Clearing Up Nutrition Confusion

by Marsha Hudnall

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Student-StudyingThe Diet Debate

Anyone who’s tried it knows that change isn’t easy – especially when it comes to what we eat. So when New Year’s resolutions involve major dietary overhauls, we urge a closer look. Do you know what you really need to change to eat healthy? Do you know the best way to go about it?

Which Diet is Best?

Choose the type of eating below you think is healthiest, then read on to learn about the debate behind each statement. At the end, we’ll give you our insights and advice that we believe makes true healthy eating something that’s less confusing and more appealing!

An important reminder: Regardless of the debates, the fact is that any type of eating plan that dictates you eat in a way you don’t enjoy is not likely to last!


The healthiest eating is:

Low Carb, High Protein…or Not?

At the heart of this debate are three major issues:

  • People who eat high protein, low carb diets seem to be able to lose weight relatively easily. Why? An important reason has to do with the tremendous satiating power of protein. That is, it helps control our hunger, so we may need to eat less at a meal or snack, and can go longer between them, helping us eat less. Additionally, this type of diet eliminates many of the foods we tend to overeat – pastries, doughnuts, cookies, candies, chips, fries – which also results in fewer calories.
  • Popular theories also question whether the carbohydrate/insulin relationship leads to excess fat storage. But there is no good evidence for this. To the contrary, studies repeatedly show that populations of people who eat higher carbohydrate diets tend to be leaner. We can see this within the Mediterranean culture, where people have enjoyed plenty of bread and pasta throughout their history, and have not grown obese as a result.
  • A few studies suggest that high protein, low carb diets reduce levels of blood fats - cholesterol and triglycerides – among people with high levels. The question that hasn’t been adequately answered is whether the reduction in blood cholesterol levels is due to weight loss rather than diet composition. In some individuals, however, a high carbohydrate, low fiber diet may increase triglyceride levels.
  • Other studies link a diet high in animal foods to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

Low Fat…or Not?

This debate often focuses on whether the current Food Guide Pyramid, which recommends we choose low fat foods most of the time, is giving advice that makes people fat. The issues here include:

  • Excess amounts of saturated fat increase risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are primarily found in animal fat, although trans fats found in foods containing hydrogenated fats such as baked or fried foods and some margarines may have the same effect in the body as saturated fats.
  • While unsaturated fats may be good for your heart, if you start using olive oil and such in your meals, are you adding excess calories that are going to lead to weight gain?
  • If we cut fat, we usually eat more carbohydrates. That takes us back to the previous section.

Do Calories Count?

This question seems age-old. Most experts agree that calories count, regardless of whether they are from carbohydrate, protein or fat. At the real root of this issue is a more primary question:

  • Can we trust our bodies to regulate our eating, or do we need to be vigilant regarding the calorie content of what we eat and drink? Green Mountain and other proponents of the non-diet approach to healthy weights believe that the body is fully capable of regulating our eating to support health, if we are tuned into hunger and satiety cues while leading a healthy lifestyle.

The Green Mountain Way

Green Mountain’s advice for healthy eating is sort of age-old, too – at least in certain parts of the world. It incorporates what seems to work well in popular diets into a way of eating that’s good for your body and soul! In simple steps, it looks like this:

  • Eat regular, well-balanced and varied meals. That means eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, and snacks if you’re hungry. It also means not eating when you’re not hungry, most of the time.
    • See the Plate Model for Healthy Eating to learn how to balance meals. Be sure to enjoy a variety of foods from each food group to get the most out of healthy eating, and to make it more interesting, too.
  • Include some fats in your healthy eating plan. The science around the role of fat in a healthy diet is changing. Yes, fat is in – healthy fat, that is! Include moderate amounts of fat with emphasis on unsaturated fats such as olive, canola, nut and seed oils to replace some of the saturated fats found in butter, margarine, and higher fat meats and dairy foods.
    • How do you do that? Sprinkle nuts on salads, sauté vegetables in a pan lightly coated with olive oil, enjoy salads lightly topped with flavorful full-fat dressings such as vinaigrettes. Remember, fats offer another benefit that’s very important to healthy eating — flavor!
  • Trust your body to regulate your calorie intake at a healthy level. Your body is fully capable of guiding you in what, when and how much to eat, if you support its ability to do so. That means eating as we’ve already discussed, getting regular physical activity, managing stress and not overusing food for emotional reasons. Read “Mindful Eating” (sidebar) for more insight into letting your body guide your eating.
  • Enjoy eating. When it comes to health, the fact is, if it’s not enjoyable, then in the long run, it will not help us achieve our health goals. Think back to the healthy eating prescriptions you’ve tried to follow in the past. Were they low in fat, low in sugar, low in calories and low in taste? Is it no wonder, then, that it was hard to follow them? After downing the stuff we thought we ‘should’ eat, we often found ourselves overeating the stuff we really liked.

What often makes change so hard is the fact that we have to stop doing something that we are used to doing, and often like to do. If you’re trying to change from an old, familiar habit to one that offers little pleasure, failure is in the cards. But if you’re trying to change to something that truly appeals to you, then it’s easier.

We hope this FitBriefing helps clear up any confusion you have about healthy eating, and shows you how you can start to make it a regular part of your life.

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