If you equate the word "diet" with deprivation, you're not alone. Yet losing weight doesn't require starvation. Instead, it entails eating healthier foods.
From low-fat to low-carb to everything in between, there is certainly no shortage of diets promising to solve our weight-loss woes. Yet a number of these diets share one major flaw: They emphasize what we can't eat instead of teaching us what we can.
While low-fat diets tell us to eat less fat because it is the fat in our diets that is literally making us fat, low-carb diets instruct us to steer clear of carbohydrates, claiming they are the real culprits behind our bulging bellies. Ironically, much of the current research suggests that in the long term, both dietary extremes are equally effective for losing weight.
In a study published in the issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, after 12 months, study participants that were placed on either an isocaloric very low-carb or low-fat diet lost comparable amounts of weight as well as experiencing similar reductions in blood pressure, glucose, insulin, insulin resistance, and C-reactive protein. This particular finding was consistent with a number of earlier studies that essentially found the same thing.
Put simply, what we do eat may be fundamentally more important than what we don't. And now, following the release of the new dietary guidelines, a number of health professionals are focused on getting us to eat more of certain foods even if, or especially if, we are trying to lose weight.
Several foods that public health officials advocate increasing in our diet are listed below.
Eat More Fruits and Veggies
When prepared and consumed without a ton of added fats and salt, fruits and veggies are nutrient-dense, low calorie, high fiber, and thought to decrease the risk of many chronic diseases, including today's number one killer, cardiovascular disease.
With all this going for them, fruits and veggies are likely to be encouraged regardless of the dietary philosophy we ultimately choose to embrace. In a USDA press release announcing the new Dietary Guidelines, it is recommended that fruits and vegetables should fill about half our plate during mealtime.
Eat more fish and seafood.
In addition to being an excellent source of the very important omega-3 fatty acids, many types of fish and seafood also supply ample amounts of vitamin D, a vitamin that health experts advise significantly lacks in our diet. In an issue of HEALTHbeat, a newsletter published by Harvard Health Publications, the Dietary Guideline's recommendation to choose seafood in place of some meat and poultry is echoed by the Harvard Medical School.
Eat more whole grains.
In light of the growing anti-carb mentality that exists today, this recommendation might seem confusing. However, despite carbohydrates general bad rap, most health professionals still agree that whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. Unlike their refined or "processed" counterparts that are often loaded with salt and sugar, whole grains have neither but instead provide several important B vitamins and fiber as well as other desired phytochemicals.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, whole grains are believed to decrease the risk of both cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes and are being investigated for their role in the prevention of certain types of cancers.
For those confused about what constitutes a whole-grain food, Chapter 4 of the Dietary Guidelines, titled "Foods and Nutrients to Increase," provides a detailed description of how to identify whole grains.
It is estimated the average American is currently consuming only 15% of the recommended goal for whole grains while consuming 200% of the recommended limit for refined grains.
Eat/Drink more fortified milk and milk products.
The Dietary Guidelines estimate that the average American diet is still not meeting the recommended goal for low-fat or non-fat dairy products. In addition to being good sources of protein and calcium, fortified milk and milk products are still the primary dietary sources of vitamin D.
The average intake of dairy products is estimated to be just above 50% of the established goal, while the average calcium intake is estimated at 78%, and the average vitamin D intake below 30%.
So what's the take-home message?
Well, for starters, dieters can finally celebrate and focus on eating more instead of simply focusing on eating less. Whether low-fat or low-carb, many health professionals believe a diet that increases fresh fruits and veggies, fish and seafood, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products is not only likely to assist individuals in meeting their weight-loss goals but will also foster long-term eating patterns that promote good health throughout the lifespan.