MONDAY, June 3, 2002
(HealthScoutNews) — The Atkins Diet. The Carbohydrate Addicts Diet. The Sugarbusters Diet. Low-carbohydrate diets are all the rage among people trying to shed pounds. However, new research says such diets aren’t the solution to maintaining a healthy body weight and practicing good nutrition. The key is eating a tried-but-true diet loaded with fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as wheat bread and brown rice, with smaller portions of lean meats, poultry and fish, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In other words, a diet in which you get most of your calories from carbohydrates. The reasoning is rather simple, says Shanthy Bowman, study author and a USDA nutritionist. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight.
To maintain your weight, keep things in equilibrium. In comparison to proteins or fats, carbohydrates tend to contain fewer calories for the same volume of food. That means a person who has a diet high in carbohydrates can eat more food than someone who eats mostly protein and fats — all the while taking in less calories, Bowman says.
The study appears in the June issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Researchers used data from the USDA’s Continuing Survey of Food Intakes By Individuals 1994-1996, which includes self-reported food consumption information from 10,014 adults nationwide who weren’t on diets. The people were divided into four groups based on carbohydrate intake: those whose diets contained less than 30 percent; 30 percent to 45 percent; 45 percent to 55 percent; and more than 55 percent. The researchers found the people in the highest group consumed, on average, about 200 calories less per day while eating the same amount of food. The high-carb group ate an average of 1,840 calories daily. The low-carb group ate, on average, 2,031 calories daily, Bowman says. The high-carb group also had the lowest body mass index (BMI), a ratio of their weight to height. Fifty-nine percent of women and 45 percent of men in the high-carb group had a BMI of less than 25, considered a healthy weight. In the low-carb group, 45 percent of women and 35 percent of men had a BMI of less than 25. Not only did they weigh less, their diets were more nutritious, Bowman says. “The high carb group ate more fruit than the other groups,” Bowman adds. “Their strategy was to choose foods high in water content and dietary fiber, and also choose foods that are low in fat. That way they were able to eat more food without sacrificing variety.” Sheah Rarback, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says she’s not surprised by the findings. “If you’re eating a diet that’s high in carbs, there’s the possibility for eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and grains,” Rarback says.
So, how can you eat a diet that’s high in carbs? Rarback says a good rule of thumb is to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. When choosing grains, opt for whole grains such as brown rice or wheat bread. One thing to note: In all the groups in the study, the third biggest source of daily caloric intake was beverages — alcohol, soft drinks and sweetened fruit drinks. In all the groups, about 10 percent to 14 percent of calories came from beverages. For people trying to slim down, Bowman recommends cutting back on these high-calorie drinks.