By Kathy Jordan, MS, RD, LDN, CPT, CTA
I am not a big fan of diets with lists of forbidden foods. They usually instill a lot of guilt and don’t work in the long run. Instead, I promote adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy food choices that maximize your nutritional intake, strength training, aerobic exercise, adequate sleep and stress/time management. HOWEVER, the research is piling up that certain types of foods contribute to obesity, type-2 diabetes, non-alcohol related fatty liver and a number of other debilitating lifestyle-related conditions.
Consuming foods that are fast, convenient, and calorically dense while low in nutrients on a regular basis is not in your best interest if you want to avoid obesity, lose weight and have a long healthy life. The biggest culprits are refined flours, FAST FOOD and sugars.
The Stats and Studies:
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans describe a healthy diet as one that is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars1. This is consistent with the 2002 position paper on weight management by the American Dietetic Association that blames a sedentary life coupled with access to an abundance of energy-dense foods for the epidemic of obesity, chronic disease, and escalating national health care costs2. A 2006 study conducted by the National Weight Control Registry found that weight re-gain was associated with several factors including high calorie and high fat intake, and fast food consumption. Factors associated with long-term weight loss included limiting fast food consumption3.
Why pick on fast food? A typical fast food meal is high in calories from fat, refined starches, salt and sugar. It is energy dense, supplying an average of 150% more calories than a traditional meal. It increases the risk of obesity and related health issues by encouraging inadvertent over consumption of calories. And supersizing compounds the issue. A supersized fast food meal often exceeds 1,600 calories, more than many people should eat in an entire day. These meals are woefully low in fiber, but pack in plenty of unhealthy fat, sugar and sodium. And it’s not just the fare at fast food restaurants we should be concerned about; ready-to-eat and other convenient meal solutions offered at supermarkets and convenience stores may have similar nutrient profiles.
Not all carbs are created equal. Sugar and refined flour or other refined starches (grains such as: cereals, breads, pasta, white rice and crackers, made from grains that have been processed to remove the husk also removing most of the fiber, vitamins and minerals along with it) are more rapidly digested into glucose – causing blood sugar levels to rise. This stimulates insulin production, which signals the body to convert more of the excess energy into: body fat, fatty lipids that circulate in the blood and deposits of fat in the liver4.
In 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for a drastic reduction in sugar consumption, citing that poor diet contributes to 60% of the 56 million annual reported deaths worldwide. Americans consume over 100 pounds of sugar per year. High sugar foods and beverages are usually high in calories and low in or completely void of nutrients. Soda and other sweetened soft drinks, such as sports drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened ice tea and lemonade are the leading sources of sugar in the American diet. Researchers from Children’s Hospital in Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health report that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption increases the incidence of obesity5.
As our consumption of sugars, refined starches and fast food has risen, so has the incidence of overweight and obesity. The average male and female American adult weighs approximately 25 pounds more today than we did 45 years ago, and the incidence of overweight and obesity among our youth has tripled since the 1960’s and 70’s. To win the fight against fat, we will have to choose foods that contribute to health over those that contribute to health decline.
1 U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, 6th ed.
2 American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: weight management. J Am Diet Assoc 2002;102(8):1145-55.
3 Phelan S, et al. Are the eating and exercise habits of successful weight losers changing? Obesity 2006;14(4):710-16.
4 Ludwig DS. Dietary glycemic index and obesity. J Nutr 2000;130(2S Suppl):280S-283S.
5 Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet 2001;357(9255)505-8.