Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Diet to Lose Weight or to Live a Longer, Healthier Life?

Dieting has other significant benefits besides improved appearance. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably dieted or at least thought about it on many occasions. We all know the theory behind dieting: Consuming fewer calories decreases body weight, by creating a negative energy balance.

People that want to lose weight usually ask themselves, “What is the best diet and how long do I have to follow it?” The answers, I guess, depend on your weight loss goals. As you probably know, dieting for a short period of time is not a wise or effective way to lose those extra pounds.

What happens with dieting in this fashion is that you fall into a vicious cycle of weight loss followed by weight gain followed by weight loss and so on (yo-yo dieting). The resulting fluctuations in body weight have been shown to be very harmful to health in countless of scientific studies - and actually even more harmful than just being overweight and not dieting at all.

The healthiest solution would be to permanently reduce your daily calories and choose a healthy, well balanced diet. Many fad diets today are not very healthy according to scientific evidence. And most, if not all are based on calorie restriction regardless of their philosophies. We’ll get back to this later.

First, let’s talk about other health benefits associated with reductions in caloric intake. If you are overweight and adopt an improved lifestyle by first eating less food, you are going to lose weight – that’s fact. The less obese you are the lower the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer among others. This has been well documented as well.

A few recent studies have suggested calorie restriction, even at moderate levels may improve your health, slow down the aging process and reduce risks of developing health conditions common with old age.

In one study, published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, scientists found that the hearts of people who ate less food and followed a well balanced diet had very similar characteristics to those of younger people.

Research from scientists at the University of Florida showed that calorie restriction may reduce the death of brain cells related with age. They added that eating fewer calories may reduce the risk of developing degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – and helps to keep the brain young so it can function normally for a longer period of time.

In another study, evidence suggested that eating less, even later in life, may prolong life. Other research indicated that reduced food intake may improve symptoms related to diabetes mellitus and cancer.

Okay, we know that eating less improves health but how do we go about it? What diet do we choose? Well, firstly, the high protein, low carb - type diets have been associated with too many health risks, especially in the long term (or at least research results have been very controversial). Keep in mind, although these types of diets may work, they do so only because of calorie restriction, not because of macronutrient priority.

Healthy diets that are supported by research are those which (I prefer to use the term lifestyle rather than diet, by the way) are reduced in calories, are below 30% of total calories from fat and less than 10% calories from saturated and trans fats and include “slow carbs” (rather than low carbs) which include high fiber such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates low in starch.

High fiber, low starch carbohydrates load you up but are not loaded with calories. The other thing is that these carbohydrates digest slower and keep your blood glucose levels more stable, helping to reduce hunger pangs, and to improve your body’s fat metabolism.

Personally, I think there are a few diets out there that are pretty effective such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig (which now have online versions), but can get pretty expensive with the pre-packaged meals that accompany them. The Zone diet falls in this category but is also very difficult to follow in the long term.

The one online diet plan I feel gives you the best bang for your buck is Dr. Kushner’s Personality-Type Diet at Diet.com. It’s not very difficult to follow because it is designed to fit your lifestyle, which means you don’t have to make drastic diet changes. They ask you to fill out a free diet personality questionnaire or profile of about 60 questions (most online diets, by the way, offer free profiles) and then they design a personalized plan that’s easy to follow.

They have pretty good online tools and support (forums) to help you along the way. The plan was designed by a doctor and its philosophy is line with a lot of scientific research. It consists of healthy balanced nutrition and offers guidance on physical activity as well. It’s based on real foods (from your supermarket), not pre-packaged food products.

So, eat a little less and enjoy a long and healthy life.

By John Tiniakos

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