Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cut the Carbage!

The other day, I wrapped up my column, Repetition Turns Myths into Truths if You Can Just..., with the promise to continue with a definition of a controlled-carb diet and highlight the "how to" of the approach to help with understanding its superiority as a dietary defense for long-term health.

After years of reviewing the literature, the only conclusion I can honestly reach is that neither the carbohydrate-rich low-fat diet (what we're told to eat) or the Standard American Diet (what we actually eat) is optimal - on a population-wide basis - for our long-term health. We have thousands of studies comparing the two diets - in the hope one day it will be clear that a carbohydrate-rich low-fat diet is better for us. The problem is, that no matter how many studies are done, the data remains very clear that there is little difference in long-term outcomes for those eating either diet.

What those same studies do provide us though are clues to the optimal diet for humans. We keep finding, for instance, that those who consume more vegetables and fruits tend to live longer, healthier lives; higher intake of whole grains often translate to better health; eating less sugar tends to protect us from obesity; adequate intake of protein offers reduction in health risks...the list goes on, but clearly points to the obvious - if you eat higher quality, whole food, you're healthier than your neighbor eating a steady diet of fast food and processed food.

But, because the data is viewed from a fat-phobic perspective - that is already biased to find support that low-fat diets are optimal - we've lost sight of the truth - whole, nutrient-dense food is optimal.

The best definition of controlled-carb is that it is a dietary approach that offers the best chance to meet or exceed essential nutrients because it provides a wide range of nutrient-dense selections from all the food groups while also enhancing metabolic function because it is balanced.

The *limited* macronutrient in a controlled-carb diet is not fat, it's carbohydrate - where carbohydrates provide up to, but no more than, 40% of total calories each day. Controlled-carb diets also include low-carb diets, those that strictly limit carbohydrate intake, for one reason or another, but always include at least 20g of net carbohydrate each day (net = total carbohydrate minus fiber).

So, controlled-carb diets are a dietary approach with a range of carbohydrate intake - from as low as 20g net carbs, or less than 5% of calories each day, up to 40% of calories each day from carbohydrate. Unlike the carbohydrate-rich low-fat diet, controlled-carb diets are highly individualized - if you like eating or can tolerate a higher intake of carbohydrate you eat more, if you prefer less or have metabolic challenges with more carbohydrate, you eat less each day.

What is consistent within all the ranges of carbohydrate intake is that non-starchy vegetables MUST be the foundation of your daily if's, and's or but's about it. This is conveniently ignored by those who are convinced a carbohydrate-rich low-fat diet is optimal.

Rather than acknowledge the requirement of controlled-carb diets to increase (substantially) intake of non-starchy vegetables, they focus on the diets' allowing one to eat red meat, bacon or butter.

Yet, if you read through the dietary recommendations made by the various authors of different controlled-carb plans, you'll not find one that requires you to eat red meat, bacon or butter. These foods are allowed, they're not mandatory!

In fact, you can even follow a controlled-carb approach as a vegetarian or vegan.

Remember, the foundation of a controlled-carb diet is whole nutrient-dense food, with the foundation of non-stachy veretables, not just meat and fat.

Controlled-carb diets do allow you to eat a wide-variety of meats, game, poultry, and seafood, along with eggs and dairy. In fact, these protein foods are the "bricks" - the building blocks - added to the foundation of the diet - the non-starchy vegetables.

Together non-stachy vegetables and protein foods "pack-a-punch" nutritionally - these two foods together can provide all your essential nutrients without any other additions to your menu. Something none of the naysayers will tell you because they want you to believe you must eat fruit, grains, roots, nuts and seeds, and soy products to complete your nutrient requirements each day. The truth is, you don't have to - these other foods offer a variety in your menus, but are not *required* to meet your nutritional needs each day.

At the end of the day, the macronutrient ratio matters much less than the nutrient-density of your food intake. Controlled-carb dietary approaches give you the best chance of meeting and exceeding your nutrient requirements - carbohydrate-rich low-fat diets limit your potential nutrient intake. Period.

Want to know how to create a controlled-carb menu? Come back tomorrow when I'll take you step-by-step to creating a nutrient-dense low-carb menu and explain how to modify that to include more carbohydrate for a controlled-carb menu!

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