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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

The 2000 revision of the American Heart Association dietary guidelines place increased emphasis on foods and an overall eating pattern, and the need to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Stop Counting, Focus on Foods,
 New Guidelines

The American Heart Association has seen the light!

If I didnít know better, Iíd be tempted to think the members of the AHA Nutrition Committee have been sneaking a peek at my books. Iíve been saying for more than 20 years that counting calories and such makes weight control more difficult than it needs to be. I rarely count calories, and Iíve never counted grams of carbohydrate, protein or fat. Itís not necessary. If you eat the right foods, your body -- the size of your stomach and your natural appetite control mechanism -- will do most of the counting for you.

Those who have read Lean for Life will remember my comment that the body behind the supermarket shopping cart usually reflects the food inside. "Once you know the kind of food a person eats, you can pretty well predict whether that person will be lean or fat," I wrote. "If the cart is full of soda pop, potato chips, ice cream, fatty meats and various and sundry refined and packaged products, itís a good bet that the person pushing it is overweight. On the other hand, if the body behind the cart is lean and healthy-looking, the odds are that the cart is loaded with fruit, vegetables and whole grain products, along with skimmed milk and maybe a little fish, chicken or extra-lean beef."

The American Heart Association has long recognized the importance of dietary and other lifestyle practices in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The new guidelines, however, play down the confusing numbers that nutritionists often use and focus on foods that will help you stay lean and healthy. If you follow their advice, your dietary numbers will fall into line naturally. By telling you which foods to emphasize, the AHA has effectively done the calculations for you Ė and made nutrition a whole lot simpler.

A Healthy Eating Pattern

The guidelines recommend an eating pattern including a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, fish, peas and beans, poultry and lean meats. The corollary, of course, is that we should limit foods high in fat and sugar, and low in fiber and nutritional quality. For the first time, the AHA recommends eating at least two 3 oz. servings of fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna) a week. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish appear to protect the heart. (Beyond recommending the number of servings from each food group, the new guidelines donít provide much help in putting together a palatable diet made up mainly of these heart-healthy foods, but youíll find eating tips and many recipe plans in my books, especially Ripped 2 & 3, Lean for Life and Challenge Yourself.)

Watch the Scales

The guidelines also stress the need to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. That means, of course, that you should strive to match food intake and energy expenditure. Yes, you may be thinking, but doesnít that mean counting calories? Some restraint is required, but thereís no need to count calories. The guidelines place a high priority on the prevention of weight gain. The AHA recommends monitoring your body weight. If the scale says you are gaining weight, especially if you have put on five pounds or more, you need to eat less and exercise more. Modest restriction of food intake is advised; programs that encourage rapid weight reduction have a "generally poor" record of long-term success. The guidelines say that "weight loss programs that result in a slow but steady weight reduction...may be more effective in promoting the behavioral changes needed to maintain weight loss." In short, youíre more likely to stay on your weight loss program if you concentrate on making smarter food choices and cut back only a little on your intake; if you cut back a lot, youíll probably go off the wagon and start gaining weight again.

That has long been my approach. I weigh myself at least once a week and take action if I see that the trend is up. I never make big changes, however. I reduced my food intake slightly, and increase my activity level slightly (usually by walking more). But I donít count calories. I simply clean up my diet. I review my eating pattern and usually find that foods high in calories and low in volume are creeping back in; I cut back on these foods. I call them "concentrated calorie" foods. The guidelines use the term "energy density." It generally means foods high in fat and sugar, and low in water and fiber. The foods that the guidelines recommend are generally low in energy density, while packaged and processed foods are often calorie dense. Youíll find much more about this concept in my books.

High Protein Diets Not Recommended

Finally, the 2000 guidelines have some strong words for the high protein diets that seem to always be with us: "There is at present no scientific evidence to support the concepts that high protein diets result in sustained weight loss, significant changes in metabolism, or improved health." They may work for a while, but there is no evidence that the losses continue or are long-lasting. Moreover, many high-protein foods are high in saturated fat, which promotes heart disease. The AHA says that most Americans already consume too much protein, and getting rid of the excess puts an unnecessary burden on the body. "Sustained high protein intake may lead to renal [kidney] damage and a reduction in bone density," the guidelines warn.

The AHA's 2000 statement says limiting carbohydrates makes matters worse. "Food choices become restrictive and overall nutrient adequacy, long-term palatability, and maintenance of the diet are major concerns." We need the nutrients that carbohydrate foods provide -- especially those recommended by the AHA -- and few people can stick to a low-carb diet. 

I said "no" to the low-carb, high-protein diet years ago; I explained why in Ripped.

(To read the new American Heart Association guidelines, click on "scientific statements" at circ.ahajournals.org.")

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108, Phone (505) 266-5858, FAX (505) 266-9123, e-mail:  cncbass@aol.com.  Office hours:  Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.

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