Who’s Winning the Diet War?

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In the pre-Atkins and South Beach era, when you mentioned the word “diet,” it meant what we eat. Today, when you say diet, it means not so much what we eat as what we don’t eat. Indeed, diet has become synonymous with weight loss, says trend diet watcher Mark Farmer. Farmer has a mouthful to say on that: “Diet conjures up images of calorie counting, carbohydrate charts, and fat grams, all topped with a helping of discipline, and maybe a lapse or two on the side. Nutrition or health often were meager portions, if they were served at all. The goal was to trim the waistline. But increasingly, creators of weight-loss diets present health concerns, e.g. nutrients and exercise, as integral parts of their programs. Likewise, proponents of health-based diets say that achieving proper weight is a natural result of their regimens.”

Weight and see? But finding the right diet, adds Farmer, ain’t no piece of cake. “A blizzard of dozens, if not hundreds, of diet philosophies are available to the consumer. The principles of some conflict with those of others.”

Farmer lists some of today’s most popular trend diets:

• Atkins Diet. Introduced by Dr. Robert Atkins in the early 1970s, it is probably the most popular of the low-carb diets. It is based on four principles: Weight loss, weight maintenance, health and disease prevention. Simply put, Dr. Atkins believed that the body normally uses carbohydrates for energy, but if one’s carbo intake is reduced significantly, it will turn to burning its stored fat. He said that with his diet, there’s none of the hunger and deprivation common to other diets because of the right balance of fat and carbohydrates.

According to its author, the diet plan uses foods with high nutritional value, which promote good health better than a low-fat, low-cal diet.

(A lot of Filipino celebrities swear by this diet despite rumors that the late Dr. Atkins had liver problems.)

• South Beach Diet. Heartily fashioned by Florida cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston for his heart patients, South Beach is somewhat like Atkins but with this major difference: It isn’t low-carb; rather, it’s a three-phase plan that shows you how to identify and eat the right carbs and fats. The first two weeks are practically carbo-free – say goodbye to breads, pastas, cakes, etc. And drop eight to 13 pounds by the end of two weeks, or so Dr. Agatston predicts. The second phase re-introduces carbs in controlled amounts. Desserts are even allowed during this phase. The final phase brings back more of your fave foods, but again, subject to some rules.

(South Beach is making a lot of waves in the Philippines that there’s now a Filipino version of the diet.)

• Zone. The diet is grounded in the premise that the human digestive system is designed to process natural carbohydrates (like that found in vegetables) and lean protein. Refined (processed) foods like bread and pasta are too dense in carbohydrates, leading to high insulin levels and subsequent conversion of excess carbohydrates into body fat. Likewise, this diet says that monounsaturated fats (like that found in olive oil) are good while saturated fats (animal fats, the kind found in processed and fast foods) are bad.

The Zone rule says that carbs, proteins and fats should be eaten in a 40-30-30 ratio, respectively, at each meal. How to determine the portion size? Follow the Eyeball Method using your hand as the measuring cup. The Zone web site says: “The size of your hand is relative to the size of your body and, therefore, your protein needs. Your protein portion should be equal to the size and thickness of your palm.” The five fingers of the hand correspond to the five times per day that the dieter must eat – that means three meals and two snacks a day. The dieter must never let five hours pass without eating. The expected weight loss is greatest in the first two weeks and then levels off to about a pound per week.

Part 2 of the Zone uses monounsaturated fat to slow down the absorption of food while Part 3 introduces omega-3 fish oils to the diet. And finally, it prescribes an exercise routine.

• Ornish Diet. For Dr. Dean Ornish, more is less. In his book Eat More, Weigh Less, he outlines his weight-loss diet, an offshoot of earlier diets he developed for his heart patients. Actually, he designed two diets for his patients: One to reverse heart disease and the other to prevent it. And the meaty truth is that both these diets are vegetarian. Dr. Ornish draws a line between bad and good carbohydrates: Bad carbs, like sugar, increase the body’s insulin levels and cause weight gain. On the other hand, good carbs, like the kind found in vegetables and fiber-rich grains, don’t raise sugar levels and thus don’t cause weight gain. Enough said.

• Weight Watchers. Millions subscribe to this diet, including celebrity endorser Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, who is said to have reached her goal weight via this program and has kept the unwanted pounds off to this day.

What makes this diet different is that it doesn’t exclude any type of food. Rather, all foods are assigned a certain number of points and all dieters have to do is to stay within their daily point allotment, which is determined by using the dieter’s current weight. But then again, 35 “FLEXpoints” are given each week to help the dieter cope with “food challenges” (read: unexpected eating situations and food cravings). There are also “activity points” from exercise which can be traded for food points or to fast-track weight loss.

• Raw Diet. Also known as the Caveman or Paleolithic Diet, it’s based on the thinking that we should eat what our ancestors ate because human evolution hasn’t kept up with food source revolution (shades of the Zone Diet). For eons, man ate only raw food – not cooked vegetables or processed foods. But alas, today, as one writer puts it, “For a typical Westerner, at least 70 percent of calories are provided by foods that were practically unavailable during human evolution, namely dairy products, oils, margarine, refined sugar and cereals.” Fact is, many modern-day ailments, like obesity, point to the departure from this pre-historic diet as the culprit.

• Vegan Diet. More than a diet, it’s a lifestyle. For instance, vegans will not even touch honey because they believe that the bees make honey for the good of the hive and not for greedy humans to exploit. Then, too, there are the Mayo Diet, Negative Calorie Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Hamptons Diet (it’s got quite a big following in diet-crazed Hollywood, including Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston), Cabbage Soup Diet, etc. etc. Certainly, you haven’t heard it all. But let’s hear the USDA dietary guidelines:

Aim For Fitness

• Aim for a healthy weight. Choose a healthy variety of foods that include vegetables, fruits, grains (especially whole grains), skim milk, fish, lean meat, poultry and beans. Choose foods that are low in fat and added sugars. Whatever the food, eat sensible portions.

• Be physically active each day. Aim for at least 30 minutes (for adults) or 60 minutes (for children) of moderate physical activity preferably daily.

Choose Sensibly

• Choose a diet that’s low in saturated fat, low in cholesterol and moderate in total fat. Foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol tend to raise blood cholesterol.

• Choose beverages and foods to ensure moderate intake of sugars. Don’t let soft drinks or sweets crowd out other healthy foods you need like low-fat milk and other good sources of calcium.

• Choose and prepare foods with less salt. You will have less chances of developing high blood pressure if you consume less salt.

• Drink in moderation as alcoholic beverages provide more calories than nutrients. Eat, drink, but be wary!


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