Taking Control of Your Dietary Composition Part 7

The first step in preparing a financial budget is to formulate goals after which you consider income and expenses to determine how much is left over for discretionary spending. The final piece of the puzzle is to figure out the best way to allocate this appropriation. When you prepare a structured eating program appropriate for your circumstances, a similar thought process is required. The first step is to set realistic goals with respect to what you are looking to achieve. Needless to say, eating foods that will optimize health should be at the top of this list, but you should also consider your body composition and how you'd like to alter it. For example, if you're looking to lose body fat, you should ingest less energy than you expend whereas if you're trying to gain muscle, you should ingest more. Regardless of this distinction, however, you will be left with a daily allotment of energy (measured in kilocalories; a.k.a., dietary calories or Calories with a capital "C") to ingest and it is only logical to appropriate this provision in the healthiest way possible.

The caloric content of food comes in three forms – protein, carbohydrate and fat. Each of these macronutrients is a necessary component of the diet and all contribute energy although not equally (fat is the most concentrated source with nine Calories per gram whereas protein and carbohydrate have four). In prior installments, I explained that it is critical to ingest an adequate amount of protein because it serves important functions in the body. However, this does not mean that the more protein you eat, the better off you will be. As I explained last time, research regarding whether excessive protein intake is harmful is equivocal, but there is no doubt that if you spend more Calories than necessary on this macronutrient, one or both of the others will be underrepresented. Given the current trend for high protein and fat intake, the left out macronutrient is often carbohydrates.

Low-carb diets are in vogue because of the belief that eating carbohydrates makes you fat. High carbohydrate intake is also often assumed to be linked to metabolic syndrome, a combination of disorders that can include cardiovascular disease, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus. Considering the prevalence of this disease (e.g., a 2002 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that 47 million Americans are afflicted), it's no wonder that carbs have become macronutrient non grata. But before you swear off the pasta, you might want to consider recent research that suggests increasing protein intake at the expense of carbs for extended periods poses considerable health risks.

The belief that carbohydrates are more likely to make you fat is based on the observation that low-carb diets are often effective for fat loss. However, there is a flaw in this reasoning. Indeed, it is easy for carbs you eat to be stored as fat, but this is also the case for the other macronutrients. The bottom line is that if you ingest more energy than you expend, you will store the excess as fat regardless of the macronutrient that provides the surplus. One reason that a low-carb diet might promote fat loss is that there could be a tendency when severely restricting carbs in favor of protein and fat to not fully replace the Calories lost from the removed carbs with extra amounts from the other two macronutrients. Consequently, the caloric deficit required for fat loss is present. However, research doesn't appear to support this contention. For example, Bowman and Spence analyzed the diets of 10,000 Americans and found that those consuming a diet with 55 percent of energy from carbohydrates (an amount within the range of adequate intake according to USDA guidelines; i.e., 45-65 percent) ate the same amount of food in terms of weight, but ~200 fewer Calories per day compared to those who restricted carbohydrates to less than 30 percent. One reason might be that the higher carbohydrate diet contained twice the amount of fiber, which can contribute to a greater feeling of satiety.

Even if those who follow low-carb diets might be inclined to eat fewer Calories, using this as the basis for advocating such an approach misses the mark because it assumes an uninformed consumer. The take-home message from prior installments is that inherent homeostatic mechanisms that regulate the amount of energy we ingest have been circumvented as the act of eating has become more than a simple requirement for survival. Consequently, we cannot rely on our instincts to tell us how much food to consume. Instead, we have to do the math and with the caloric content of foods readily available on product packaging, restaurant menus and the Internet, doing so now is easier than ever. So, if a person knows they have to eat 2,000 Calories per day to achieve their objectives, they can do so in a calculated manner no matter which dietary path they choose. This means that the deciding factor should not be which diet fools you into eating less Calories, but which approach allows you to use the Calories you consume to best promote health.

This article was originally published in New Living Magazine, which can be accessed on-line at www.newliving.com




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