Lifestyle

Varied diet is better for seniors than low-carb fad

By PAM McGAFFIN

For the Mirror

In the media and on food labels, “low-carb” has become the new diet buzzword. Forget fat-free. Go ahead, eat that steak, cheese and butter, but stay away from bread and pasta and sugars, the real villains when it comes to weight gain.

Or so the theory goes.

With Americans growing in girth, anything claiming to be “the solution” sounds appealing, but are high-protein/low-carbohydrate diets really good for people in the long-run –– especially for those over the age of 60?

No, say nutritionists. In fact, they may even be dangerous. Better to eat a variety of foods and fewer overall calories if you want to lose those extra pounds, advises the Healthy Aging Partnership.

The Partnership, a coalition of more than 30 Puget Sound-area non-profit and public health organizations, including the Seattle-King County Public Health Department, offers the following facts about low-carbohydrate diets, what’s potentially bad about them, and some tips for losing weight safely:

• A carbohydrate is a nutrient like protein or fat and is found in all food groups, including meats, nuts and eggs; dairy products; fruits and vegetables; and grains. The body, particularly the brain, needs a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrate a day for energy. Some phases of low-carbohydrate diets provide only 20 grams a day.

• Low-carbohydrate diets tend to be high in saturated fat and low in calcium, fiber and healthy plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that help prevent disease. Weight is through an abnormal process that also occurs during starvation. This process, called ketosis, can cause fatigue, constipation, nausea and vomiting. Long-term side effects can include heart disease, bone loss and kidney damage.

• Be wary of any quick-fix diet that eliminates a food group, suggests that food can change body chemistry or says that a specific food causes weight loss or gain. A nutritionally sound diet stresses the importance of a variety of foods as well as healthy eating habits that can be maintained over a lifetime.

• Some carbohydrates are healthier than others. Limit less nutritious carbs, such as those found in sugary and refined-flour foods like candy, cookies, processed cereals and white breads and pasta. Whenever possible, choose nutrient-dense carbohydrates – vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains – which are richer in nutrients and fiber.

• Americans are gaining weight not because they’re eating too many carbohydrates, but because they’re eating too many calories and exercising less. Healthy, long-term weight loss is slow and requires lifestyle changes. Watch portion sizes, make wise food choices and get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily.

Nutrition education is one way the Washington Basic Food Program (formerly food stamps) ensures that low-income families eat healthy meals. Depending on your income, you may qualify for up to $115 a month.

More information is available at 1-888-435-3377), a free and confidential help line, and the Healthy Aging Partnership Web site at www.4elders.org.

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