Health Take-Away: Low-carb, high-fat diets reduce weight, health risks

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The sad irony about the obesity epidemic still escalating in this country is it was originally fed by a widespread, but misinformed belief that dietary fat was the ultimate villain. By the early 1980s, that belief became so strong that major food processors, motivated more by profit than public health, began flooding supermarket shelves with products lower in fat, but loaded with sugar, starch and other taste-satisfying, but weight-inducing carbohydrates.

Today, the scientifically validated truth is that those highly addictive carbohydrates, not fat, are the biggest culprits in the fattening of America and the increase of chronic disease. In fact, one of the most effective diets for losing weight and reducing disease risk is low in carbohydrates and high in natural fats and protein sources, and low-sugar vegetables. People following low-carb, high fat (LCHF) diets see significant reductions in blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides (blood fat), with increases in good HDL cholesterol. Not only are they losing weight safely and keeping it off, they are lowering their risk — and even reversing the effects — of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

On an LCHF diet, your blood sugar stabilizes, while levels of fat-storing insulin drop. This increases fat burning and makes you feel satiated, so you end up eating less and losing weight. With high-carb foods, the reaction is opposite. Your insulin levels rise, your body loses its ability to burn fat and your carb cravings — along with your weight — continue to climb.

You don't have to count calories on an LCHF diet. It's the quality of calories, not the number, that counts. As long as you eat the right combination of whole foods, as suggested in this list, you're on the right path.

FOODS TO EAT

Meat: All kinds, Ideally pasture-raised. Beef, pork, lamb, poultry, etc. Feel free to eat the fat on meat and the skin on chicken.

Fish and seafood: All kinds. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines or herring are great.

Eggs: All kinds. Boiled, fried, scrambled, omelets, etc.

Natural fats: Using butter and cream for cooking make low-carb foods taste better and fill you up. Coconut oil, ghee or olive oil are good options.

Vegetables that grow above ground: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, olives, mushrooms, cucumber, avocado, onions, peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens, etc.

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Dairy: Feel free to choose full-fat options like real butter, cream, sour cream, Greek yogurt, high-fat cheeses.

Nuts: Macadamia, walnuts, pecans, almonds are a great treat in moderation instead of popcorn, candy, chips.

Berries: In moderation, berries like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are fine.

Beverages: Make water your main drink of choice; flavored or sparkling is fine, but check ingredients for sugar. Coffee and tea are good; feel free to add full-fat cream or try with coconut oil and butter.

FOODS TO AVOID

Sugar: It's the worst choice, period. Soft drinks, candy, juice, sports drinks, chocolate, cakes, pastries, ice cream, breakfast cereals — avoid them all.

Starch: Flour, wheat products and other whole or refined cereal grains, even if gluten-free. This means bread, pasta and crackers, etc. Also, rice and potatoes (including sweet), chips, fries and corn products. Also, beans and lentils.

Beer: Beer is basically bread in liquid form, made from fermented grain and hops.

High-sugar fruits: While the berries above are OK, be careful with other fruit, which are fairly high in carbs, sugar.

Americans have tried many diets over the years, but more often than not they fail and end up heavier than ever. No diet has proven as effective as LCHF in achieving weight loss and reducing cardiac, diabetic and other risk factors. At the very least, it's worth trying.

Mark Pettus, M.D., is director of Medical Education and medical director of Wellness and Population Health at Berkshire Health Systems.


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