This week our contributing writer Doctor Gifford-Jones talks about the importance of a balanced diet and replacing “energy bars” with simpler and more nutritional snacks.
Is eating too much fat the main cause of obesity? Will a high protein diet affect the risk of heart disease or cancer? What is the best type of grain for good health? Should people cut back on carbohydrates even if they don’t have diabetes? And what you should know about energy bars.
A recent report shows why it’s so important not to go off half-cocked on nutritional advice. Today many consumers are choosing low fat foods. They’ve done this by cutting back whole milk, red meat, butter and by buying low fat packaged foods. Due to these dietary changes during the past 20 years the amount of fat in the diet has gradually declined. But it’s created an ironic situation. During that same time the rate of obesity has nearly doubled!
What went wrong? Low fat foods often contain more calories. Fat provides taste to food which manufacturers call “mouthfeel”. If you take away fat something else has to be added to create taste and that’s normally sugar. A refined carbohydrate such as sugar has half the calories of fat, but the large amount of added sugar means more calories and more weight gain.
A patient recently remarked that his family was avoiding protein. He was concerned because he had read that high protein diets caused cancer and heart disease. It’s true that some researchers have linked high protein diets to these diseases. But there’s no strong evidence to support this theory.
Protein should be a part of a balanced diet. And an occasional steak isn’t going to harm anyone. But it is prudent to get a good proportion of your protein from plant sources such as whole wheat bread, milk and yogurt rather than red meat.
Today we are all told to add more grains to our daily diet. But it does matter that you choose the right kind. Whole grains are better than refined ones. Because of their high fiber content whole grains are more filling which decreases the hunger reflex and helps to control obesity. And they act as an important flushing mechanism for the digestive system as well.
Today’s grocery counters are full of whole fiber breads, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat crackers and whole oats. Look for the label “whole” which should be the first listed ingredient. And don’t be tricked by the colour of bread. Dark bread may be coloured by molasses or other sweeteners.
90 percent of today’s diabetic epidemic is due to obesity. But there’s another menacing problem, called the “metabolic syndrome” is contributing to it.
This condition is associated with excess abdominal fat, hypertension, a high level of blood triglyceride, decreased good cholesterol and a blood sugar that reaches abnormal levels.
In this pre-diabetic phase patients may be producing enough insulin. But because of obesity the cells develop insulin resistance and cannot use the hormone effectively. It’s believed that too much carbohydrate increases insulin resistance and the best prescription is to cut back.
So you feel tired and believe you’ll get a boost by munching on an energy bar? Forget this idea. Researchers at Tufts University in Boston report that these bars, posing as health foods, do not boost energy any more than other foods.
Energy bars were first created for athletes who needed a quick fix during long bike rides or runs. During intense exercise of more than 90 minutes at a time the body loses its readily available energy stores. And you will “konk out” unless you replenish them.
Food manufacturers then focussed on those who believe that a cup of coffee isn’t enough to put replace the tiger-in-the-tank. So they produced protein bars, to build up muscle they claimed, which they also don’t do. Or bars for harassed people, to allegedly provide a lift for the afternoon’s work.
Power bars, however, supply what most people don’t need, more calories. Depending on the flavour they provide up to 340 calories, about the same amount as two cupcakes for two to three times the price!
If you want a quick healthy snack forget energy bars and reach instead for yogurt, an apple or one ounce of pretzels. This will provide the same energy and it will taste better.