Food Facts and Fiction

WebMD Live Events Transcript

These days it's easy to find nutrition information, in best-selling books, on the Internet, and even on fast food menus. The hard part is digesting all those food facts and finding out what's truly healthy. Dietitian Elena Carbone joined us on March 25, 2004 to ease our caloric confusion.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome, Dr. Carbone. With the arrival of spring so many of us want to adopt a healthier lifestyle -- especially when it comes to what we eat. However, there is so much information out there, we aren't sure what is fact and what is fiction (i.e. marketing). Can you help us?

Really focusing on some basic information, you may want to start with self-evaluation, doing an assessment of your usual intake. That might mean keeping a food diary, keeping track of how much you eat, when you eat it, and also the mood you're in when you eat it.

In addition, physical activity is key. That doesn't mean having to go to the gym or running; it can mean your usual activity pattern, including shopping, walking, gardening -- activities of daily living.

Once you've evaluated yourself and identified your problem areas, some of the things to think about are aiming for a healthy weight, being realistic, building a healthy base by eating vegetables, fruits, and grains, choosing sensible portion sizes, and being just as sensible about physical activity, starting slowly and being realistic.

"The bottom line is to be sensible and realistic; set small goals for yourself; realize that weight gain did not happen overnight, so it's not going to come off overnight... "

Sensible is a nice word, but how do we know how much
fiber, how much protein, etc. is sensible?

There are specific guidelines to determine what is sensible. For example, for adults under age 50 there are specific guidelines for fiber. For men it would 38 grams, for women, 25 grams. For adults over 50, for men it would be 30 grams, for women 21 grams. What are grams and what does all that mean? On the food label you'll see the grams of fiber, so you can use that help guide your intake.

Be careful of eating too much fiber too fast, or adding too much fiber too fast. As with everything, start slowly, and be sure to drink plenty of fluids when you're increasing your fiber intake. Look for things like:

  • Whole grains
  • Whole wheat
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn

You asked about the other nutrients. What we can look at in the big picture is balancing carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Those are called the macronutrients.

  • Carbohydrates: Although there's been a lot of talk about reducing carbohydrate intake with these low-carbohydrate diets, they're still very important for a balanced diet. So you want to aim for about half of your calories from carbohydrate, 45% to 65%, and that means between six and 11 servings of grains and grain products per day.
  • Protein: For protein, you want to aim for between 10% and 35% of your total calories. Protein can come from meats and eggs and nuts, and you want to aim for two to three servings a day, focusing on lean meats. There's also some protein in other food groups, for example in the dairy group, and again you want to focus on the lean and low-fat version of these.
  • Fat: The remainder, the remaining 25% to 30% of your calories, can come from fat, being sure to focus mostly on the lower-saturated fats. So, for example, you ought to focus more on the vegetable oils as opposed to the higher-saturated fats that would come from coconut oil or lard, palm oil, that sort of thing.

Now, these are general guidelines; a lot depends on your physical activity level. The bottom line is to be sensible and realistic; set small goals for yourself; realize that weight gain did not happen overnight, so it's not going to come off overnight, and think of this as a long-term process to change a lifestyle, as opposed to a short-term, quick-fix weight-loss diet.

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