Taking Control of Your Dietary Composition Part 11

The notion that you are what you eat is not new. In fact, in a classic work entitled “Physiologie du goût,” French politician Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” This book, which was a collection of essays about food, was written in 1826 and the passage translates to, “Tell me what you eat and I shall tell you what you are.” So, this means that man has had at least a cursory understanding of the link between nutrition and health for 200 years! But while it’s safe to say that most people understand this link today, it’s also apparent that many don’t act according to its message when taking their place at the dinner table. How come? Well, lack of discipline is one obvious answer, but in some cases, it might simply be a case of frustration.

In 2011, the American Dietetic Association released findings from a nationwide survey designed to evaluate attitudes, knowledge, beliefs and behaviors about food and nutrition. Entitled “Nutrition and You: Trends 2011,” this poll also examined how these factors had changed since 1991 when the first of eight similar surveys was conducted. The 2011 version found that television remains the most popular source that people turn to for nutritional information with 67 percent of those responding placing it number one on their list. What is more, magazines (41 percent; declining) and the Internet (40 percent; rising) were in a virtual tie for second. This is alarming because it means that most people get their nutritional information from sources that need not respect the importance of scientific scrutiny. And to make matters worse, a National Health Council survey revealed that 68 percent of consumers agree with the statement, “When reporting medical and health news, the media often contradicts themselves, so I don’t know what to believe.” Collectively, these findings explain the frustration of which I speak: With so much conflicting information bandied about by sources with varying amounts of credibility, is it any wonder that many people say, “What’s the point of even trying to eat right?”

One nutritional controversy that can have your head spinning with respect to what to believe is the role that carbohydrates should play in a healthy diet. Generally speaking, there are two viewpoints that are both diametrically opposed and defended with vigor by their advocates. One camp believes that carbs should contribute a good portion of the energy we ingest (e.g., 45-65 percent as per USDA guidelines) whereas the other suggests they should be restricted to a minimal amount. The end result is that low-carb diets are either heralded as the solution to all that ails you or condemned as a surefire suicidal strategy. As is usually the case with polarized debates, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Opponents of the low-carb diet suggest that the nutritional imbalance it creates leads to a potentially life-threatening condition known as ketosis. Generally speaking, this is half right. Shifting macronutrient proportion dramatically away from carbs does, indeed, result in the accumulation of acidic bodies known as ketones in the blood because they are produced when fat metabolism is relied upon to a greater extent than normal. However, this form of ketosis (i.e., dietary ketosis) is different than diabetic ketosis, which is the life-threatening form that occurs when blood glucose is poorly regulated in type I diabetics. Much like dietary ketosis, with diabetic ketosis, insufficient carbohydrate stores cause the accumulation of ketones, but in this case, it is because ingested carbohydrates can not be processed and the end result is a much more dramatic acidification.

Score one for the low-carb camp because while not necessarily the healthiest state to be in, dietary ketosis won’t kill you. However, is it really helpful for fat loss? Well, if you’ve read previous installments, you’ll know that body fat is only lost when a caloric deficit is present (i.e., when energy expenditure exceeds intake), so if you simply ingest the same amount of calories while shifting macronutrient proportionality away from carbs, there’s no reason to think that it will alter what was happening to your fat stores before you made the change. But many people do have success with the low-carb approach and the reason was revealed in a recent study by Johnstone et al., who evaluated healthy, obese men while they maintained both a low-carb ketogenic (four percent of energy in the form of carbohydrates; 30 and 66 percent as protein and fat, respectively) and a moderate-carb non-ketogenic (35, 30 and 35 percent of energy as carbohydrate, protein and fat, respectively) diet for separate four-week periods. Importantly, within this paradigm, while macronutrient proportions were strictly controlled, caloric intake was determined solely by the participant based upon how much he chose to consume. Results showed that the subjects ingested significantly less energy when following the low-carb protocol (1,732 kilocalories compared to 1,899 for the balanced diet), which meant they also consumed less bulk food because the diets were matched with respect to energy density (i.e., they comprised approximately 270 kilocalories per pound of food offered). The take-home message is that subjects wound up ingesting less energy when following the low-carb diet because they opted for less bulk food intake.

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




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