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Keep carbohydrates in balanced diets
By Laura Whelan
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many dieters drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates they consume in hopes of losing weight, yet nutritionists and dietitians say this kind of weight loss comes at too great a cost.
"Your body needs carbohydrates," said Rebecca Kelly, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "When a person cuts out carbohydrates in an attempt to lose weight, they deprive their bodies of many important nutrients found in carbohydrate-rich foods."
Carbohydrates are present in five of the six food categories in the Food Guide Pyramid, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended guide for a balanced diet. Grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and sweets all contain some form of carbohydrate, which the body breaks down into glucose to use as energy.
"A person's diet must be balanced and contain variety to provide proper nutrition," Kelly explained. "Taking out carbohydrates basically leaves only meats and fats in the diet. This restricts dieters from most food options, and they basically end up starving themselves into weight loss."
Due to the restrictive nature of low-carbohydrate diets, this kind of weight loss is seldom permanent because dieters eventually crave more foods and a greater variety of foods.
Kelly also said the weight loss occurring with a low-carbohydrate diet could damage muscle tissue.
"Without adequate carbohydrates, the body will burn some fat, but it will also break down protein and lean muscle mass, essentially tearing down the body," Kelly said.
Low-carbohydrate diets also restrict fiber intake, a valuable carbohydrate needed for bowel regularity and lowering blood cholesterol. The Dietary Reference Intake, a reference tool produced by the National Academy of Sciences, recommends that adult men 50 years old and younger consume 38 grams of fiber per day, and that men over age 50 consume 30 grams per day. Women ages 50 and younger should consume 25 grams of fiber per day, and women over 50 should consume 21 grams daily.
Diets low in carbohydrates are usually high in protein, but protein-rich foods are often high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. A protein-rich diet can strain the liver and kidneys as those organs must filter out the high levels of nitrogen found in these foods. Excessive protein can also drain calcium from bones into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Kelly said these dangers indicate that a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet is not the best nutritional choice for those who want to lose weight.
"Weight loss is pointless if you are harming your body in the process," Kelly said.
The specialist stated that the key to proper nutrition is balance.
"Eating too many carbohydrates will make you gain weight, just like eating too much fat or too much protein. The problem isn't the carbohydrates; it's the calories consumed," Kelly said.
Determining a healthy amount of carbohydrates for daily consumption is an individualized process that varies from person to person depending on daily calorie consumption. Calories from carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of total calories. One gram of carbohydrate contains four calories, so in an 1,800-calorie diet, a person would need 205 to 265 grams of carbohydrate per day.
The safest way to lose weight is to balance the energy you eat -- calories -- with the energy you use -- exercise.
"Carbohydrates are not 'bad' foods," Kelly explained. "The basic premise of healthy eating is to make good individual dietary choices, using carbohydrates and all foods in moderation in order to obtain nutrients and energy."
More nutritional information about carbohydrates can be found at: http://www.msucares.com/health/index.html.
Contact: Dr. Rebecca Kelly, (662) 325-3080