It’s no secret that people often look for a quick fix and a crazy diet when it comes to losing weight. First, low-fat diets were the rage in the '80's and '90's, now carbohydrates are public enemy #1 as millions of people turn to low-carb lifestyles. In the US alone consumers spent $1 billion on low carb products, but it appears public interest may have peaked.
With all this interest, the big question remains: is a low-carb diet the healthiest way to eat and lose weight?
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) sensibly recommends a solid balance between eating individual-sized portions of a wide variety of foods and regular exercise to achieve optimal health benefits, including weight loss.
The foundation of a healthy diet should be based upon eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Moderate amounts of low-fat protein sources and diary products should be consumed as the next tier of a healthy diet. Finally, sweets, refined grains and fats should be consumed sparingly.
“Individuals need to understand that healthy carbs such as vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains (eaten in proper amounts) are essential components of a well-balanced diet,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. “The consumption of these healthy carbs has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer and a number of other chronic ailments.”
The rapid weight loss caused by most low carb diets is a loss of body fluids that your normal level of carbohydrates are stored with. As such, it is not actually the fat we are keen to lose, but simply body fluids that will be replaced as soon as your intake of carbs returns to normal levels.
There are also concerns over how an extreme low carb diet affects your health. A reduction of carbohydrates often requires greater quantities of meat and food products with higher levels of saturated fats, which have been linked to higher risk of heart disease, increased blood pressure, and premature death. No long term studies have been completed because the low carb phenomenon is still fairly young, and although shorter term studies haven't conclusively revealed increased risks it doesnt rule out long term problems.
So carbs aren't the enemy we are lead to believe, and you should certainly include whole grain and nutritious sources of carbohydrate in your diet. That said, there is good reason to reduce high GI carbohydrate sources, as well as aiming to reduce your overall energy intake, be it from carbs, fats, or whatever. Carbohydrate sources such as bread, rice, pasta, and noodles are very energy dense and it can be difficult to control the portions and quantity consumed. A good rule is to have only a portion the size of your fist.
In addition to eating sensibly, begin a fitness program with exercises you find comfortable and build as your body becomes accustomed to the activity level. Don't start out too hard or too fast. Chances are you may injure yourself or find it too hard and quit before you've done yourself much good.
Remember, you can't lose weight overnight, it takes time to burn fat from the body. You need to set a realistic weight-loss goal for and eat a healthy balance of foods. If you get going on a program of regular physical activity you will be surprised by what you accomplish!
Adapted from an article by the American Council for Exercise
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