Nutrition: Food Facts and Fiction (cont.)

MEMBER QUESTION:
I've read South Beach. It is written by a medical doctor with good credentials, the same with Dr. Ornish, and the same with several other diet doctors. And then there is Dr. Atkins. How do I know which doctor is right?

CARBONE:
There is lots of confusion with all of the diets out there. One thing to keep in mind is if anything promises a quick fix, be wary. Now, many of these diets are based upon some truths. In addition, people will experience weight loss quickly to start with. A lot of this is as a result of water loss, and it can be also overall reduction in calorie intake that's very severe that will lead to a weight loss initially.

The problems: First of all many of these diets don't focus on behavior and lifestyle changes. Some of my favorite fad diets I've heard about are the grapefruit diet, eating by your blood type, or eating by your astrological sign. All of these catch people's attention, but over the long run, think about if it's a diet that includes foods from all of the food groups -- fruits, vegetables, dairy products, etc.

The other question is in terms of analyzing the diets is are they requiring you to purchase a lot of their products and specialized foods? That's something to keep in mind.

"Right now, the general guidelines from the American Dietetic Association and other national organizations still recommend that fat intake be controlled, especially saturated fats and trans fat, to reduce the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, etc."

One more thing to add that's very important with these low-carb diets: We don't have long-term data or evidence that suggests that these are healthy over the long-term. What we do know, however, is that they can cause some problems, especially if they're restricting specific types of foods, and low-carb diets can cause ketosis, which, over the short-term and long-term, can be problematic, including development of kidney stones or gout.

For example, the low-carb diets tend to be high in protein and fat, which can increase your risk over the long-term of heart disease and even sometimes cancer. So the bottom line is, look between the lines. Read carefully and just because it has a physician's name attached to it doesn't necessarily mean it's right for you. You need to weigh the benefits and the potential risks, and if you have questions you can talk to a dietician.

MEMBER QUESTION:
It seems the medical community is changing its collective mind about what causes heart attacks. It's not necessarily clogged arteries, according to an article I read this week, and raising good cholesterol may not be so important. Does this mean watching how much fat you eat will be less of a concern for heart heath in the future? I'm confused.

CARBONE:
New research is coming in all the time. We continue to learn new things and develop new insight about diseases. That's both the good news and the bad news. The good news is we're always learning, but the bad news is it gets very confusing. Right now, the general guidelines from the American Dietetic Association and other national organizations still recommend that fat intake be controlled, especially saturated fats and trans fat, to reduce the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, etc.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Where can I find information on what foods are high in protein?

CARBONE:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has information about nutrient content of different foods at www.usda.gov/cnpp/. The American Dietetic Association also has information at www.eatright.org. And many basic nutrition related textbooks or brochures from these organizations can provide this information. For both of these, they provide good general nutrition information, and at the ADA site you can find a nutrition professional in your area.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I try to read labels, but just when I think I understand what I am reading, something new will pop up. What are "net carbs?" What does it mean when it says a product is "natural?" Does "free-range" mean it is healthier meat and poultry? I know there is a real legal definition of "organic" but am not sure about so many of these other descriptions.

"Fat is needed in the diet as a source of energy. It's also needed to support fat-soluble vitamins."

CARBONE:
There are definitions for some of the terms; for others, there are not. Net carbs refers to the total carbohydrates, including both simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates refer to, for example, refined sugars. Complex carbohydrates refer to, for example whole grains and fiber.

I think terms such as natural and organic are becoming more and more prevalent. Many food companies are trying to promote the healthful benefits of their food products. As more of these terms are used, there's more consumer demand to define them.

In addition, when health claims are made in relation to certain foods or terms, for example if a food is labeled "to reduce the risk of cancer or heart disease or osteoporosis," then that must be approved by the federal government. In other words, specific health claims cannot be made without approval of the government. So the Food and Drug Administration is one of the organizations at the federal level that works to define these terms for the public.