previous post on diet history HERE.


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The Dietary Guidelines Dilemma

English: The blue circle is the global symbol ...

English: The blue circle is the global symbol for diabetes, introduced by the International Diabetes Federation with the aim of giving diabetes a common identity, supporting existing efforts to raise awareness of diabetes and placing the diabetes epidemic firmly in the public spotlight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After years and years of basically the same Dietary Guidelines recommendations ( low fat and more carbohydrates),  the U.S. is in the midst of a serious dietary problem – obesity and an increase in the incidence of diabetes type 2.  Maybe it’s time for a change, but it looks like that will not happen this time around – the 2015 version.


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Diets, Weight Loss and Health

English: A display of high fat foods such as c...

English: A display of high fat foods such as cheeses, chocolates, lunch meat, french fries, pastries, doughnuts, etc. Reuse Restrictions: None – This image is in the public domain and can be freely reused. Please credit the source and/or author listed above. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is there a heart healthy diet? Do people lose more weight with a low fat or low carbohydrate diet? In the past few decades, thanks to Nathan Pritikin and Ancel Keys, fat phobia and heart health dominated nutrition advice. Even now, most people still think that high fat is associated with heart attacks. More recently our thinking about fats has changed – we now accept that not all fats are created equal in terms of health. The term “healthy fats” have entered the nutrition vocabulary. But what do we really know about the role of diet in heart disease, health and weight loss?

The old paradigm emphasized restriction of saturated fat and cholesterol but presently, that worn-out concept is being questioned.  The requirement was that people eat less than 20% of calories as fat. The problem was exacerbated with low-fat products becoming loaded with sugar to compensate for this restriction and people were encouraged to eat carbohydrate with abandon whether it was healthy carbohydrate or not. For example, the old Food Guide Pyramid encouraged people to eat 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta a day. A controversial diet book called Calories Don’t Count even became a best seller. Although not the only factor, the obesity epidemic began during the decades of attempting to follow low-fat recommendations.

How does the latest trend of the low carbohydrate diet compare? Dr. Robert Atkins took the diet world by storm and people abandoned their egg white omelets for bacon and attempted to follow the Atkins Diet Revolution.A low-carb diet limits carbohydrates — such as those found in grains, starchy vegetables and fruit — and emphasizes foods higher in protein and fat.  There are  varying restrictions on the types and amounts of carbohydrates you can eat, but 50-100 grams is commonly accepted as reasonable carbohydrate restriction; however, there is no consistent definition of  low carbohydrate.

The metabolic syndrome now gives us more of an idea of the factors that may contribute to heart disease. There are six parameters of this syndrome that have been identified that relate to heart disease: abdominal obesity, atherogenic dyslipidemia (low HDL, elevated LDL, high triglycerides) raised blood pressure, insulin resistance ± glucose intolerance, and a proinflammatory state. Along with age and lack of exercise, this syndrome risk increases even more.

In my opinion, the following statements reflect our current knowledge when we compare diets related to weight loss and/or our  health.

  • The jury is still out as to whether low fat or low carbohydrate diets play a role in heart disease directly. No one knows if sugar affects heart disease.
  • The American Heart Association recommends a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts. It limits red meat and sugary foods and beverages.  This diet is very restrictive in that people cannot maintain it for very long due to restrictions on nutrient-dense foods like red meat and foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Low-fat diets high in polyunsaturated fats tend to lower LDL-cholesterol. Often HDL-cholesterol is decreased in the process.
  • Initial weight loss is usually more rapid in the low carbohydrate approach, but over time, both low-fat and low carbohydrate result in modest weight loss (an average of about 10 pounds in 1 year according to most studies).
  • Existing evidence suggests that carbohydrate restriction positively affects most of the components of the metabolic syndrome. Waistline is reduced, blood pressure is improved, triglycerides and HDL-cholesterol improve, there will be less insulin resistance, and glucose metabolism improves.
  • Most people regain their weight loss within one to five years.
  • A low carbohydrate diet is often a better choice for people with gastrointestinal problems since some carbohydrate foods contain components that aggravate some conditions like gluten sensitivity or irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Whether it is a low fat or a low carbohydrate diet, both are restrictive. Overly restrictive diets don’t work since people find it difficult to maintain them since they take the pleasure out of eating. This can result in hunger, weight regain and the frustrating results of dieting failures.

What should you do either lose weight or improve your health? Commercial weight loss programs usually do not address the health aspects of diets; they only focus on weight loss. It is important to discuss your health profile with your doctor by looking at lipid and glucose lab results to decide which approach is best. People should choose their own diets based on their own personal metabolic profile, diet goals, and food preferences – think more of your health and less in terms of weight loss. Hopefully in the future, the diet wars will be resolved with more knowledge about the complexity of weight loss, weight maintenance as well as diet and health.

Perhaps, it may be best to not “diet” at all – more on this approach later.