Monday, July 29, 2013

Part 5: What About the Weight Watchers Diet?

The Weight Watchers diet is a unique approach to weight-loss. They do manufacture and sell pre-packaged food items (in addition to partnering with some restaurant chains that offer Weight Watchers menu items), but their main focus is on the community support (in person and/or online) and proprietary system of calculating the "point value" of various foods. Depending on the individual metrics of the consumer, an upper limit of points per day is assigned. The interesting part about Weight Watchers is that there are "no forbidden foods," but with their new (as of 2010) Points Plus system, they assign a higher point value to foods they deem as a poorer choice and a lower point value to better choices of food (which they view as foods high in protein and fiber "to fill you up").

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Summary of Diet Recommendations:
With the current Weight Watchers plan, all fruits and "non-starchy" vegetables are zero points, meaning that you can eat unlimited quantities each day. They encourage 3 meals plus snacks to be consumed per day within your individual point allotment, but they leave it up to the consumer to "spend" their points however they please. Consumers are encouraged by the new Points Plus value system to choose more "good" foods throughout the day than a few "bad" foods. In other words, it's the idea that you get to eat a larger quantity of food per day if you choose "healthier" foods than if you choose "unhealthier" foods. The consumer can enter the foods they consume into the online points calculator to determine the value and keep track of their daily consumption. When you sign up, you provide your age, gender, weight, and height. They then assign you a daily points allotment, which will be at least 1,200 calories per day.

What's Good?
The community support aspect is a wonderful feature of this diet. Everyone needs support. I wish we had a local support group of people who eat the way we do so that we would all be encouraged and help one another. Sigh...maybe some day!

I like how the diet is built around encouraging healthy food choices by assigning lower point values to healthier foods. They correctly assign higher point values ("costs" more to consume) to foods high in fat and simple carbs (sugar), but as I will explain shortly, the calculations are flawed and misleading.

Another good thing about this diet is that, unlike the Nutrisystem diet, this diet can be continued for life if the consumer felt so inclined. There are point calculators online that could be used after canceling the paid membership. This ability to calculate Weight Watchers points after canceling membership may help reduce the yo-yo-ing effect that South Beach and Nutrisystem would likely cause.

What's Bad?
First, the way the point values are assigned to various foods is extremely flawed. Weight Watchers claims that their food points assignments are based on the latest scientific research about what's healthy and not healthy, but when you plug in actual foods and calculate a point value, you will quickly see that this is not true -- or at least they are not basing their calculation formula on sound scientific research. They mislead you into thinking that "high protein" foods will help you feel full - this is incorrect, especially if from an animal source. Protein alone does nothing to create a sense of fullness, but fiber does create a lasting and satisfying sense of fullness. Remember from Part 2: What About the Atkins Diet?, animal foods contain ZERO fiber.

Yes, you will eventually get full eating zero-fiber meat, but you will consume more to reach satiety than you would if you ate fiber-rich foods. This flawed points system could cause confusion and mislead the consumer into thinking that just because one food has a low point value, it must therefore be healthy. Likewise, I think it would only be human nature to try to avoid foods with higher point values because you want to consume more food than less each day. Here's an example of the flawed points assignments using this calculator:

Food: 1/2 cup dry whole grain rolled oats
Fat (g): 3
Carbs (g): 27
Protein (g): 5
Fiber (g): 4
Weight Watchers Points Plus Assignment = 4

My Comments: Oats are a whole grain. They are such a healthy food choice! If I am not able to have my Super Smoothie for breakfast, oatmeal is my next choice for breakfast (although, the very last thing I add to my Super Smoothie is to stir in dry oats because I am obsessed about oats!) When we cruised to Alaska, oatmeal was my breakfast every day. It's easy to get almost anywhere, cheap, delicious, fills you up, and lowers your cholesterol. In my opinion, 4 points seems high for such a healthy food choice.

Food: 1 large russet potato
Fat (g): 0
Carbs (g): 64
Protein (g): 8
Fiber (g): 7
Weight Watchers Points Plus Assignment = 7

My Comments: Are you freakin' kidding me?! 7 points?!?! The potato is also a wonderfully healthy food choice. It has NO fat, is high in fiber and protein and full of complex carbs to give you lots of energy. It is seriously one of the best food choices you could make. They should really assign the potato ZERO points like vegetables and fruit to encourage more people to eat potatoes. The problem is that people often add things to potatoes that are terrible for you, like cheese, butter, sour cream, and bacon bits. But the potato itself is so good for you. We regularly eat a baked potato topped with oil-free salsa and nutritional yeast - a delicious and filling lunch or dinner with very little effort. Heck, you can even buy a plain baked potato at Wendy's!

Food: 1 cup skim milk
Fat (g): 0
Carbs (g): 12
Protein (g): 8
Fiber (g): 0
Weight Watchers Points Plus Assignment = 2

My Comments: Do you SEE my point yet?! Skim milk - chock-full of cancer-growing casein, acid-loading and bone withering animal protein, artery-clogging cholesterol, estrogen, and antibiotics is assigned only 2 Weight Watchers points. Outrageous! It should be assigned a point value of 200, that way, if you consume a cup of skim milk, you're not allowed to eat for the rest of the week. (I'm not really that sadistic, but seriously Weight Watchers folks - get up to speed on the preponderance of the scientific evidence that dairy is terrible for people; don't bury your head in the sand or make false claims that's it's okay to consume. Their claim that "there's no strong research" to support the ill effects of consuming dairy is just plain WRONG! This Weight Watchers article contains terrible, terrible advice.)

Food: 1 cup roasted chicken breast
Fat (g): 5
Carbs (g): 0
Protein (g): 43
Fiber (g): 0
Weight Watchers Points Plus Assignment = 5

My Comments: I find it sad that Weight Watchers assigned less points to chicken than to the potato. They clearly and foolishly believe in the whole "lean meats are healthy" myth. There is no such thing as lean meat. All meat contains cholesterol, fat, and puts an acid load on your body due to the high animal protein content. Furthermore, meat offers ZERO carbs for energy and ZERO fiber to help you feel full.

Weight Watchers uses this formula to calculate the Points Plus value of foods. (Note that when I plugged in the above examples, I got the same point values for everything except the potato...for the discriminated potato, I calculated 8 points using the precise formula!) As you can see from the formula, Weight Watchers penalizes fat content the most. But then it penalizes carbohydrates more than protein. Fiber content is the least penalized. This prioritization explains why the chicken breast received a lower point value than the potato. Remember that excessive amounts of protein, especially from animals sources (meat, dairy, eggs, fish), leads to an increased acid load on the body and strain on the kidneys and liver. Continuing this over consumption of protein over time will lead to decreased bone health, increased cholesterol, fat, and increased chances of other chronic illnesses.

The "Improved" Weight Watchers Algorithm
Weight Watchers should instead penalize too much protein by increasing the multiple from 16 to something like 25 and decreasing the carbohydrates multiple from 19 to 5 (make it the same as fiber). This would give the potato a point value of 3, oats 2, and not allow any dairy (kick the skim milk to the curb). Chicken would get 7 points and 1 Tbsp of olive oil would get 4 points...might as well kick them to the curb also! I hope I have shown you how ludicrous this points system is.

Weight Watcher's idea of "healthy" food choices are: whole grains (excellent!), lean meats (hazardous!), low-fat dairy (dangerous!), and unlimited fruits (excellent, though you shouldn't go overboard with this by consuming nothing but fruit!) and non-starchy vegetables (excellent, but starch is not the enemy!)

Fun Facts about Starch
What is Starch?
Starch is a complex carbohydrate.
All carbohydrates are forms of sugar.
Starch is essentially long chains of bonded sugar molecules (glucose).

Benefits of Starch
No cholesterol
Enduring energy
Satiety (feeling of fullness)
Very little fat (1-8% of calories)
Humans are Designed to Eat Starch
Amylase is the enzyme that breaks down starch into sugar.
Humans have 6-8 times more salivary amylase than other primates.

Starch (Carbohydrates) Don't Make You Fat; Fat Does
A 2001 study showed that women (both overweight and lean)
who were overfed simple sugars by 50% of their normal daily food intake
only produced 4 grams of fat. At 4 grams of fat gained per day, it would
take 4 months of this type of overeating to gain 1 pound! So it is virtually
impossible to gain weight even while overeating carbohydrates (sugars).
Examples of Starchy Foods
Grains: wheat, rice, corn, oats, millet, barley
Legumes: beans, peas, lentils
 Starchy Vegetables: carrots, potatoes, winter squashes, artichokes 

"Starchy" vegetables are not encouraged as profusely as "non-starchy" vegetables. This is why the potato was assigned such a high point value. But as you can see above, starches and starchy vegetables are just as crucial to a health-promoting diet as non-starchy vegetables.

Although I see why Weight Watchers says "no forbidden foods," which probably helps the consumer feel less micro-managed, I do not see the point of allowing downright unhealthy foods. This again brings up the flawed opinions of Weight Watchers experts who base their decisions on the "latest science". The preponderance of the scientific evidence reveals that dairy, even in small amounts, is harmful to humans. This is not new information, yet popular fad diets shy away from recommending such "radical" dietary changes.

Weight Watchers is yet another example of a calorie restricted diet. I entered my personal information into this Weight Watchers assessment and I would be allowed to have 20 points per day, plus 35 bonus points to spend however I want during the week. 20! That would go by so quickly based on the Weight Watchers current points system, and would likely leave me feeling miserable at dinner after already spending my day's points and being forced to eat a tiny portion. Remember me telling you that calorie restriction only leads to short-term weight-loss and misery? I hated restricting my portion sizes and counting/limiting calories. Miserable!

In the past, I used to try to keep up with Livestrong's My Daily Plate to track all my foods. That was a free service and I had enough trouble as it was remembering to enter everything. How much more of a hassle would it be to enter foods into Weight Watchers and pay money for it? I've said it before and I'll say it again, I would much rather eat delicious, filling, fiber and nutrient rich foods to my satisfaction and lose weight effortlessly than worry and stress about points, calories, portion size, etc. If you're willing to invest all that time and energy into tracking those things, why not redirect those efforts towards making truly healthy food choices (that actually work in the long-term) and preparing those foods at home? 

Bottom Line:
Though Weight Watchers offers the benefit of community support and encouragement, their Points Plus assessment of which foods are healthy versus less healthy is seriously flawed and could mislead the consumer into thinking that certain foods (dairy, meat) are better choices than others (potatoes). At the end of the day, why not invest the time, money, energy, and self-discipline into a diet that will benefit your health in the long-run, help you lose weight and keep it off, and does not require calorie or portion restriction? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Next -- Part 6: What About the Vegetarian Diet? 
Previous -- Part 4: What About the Nutrisystem Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

Monday, July 22, 2013

Part 4: What About the Nutrisystem Diet?

The Nutrisystem diet is a portion-controlled diet that aims to help the consumer lose weight and improve their health with the most convenience and no-hassle. This is accomplished by offering a membership program (for a cost to the consumer) that includes delivery of pre-packaged food products and access to helpful resources and guides. The main claim of the diet is eating high fiber, low fat foods with fewer calories. Below is a photo of their most basic membership plan that includes a one month supply of meals. The membership packages can be cancelled at the consumer's request or when the consumer reaches their desired weight goal. The program helps equip the consumer with knowledge on how to maintain their new healthy lifestyle following completion of the program.

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Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The Nutrisystem diet recommends eating 6 meals per day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and dessert. The membership program includes pre-packaged food products for all of the meals, except the morning and afternoon snacks. (They provide suggestions on what the consumer should eat as their morning and afternoon snacks and encourage supplementing the other meals with fresh fruit, vegetables, protein, and milk.) The Nutrisystem diet offers a very large selection of pre-packaged food items for the 4 meals it covers. Meals are conveniently microwaved. The consumer is allowed to hand-pick which menu items he/she desires to eat, or can let Nutrisystem representatives select food items for them. Nutrisystem also offers targeted membership packages (vegetarian, 60 years and older, diabetic plans). In general, the women's food plans limit the total number of calories allowed per day to 1,200; for men, it's up to 1,500. They recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, and provide fitness plans and other support to help the consumer achieve this.

The food itself is low in sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats, and is made up of 55% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 20% fat. The foods claim to be high in whole grains. They instruct the consumer to supplement daily meals with a total of 6 servings of fruits and vegetables, 3 servings dairy or protein, and 2 servings fat. Foods not allowed with the Nutrisystem diet include alcohol, sugar, white bread, candy, cakes, and processed foods. (I italicized this, because I'll address this point shortly.) An example of a 1,200 calories-per-day meal plan consists of:

Breakfast: Nutrisystem breakfast entree, 1 serving fruit, and 1 serving dairy or protein
Lunch: Nutrisystem lunch entree, 1 serving salad, 1 serving dairy or protein, 2 Tbsp fat-free salad dressing
Snack: 1 serving fruit, 1 dairy or protein serving
Dinner: Nutrisystem dinner entree, 2 vegetable servings, 1 salad or fruit serving, 1 fat serving
Dessert: Nutrisystem dessert

What's Good?
Recommending multiple meals per day, rather than just 3 meals per day, is a wonderful attribute of this diet. They also do not shy away from carbohydrates, which frankly is a relief to see in a modern weight-loss diet. Carbs are not the enemy. Complex carbs are the body's main source of energy. I'm glad to see that the Nutrisystem diet is not also a low-carb diet. The diet also encourages at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, in conjunction with their meal plans. I doubt most of the Nutrisystem customers actually follow this recommendation, but at least Nutrisystem is recommending such frequent exercise and they promote that there's more to overall health than just what you eat.

What's Bad?
In short, a lot.

First, calorie restriction does not work and is not a healthy way to lose weight. Starving the body into losing weight only results in short-term weight loss or a life of misery. I recall my own efforts in the past at counting calories and trying to self-limit my caloric intake to 1,200 calories per day. How in the world are you supposed to keep an accurate calorie count when you cook meals at home or eat out? It is extremely difficult to keep up with in daily life. Even using tools like Livestrong's My Daily Plate can only get you so close to the actual number of calories you're eating. And do you realize how easy it is to reach 1,200 calories in one day (if choosing calorie-rich; nutrient-deficient foods)?! There were days I reached that limit at lunchtime. Golly, that was so discouraging. I remember serving myself tiny, tiny portions and still feeling hungry afterwards. Looking over at Michael's plate full of food with his skinny body used to make me so MAD! It was a real struggle for me to have the discipline to keep track of my calories all day and have the self-control to stop at my upper limit. Eventually, I gave up trying, and the weight piled back on. That is just no way to live life.

Following my first point, the Nutrisystem diet is designed for convenience and no-hassle. Microwavable foods require almost no effort. I can certainly see why this diet is appealing to the modern, busy consumer. But what happens once they conclude the program? Eventually they will have to make food decisions on their own and prepare their own meals. Going from being spoon-fed most all meals to having to cook for yourself is asking for a set-back. Unless the person really takes ownership of their meal planning and begins to count calories and self-limit, they are likely to gain all the weight back. Just like my previous argument about the South Beach diet, who wants to have their weight yo-yo-ing all over the place?

My third argument is about the food content itself. The pre-packaged foods are advertised as being non-processed, high in fiber, low in fat, full of whole grains. This is a bold faced lie. I tell my clients that you have to learn to completely ignore every single advertising claim on the front (and sides and back) of food packaging. You can only trust what's contained in the ingredients list. So let's have a looksy. I have chosen a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert food item from the Nutrisystem diet. I selected the food items below based on what appears to be reasonably "healthy sounding." I know that is extremely subjective, but I did my best to select foods that I used to think were reasonably healthy, like "lean meats."

My take on this: The first ingredient is great. The second is basically "apples with a preservative," followed by sugar, more sugar, artificial flavors (there's nothing "natural" about this), salt, cinnamon, and an artificial coloring agent. Yes, the first ingredient is presumably a whole grain (though it should literally say "whole grain oats" if it is in fact a whole grain.) In summary, this has the potential of being a healthy, high-fiber breakfast meal, but all of the preservatives and artificial ingredients reveals that it is a processed food. It would be much better to prepare oatmeal at home, add some fresh chopped apples, a little honey, and cinnamon.

My take on this: Oh dear...that's a bunch of ingredients. When you see "enriched," you should not think that's a good thing. You're not enriching anything, especially your health. Furthermore, when you don't know what something is or how to pronounce it, it's probably not good for you (glyceryl monostearate, hydrolyzed corn protein?!) Lot of preservatives and artificial flavors. And here's what I find most appalling and sad about this lunch item: it contains zero fiber. Zero! Being only 110 calories with 20 from fat (this means the meal is 18% fat) and no fiber is giving you fat but not filling you up. So sad. And there are ZERO whole grains too. Plus, the high amount of animal products results in an over consumption of protein, fat, and cholesterol, which can lead to poor health.

My take on this: Again, that's a whole lot of ingredients and appears highly processed and full of artificial ingredients and preservatives. Plus, there are added oils, little fiber, and zero whole grains. This dinner meal is 26% fat. Just like the lunch, the high amount of animal products results in an over consumption of protein, fat, and cholesterol.

My take on this: Again, "enriched" does not enrich anything about your health. Rolled oats? Excellent, that's a whole grain! Followed by raisins (good, not great - concentrated sugar), butter (yeah, that's real healthy), eggs, added fat, sugar, preservative, more sugar, even more sugar, whey protein (dairy product), baking soda and powder, preservatives, cinnamon, maple flavor (not maple itself, just the artificial flavor). Oh, and this one little cookie is 40% fat. Yikes! I can make a dairy-free, egg-free, oil-free, white sugar-free oatmeal raisin cookie that tastes delicious and doesn't have all of these preservatives, artificial, and harmful ingredients.

And finally, recommending (or at least, selling) 20% fat food products (or as I've shown you, sometimes higher than that!) is not health-promoting. Eating the diet I recommend gives you all the fat you need. You do not need to add additional fat from animal foods and oils! These food products are basically junk foods. And they recommend supplementing these junk foods with 3 servings of dairy or protein and 2 servings of fat per day! Did you know that the fat percentages of milk are calculated by weight, not content? That's right folks, 2% milk does NOT mean there's only 2% fat content. And if you're curious, click on the links below to view how much cholesterol and sugar is also in each type of milk.

Fun Facts about Milk
1 cup (8 oz) of the following types of milk has:

Whole milk: 146 calories, 71 from fat = 49% fat
2% milk, a.k.a. "reduced fat": 122 calories, 43 from fat = 35% fat
1% milk, a.k.a. "low fat": 102 calories, 21 from fat = 21% fat
Skim milk, a.k.a."non-fat" or "fat-free": 83 calories, 2 from fat = 2.5% fat

All milk, especially skim milk, contains casein (animal protein)
which has been scientifically linked to cancer tumor growth

Bottom Line:
The Nutrisystem diet offers convenience at the price of good health. Although short-term weight loss may occur due to calorie-restriction, it is not a long-lasting, healthy diet to follow because of the lack of whole grains and fiber, and the added oils, preservatives, artificial ingredients, and high-fat content. For the price of the membership plans, your money would be better spent purchasing health-promoting, plant-based foods and preparing meals at home that fill you up, satisfy hunger, and allow you shed pounds without the hassle of counting or restricting calories. I have said goodbye to 35 pounds lost once and for all, without the torture and deprivation of counting calories or limiting portion sizes. You can too. If you would like assistance with how to adopt a plant-based diet, plan meals, and cook within your time constraints, I would be delighted to help you.

Next -- Part 5: What About the Weight Watchers Diet?
Previous -- Part 3: What About the South Beach Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

Monday, July 15, 2013

Part 3: What About the South Beach Diet?

Originally designed by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston to reverse heart disease in his patients, the South Beach Diet quickly became popular as a means to lose weight. The focus of this diet is identifying "bad carbs" and "bad fats" and replacing them with "good carbs" and "good fats," as well as avoiding or limiting foods that have a high "glycemic impact." He recommends the three phases below, and once in Phase 3, you should return to Phase 1 if you start to gain weight again. He also recommends taking statin drugs like he does (cholesterol-lowering drug).

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Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The diet is divided into three phases, as pictured above. Though no specific amounts are advised, the list of foods allowed by phase include:

South Beach Diet: Phase 1
Protein: Beef, chicken, pork, turkey, fish, shellfish, deli meats, and soy-based meat substitutes
Vegetables: Artichokes, bell peppers, broccoli, eggplant, spinach, tomato, zucchini
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, cashews, flaxseeds, peanuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
Dairy and Cheese: Buttermilk, cheese, eggs, milk, soy milk, yogurt
Beans and Legumes: Black beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), kidney beans, lentils, lima beans
Sweet Treats: Unsweetened cocoa powder, popsicles, gelatin, jams and jellies, syrups
Fats and Oils: Avocado, canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, olives, salad dressing, vegetable oil spread
Seasonings and Condiments: Extracts, cream cheese (this is dairy by the way), herbs, hot pepper sauce, miso, mustard, salsa, spices
Beverages: Coffee, seltzer, tea, vegetable juice blends
Missing Categories:Whole Grains, Fruit, Starchy Vegetables

South Beach Diet: Phase 2
Protein:No change
Vegetables:You may now include carrots, in addition to the Phase 1 vegetables.
Whole Grains (new in Phase 2):Barley, bread, brown rice, buckwheat, farro, oats, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa
Nuts and Seeds:No change
Dairy and Cheese:No change
Fruit (new in Phase 2): Apples, bananas, berries, citrus, grapes, melons, peaches, pears
Beans and Legumes:No change
Starchy Vegetables (new in Phase 2): Butternut squash, calabaza, pumpkin, sweet potato, taro
Sweet Treats:You may now include pudding, in addition to the Phase 1 sweet treats. (NOTE: pudding is often made with dairy.)
Fats and Oils:No change
Seasonings and Condiments:No change
Beverages:You may now consume alcohol, in addition to the Phase 1 beverages.

South Beach Diet: Phase 3
The website says you "can enjoy any food in moderation...If you find yourself getting off track or if cravings return, you can go back to Phase 1 or 2."

What's Good?
This diet is one small step closer to my dietary recommendations when compared to the Atkins diet. They do include a whole grains category, but only after significant weight-loss has occurred. This diet also includes fruits (only last two phases), vegetables, and beans/legumes.

What's Bad?
I find the lack of specifics a little alarming. There are no guidelines on how to prioritize these food categories. If I were looking at potentially starting the South Beach Diet, I would feel very confused and uncertain about how to proceed. I guess that's why they sell pre-packaged food products, so that you don't have to be confused about how to proceed, just buy their packages and you're good to go. To me, that feels more like a food company trying to sell you stuff rather than a diet aiming to improve one's overall health. (FYI, Kraft Foods manufactures the South Beach Diet packaged foods.)

Another important shortcoming of this diet is that the ultimate goal appears to be getting you to a point where you "can enjoy any food in moderation." First, moderation is vague and does not work. A little bacon for breakfast. Soda for mid-morning. A little cheese and butter on your baked potato at lunch. A cookie for the afternoon. A little steak for dinner. You cannot look at each meal in moderation. You have to look at the entirety of what you eat. A little of some bad things adds up to a lot of bad things. Second, this diet seems to be designed to fail. It seems that following this diet will only result in short-term weight-loss, because if (read: when) you gain weight again, just go back and start with Phase 1 again. I don't know about you, but I would like to eat a diet that doesn't result in my weight yo-yo-ing all over the place.

Also alarming is the fact that Agatston recommends cholesterol-lowering medication. If his diet were successful at reversing heart disease as he intended it, medication would not be required. The fact that he himself is not a picture of health is very alarming and should send you running in the other direction if considering this diet.

Fun Facts about Statin Drugs
Only 1.6% of people avoid a heart-attack and only 2.6%
of people avoid a repeat heart-attack taking statin drugs.

10% of statin patients receive muscle damage
Eating a healthy diet can reduce cholesterol as much
or more than statins in one week (up to 80mg/dl)

As you might have guessed, I strongly disagree with several of the food categories all together. High amounts of animal products, like meat and dairy, leads to the over consumption of animal protein, which leads to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, poor bone health, high cholesterol, and obesity.

I also think it's backwards to focus on the glycemic impact of foods. Take the white potato for example. The potato is a wonderful, healthful food. It's a complete food (contains basic nutrient requirements). One potato has 170 calories, 0 g fat, 25 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 2 g sugar, and 5 g protein. It also contains vitamin C, iron, and calcium. That is a wonderful nutrient profile. All of the carbs are great for giving you energy. Where you get into trouble with this food is that you typically encounter it hidden beneath butter, sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits...or just plain fried up and salted. But the potato itself is a very healthy food. Omitting it is absurd. Foods that pose a real threat to diabetics are high-fat, high-protein foods...exactly like the ones promoted in the South Beach and similar diets.

This is definitely a high-fat diet, because they specifically and foolishly think there are such things as "good fats." All oils, yes, even olive oil, are 100% fat (remember from Part 1: What About the Standard American Diet? that 2 Tbsp of olive oil per day adds 24 lbs of body fat per year). There are no nutrients from oils. All oils will do is add empty calories, making it that much more difficult to lose weight and maintain your weight. They are completely unnecessary. Plant-foods that are higher in fat, like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and nut butters are nutrient-rich foods that have a higher fat content. These foods are good for you, but can make it difficult to lose or maintain weight if consumed too often.

Bottom Line:
This very vague diet falls short in promoting one's health. It seems to be more of a food manufacturing company's efforts to sell products than a health-promoting entity. High-fat, high-protein, low-carb, and low-fiber diets are one of the worst choices for improving one's health.

Next -- Part 4: What About the Nutrisystem Diet? 
Previous - Part 2: What About the Atkins Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

Monday, July 8, 2013

Part 2: What About the Atkins Diet?

The Atkins diet was founded in 1963 by Dr. Robert Atkins. There is a huge controversy over this man's lifestyle and associated dietary recommendations. But it remains one of the most popular and widely known diets in the U.S. Atkins himself became overweight and sought a solution to be healthier. He followed the recommendations of a study by Alfred Pennington to remove all starches and sugars from the diet and increase fat and protein consumption. The Atkins diet became very popular in the late 60s and lasts to this day. This is evidenced by looking at food packages in the present time -- you often see "low-carb" as an advertising message. The controversy is that Atkins himself suffered a heart attack in 2002. He claimed that his heart attack was not the result of eating a high-fat, high-protein diet, but was instead the result of a virus. (I'm sorry, but really? Really? A virus?! As Ms. Kay would say...Oh paaalease!) Somehow, Atkins got his doctors to confirm this by saying that Atkins' diet and his cardiomyopathy (heart disease) were unrelated. He died a year later (April 2003) at age 72 after he slipped on some ice and had a severe head trauma. After his death, the popularity of the Atkins diet decreased some, such that the company filed for bankruptcy in 2005. In 2007, the company was bought out and marketed low-carb snack foods. In 2010, it was bought out again by a different company.

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Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The diet itself has changed over time in its recommendations. Initially, Atkins recommended freely consuming all meats, dairy, and fats, but to eliminate carbs and sugars, and limit fruits and vegetables. After his death, the company recommended limiting the amount of red meat and saturated fat that you consume, but did not give specifics about how much is okay. The pyramid above is from the current Atkins company. But the main point to make is that the Atkins diet is a low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet.

What's Good?
Short Answer: Nothing! (Except for those seeking to fulfill the Dr. John McDougall adage "People love to hear good news about their bad habits.")

Longer Answer: The only good thing I can identify is that the current (pictured above) Atkins diet recommends vegetables as the second most important food group, and that they recommend fruit too. They also do not recommend consuming added sugar or trans fats.

What's Bad?
The original Atkins diet (freely eat all meat, dairy, and fat) is extremely misguided and will most certainly lead to poor health, as evidenced by the creator himself. I do not believe for one second that Atkins' heart disease was completely unrelated to his diet. In my opinion, if you are pushing a "healthy diet" to the general public, then you should be the picture of good health yourself. He clearly was not. There have been several examples of individuals following the Atkins diet who ended up being hospitalized for something major going wrong (visit the website linked below).

All the Atkins diet versions are virtually the opposite of what I recommend. By removing whole grains and starches (the main source of good carbohydrates that your body needs for energy), and replacing those foods with high amounts of animal protein, you are asking for trouble. Sure, people may start off losing weight due to the fewer calories consumed by eliminating whole grains and the body is forced to convert protein and fat into energy, but calorie-restriction does not work in the long run and is an unnecessary burden for the consumer. I used to count calories. It's a pain. I was miserable. It doesn't work. I didn't lose weight and keep the weight off.

I would much rather eat healthy, fiber-rich foods to my stomach's content and lose weight (and keep it off) than hassle with counting calories. Several studies have shown that the people following this diet do not end up keeping the weight off in the long-term. You see, "good carbs" are high in fiber, which is what fills you up. By eliminating this food group entirely, you are primarily consuming zero-fiber foods, which cause you to consume more than you would with a high-fiber diet.

Fun Facts about Fiber
Fiber is only found in plant foods!
High-fiber foods fill the stomach and produce a sense of fullness
Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol
Insoluble fiber regulates bowel movements
Animal products contain ZERO fiber!
(that includes meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese)

Moving on from weight-loss...Even if you were to follow this diet in the long-term, it would not be healthy for you to do so. High-fat, high-protein diets promote heart disease, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer.

Plus, I repeat again that consuming high amounts of protein puts strain on your liver and kidneys. Humans do not need more protein than 5% of daily caloric intake. Animal sources of protein are the worst way to obtain protein too, because of the high-fat content, cholesterol, and the acid load it puts on the human body (which leads to poor bone health because your body leeches calcium from your OWN bones to neutralize the pH).

If you are interested in reading more details about scientifically-based studies that show the dangers of eating a low-carb, high-protein diet, please visit Atkins Diet Alert.

Bottom Line:
What average American doesn't want to hear that you can eat all the steak and butter you want and lose weight? The problem is that this is simply not the truth. A healthy, plant-based diet that is rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and nutrients will lead to optimal health and weight. Low-carb, high-protein diets will only lead to poor health and short-term, temporary weight-loss.

Next -- Part 3: What About the South Beach Diet? 
Previous -- Part 1: What About the Standard American Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

Monday, July 1, 2013

Part 1: What About the Standard American Diet?

The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) or Westernized Diet has changed throughout the years. To be as relevant as possible, I will only speak on the present-day S.A.D. that is governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). (Although, I may post in the future about how much the USDA guidelines have changed over the years!)

In 2011, the USDA developed a tool to help educate the American public on daily food recommendations: MyPlate. Below is a diagram of the daily food plan for an adult (18 years and older) eating 2,000 calories per day (this amount was chosen because it is the same number of calories per day that nutrition labels report percentages of daily value on).

 photo USDA_MyPlate_zps69e6e3b1.jpg

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The USDA recommends 6 oz (3/4 cup) of grains per day, with the aim of getting at least 3 oz (3/8 cup) from whole grains. They also recommend 2 1/2 and 2 cups of vegetables and fruit, respectively, and request that the fruit group come mainly from food rather than juices. They recommend 3 cups of dairy per day, especially fat-free or low-fat varieties. For the protein group, they recommend 5.5 oz (almost 3/4 cup) per day, and encourage seafood twice a week, a variety of protein sources including plant sources, and to keep meat and poultry portions small and lean. They also recommend no more than 6 tsp (2 Tbsp) of oil per day, no more than 260 calories per day from solid fats and added sugars, and intake less than 2300 mg of sodium per day. Finally, they recommend getting at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week.

What's Good?
I'm happy they recommend whole grains, vegetables and fruit. I'm also pleased to see that they include plant-based sources of protein in the Protein group, like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. (Note that many vegetables and fruits also provide ample amounts of protein.) I like that they recommend limiting the consumption of oil to just 2 Tbsp a day, though I would love it if they recommended NO oil because it's really not a healthy food - oil is 100% fat with zero nutritional content (empty calories as they say).

Fun Fact about Olive Oil
Eating 2 Tbsp of olive oil per day
produces 24 lbs of body fat per year!

I absolutely love how they say, "vary your veggies." This is something that every person should strive for, including myself.

What's Bad?
My first observation? Of all the food groups, dairy is recommended in the largest quantity. In other words, if these daily recommendations were by percentage, it would look like this:

Grains - 8%
Vegetables - 28%
Fruits - 22%
Dairy - 34%
Protein - 8%

As I have previously written about, dairy is a very poor source of calcium because dairy contains very concentrated amounts of animal protein (because animal's milk is meant for the growing baby animal). And what does the consumption of animal protein do to the human body? It increases the acid load on the body, which your body then leeches calcium from your OWN bones in an attempt to neutralize the situation. The result in your body is weakened bone health and an increased likelihood of developing osteoporosis.

The USDA is also recommending much more protein per day than what is actually needed. The World Health Organization recommends that protein comprise 5% of your daily caloric intake. Based on a 2,000 calorie per day example week's menu plan, you can see that the USDA is recommending that protein comprise 20% of your daily caloric intake, most of which comes from animal food sources (meat and dairy). Much more than needed. The over consumption of protein (extremely likely to happen if you consume lots of dairy and meat) can cause several other health conditions, such as cancer and heart disease.

I also find it hazardous that they only recommend 2.5 hours of [moderate] physical activity per week. I placed moderate in brackets because the USDA differentiates between moderate and vigorous physical activity, but the 2.5 hour recommendation is for moderate exercise. If you were to engage in vigorous physical activity, you only need to exercise for about 1.25 hours per week, according to the USDA.

By their definition, brisk walking and general gardening count toward the moderate physical activity requirement. Yes, these activities are better than sitting on the couch all day and night, but 2.5 hours a week of walking is not going to do much good if that's as intense as you get. Most people don't even get 2.5 hours of actual exercise (and by exercise, I mean working out and maintaining your target heart rate -- you know you're in it when you're just out of breath and not desiring to carry on a conversation anymore). I would love to see the USDA recommend at least 5 hours per week of exercise within your target heart rate. It doesn't mean people would follow that recommendation, but what good is a health recommendation if it doesn't lead to improved health?

Bottom Line:
The S.A.D. seems to be written to please everybody: the American-gluttonous palate, the dairy and livestock farmers they advocate for, and the fad dieters. It's pretty vague, has a mixture of units (cups vs. ounces - not so easy to apply in life), and off base in its daily recommendations. It's pretty SAD indeed that a diet plan intended for everyone in America is not healthy for anyone in America.

Next -- Part 2: What About the Atkins Diet?
Introduction for the 10-Part Series