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Dieting during the quarantine

The stay home directives have pushed us to focus more on cooking and enjoy some home-made meals with family. That should be good, shouldn’t it? Yes, it is, but good things are never perfect and some people are starting to notice that their weight is going up. In addition, most people are not moving as much as they should. Eat less and move more is probably the answer, but you need to find what works for you.

A bit of understanding of existing diets is helpful.

We need about 2,000 calories to maintain our vital functions. Women may do with less and men may need more. The calories are provided by three macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates and protein. A typical low-fat diet will have <30% calories from fat, around 55% from carbs and 15% from protein. A low carb diet, like the Keto diet will have 70% of calories from fat, 5 to 10% from carbs and 20 to 25% from protein. You can appreciate that protein doesn’t change much, being usually between 15 and 25% of total calories, while fat and carbs go in different directions. Low carb diets tend to have more protein than low fat diets.

How can we have so contrasting diets? I´ll tell you why.

In the 80s, the American Heart Association introduced the low-fat diet (high carb) as a measure to curb down mortality from coronary artery disease. The rationale is that the bad fats increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) and that leads to plaques in the coronary arteries which increase your risk of suffering a heart attack. Weight Watchers adopted this diet. Dean Ornish, a Californian cardiologist took it further and proposed a semi-vegetarian diet with fats representing just 10% of total calories. Interestingly, in the late 90s De Lorgeril, a French doctor showed that a Mediterranean diet -which is not a low fat diet but emphasizes healthy fats- was able to reduce cardiovascular mortality.

Cardiac mortality did come down since then. A low-fat diet may have helped, but the decrease in mortality was probably more due to new drugs that reduced the bad cholesterol and better management of the patient during and after a heart attack (bypass surgery, stents, etc.).

But there were unintended consequences. Inevitably, products marketed as non- or low-fat hit grocery store shelves. Adults could now enjoy large quantities of “healthy” fat free products (cookies or pretzels) and calories started to add up. The result was an exponential increase in overweight and obesity leading to an increase in metabolic complications, the most important one being diabetes.

The most sensible blamed it on larger portions, increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods and an increased sedentary lifestyle.

Others put the blame on an excess production of insulin by the pancreas in response to a diet rich in carbohydrates. That is how the low carb diet emerged, with Dr Atkins being one its pioneers.  The Keto diet, even more restricted in terms of carbs came next.

Many fad diets emerged since then, many of them proposed by celebrities, including some personal trainers. Examples are the Zone diet (even distribution of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), the South Beach diet (high protein, low carb and low fat), the Dukan diet (high protein, low carb), the Paleo diet (high protein, high fiber), the Cruise Control diet (intermittent fasting), the Dubrow Diet (intermittent fasting), the Plant Paradox diet (eating plan that eliminates lectins) and the list goes on.

So, what diet should you follow? It can get very confusing, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Did you know that if you adhere well to any low-calorie diet you will lose weight?

I recommend you ask the following questions when choosing a diet:

Does it have a scientific foundation? Can you keep up with it? Will it help you maintain the weight over time? Will it be healthy in the long term?

To be continued........

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