By Dr. Laura Pawlak
Unlike any time in history, Americans are faced with an obesity epidemic. The sensible weight-loss guidelines of a mere decade ago appear to be failing.
“The best foods to eat on a diet? The best foods to eat to keep weight off? The same foods you should eat when you are not on a diet, but just less of them.” Dr. Frank Sacks, Harvard School of Public Health, 2009.
The above statement was based on the study of 48 popular diets. All diets failed to produce significant differences in sustained weight loss.
Fast-tracking to 2019, the American diet has drifted far from the standard of what should be consumed. The foods we eat are primarily processed, containing almost 90 percent of the diet’s added sugar. Also, these foods contain too much salt, very little fiber, and lots of saturated fats. Eating less of these foods may result in weight loss, but the body and brain remain unhealthy.
When it comes to dieting, today’s fast-changing lifestyle demands novel, quick fixes. The hype in the latest keto diet craze is infectious: Fast weight loss without exercise; novel tools to measure rising ketone levels; easy-to-find processed keto foods; and keto pills when the diet is too tough to follow.
You eat lots of fat (at 80 percent of calories), moderate amounts of protein (at 20 percent), and very few plant foods, sugar, or starch (at 5 percent). The excess intake of calories from fat triggers metabolic, nutritional, and hormonal changes not meant to be sustained for long periods of time. Guidance by a registered dietitian is definitely recommended.
The Atkins program proposes a moderate approach to the keto craze: A choice of 20 percent or 40 percent of the diet as carbohydrates for a limit of one month — and progression toward more plant foods.
If weight loss is achieved on a keto diet, a major challenge still remains: The need to maintain your lower, healthy weight with a diet that offers protection against disease — not a keto plan.
A 25-year study evaluating healthful longevity and diet, published in 2018, identified the foods you should eat for a long, disease-free life: Consume approximately 50 percent of your calories as carbohydrates, primarily as whole plant food; eat proteins, mainly from fish and plants; and add healthy oils from olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita. She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.” On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.