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Jun 26, 2012

Balancing What and How Much We Eat

The Choose My Plate food guidelines help balance the amount and types of food we eat.

With so much information and mixed messages coming our way, it can be hard to know which foods we should eat to stay fit and maintain a healthy weight. Luckily, the government food guidelines called Choose My Plate, which replaced the food pyramid last year, make it easier.

The Choose My Plate system recommends a diet full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. With reasonable portions, following this well-balanced diet should help most individuals maintain a healthy weight and stay heart-healthy. But many experts say that when it really comes down to it, losing weight and keeping it off depends on limiting calorie intake. If someone eats a balanced diet but takes in more calories than their bodies need, weight gain will occur. So what is more important? Eating the right foods or eating the right amount of foods?

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, what we eat just might play an important role in weight maintenance, especially following substantial weight loss. This small study included 21 overweight individuals, all of whom lost a significant amount of weight from a low-calorie diet over four years. Following their weight loss, participants tried out three different diets for a month each—one that was low in fat, and two that were low in sugar and carbohydrates. After using state-of-the-art measurements for calorie-burning, researchers found that individuals on the low-sugar and low-carbohydrate diets had faster metabolism than those on the low-fat diet. This means that those on the low-fat diet might be more likely to gain weight back, since their bodies burn calories slower compared to other study participants.

So should we all switch to low-carb diets? For now, the answer is no. Experts still insist that restricting calorie intake is most important in weight loss and weight maintenance. Since it’s still unclear how different foods affect our metabolism and weight, individuals should stick to heart-healthy diets and be sure to watch portion sizes. Because when it comes down to it, we still need to burn as many or more calories than we take in to lose weight and keep it off.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are carbohydrates unhealthy?

  • According to research and dietary guidelines, carbohydrates are not bad for us. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. It is important to eat complex carbohydrates contained in whole grain foods, which take longer for the body to break down and keep us feeling full. In comparison, simple carbohydrates that are found in most processed foods and sweets can spike our blood sugar and keep us less satisfied.
  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

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