TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter July 2003

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Carb ScaleLow-Carb Lowdown
The world has gone low-carb crazy. I was in a vitamin shop/health food store the other day, and the place was filled with Atkins-type products from floor to ceiling. Low-carb "keto" pasta, energy bars, freeze-dried cheese snacks, and tons more. People are snapping up anything and everything labeled "low-carb;" they believe the secret to rapid weight loss is "eating all the protein and fat you want," while avoiding bread, rice, potatoes, and other high carb foods. However, there's more to that story, according to a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Several scientific studies on obesity contained in the current Journal conclude that successful weight loss depends on limiting the total number of calories consumed each day. You can't "eat all the protein and fat you want." These diets are popular because eating protein and fat fills you up and suppresses hunger. On the other hand, eating highly processed "white foods" like white rice, white flour, and white sugar-based product, can cause insulin/blood sugar swings, and lead to more hunger. The infamous "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" (where you're hungry again two hours after eating a big meal) is primarily caused by eating a large amount of white rice with the meal.

Not everybody is enthusiastic about low-carb diets (including this writer). These diets, popularized by the late Dr. Robert Atkins, severely restrict the quantity of bread, pasta, rice, cereal, and fruit you can eat, but permit large amounts of saturated animal fats (found in full-fat cheese, cream, bacon, etc.). There is little controversy among doctors and nutritionists that excessive saturated fat in the diet is a direct contributor to heart disease and certain types of cancer (breast, prostate, and colon primarily). The April AMA Journal published a comprehensive review of the results from over 100 diet studies, the most complete ever presented, covering over 3,000 subjects. The consensus: weight loss among low-carb dieters occurs from restricting calories (eating less) rather than from exorcising demon carbohydrates from the menu. Low-carb diets do work but are not a healthy way to eat for the long run... they're a short-term weight loss strategy, not a lifestyle.

Not all carbs are created equal. While you're smart to avoid highly refined white food, please remember that whole "unrefined" grains and other plant foods play an important role in a balanced diet.

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