Nutrition Article:

Varied diet a better bet for seniors than low-carb fad

by Pam McGaffin

In the media, on food labels, even at the backyard barbecue, "low-carb" has become the new diet buzzword. Forget fat-free. Go ahead, eat that steak, cheese and butter, but stay away from bread and pasta and sugars, the real villains when it comes to weight gain.

Or so the theory goes.

With Americans growing in girth, anything claiming to be "the solution" sounds appealing, but are high-protein/low-carbohydrate diets really good for people in the long-run - especially for those over the age of 60?

No, say nutritionists. In fact, they may even be dangerous. Better to eat a variety of foods and fewer overall calories if you want to lose those extra pounds, advises the Healthy Aging Partnership.

The Partnership, a coalition of more than 30 Puget Sound-area nonprofit and public organizations dedicated to the health and wellbeing of older adults, offers the following facts about low-carbohydrate diets as well as some tips for losing weight safely:

Tips for Losing Weight Safely

  • What's a carbohydrate? A carbohydrate is a nutrient like protein or fat and is found in all food groups, including meats, nuts and eggs; dairy products; fruits and vegetables; and grains. The body, particularly the brain, needs a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrate a day for energy. Some phases of low-carbohydrate diets provide only 20 grams a day.
  • Dangers: Low-carbohydrate diets tend to be high in saturated fat and low in calcium, fiber and healthy plant chemicals (phytochemicals) that help prevent disease. Weight loss is achieved through an abnormal process that also occurs during starvation. This process, called ketosis, can cause fatigue, constipation, nausea and vomiting. Long-term side effects can include heart disease, bone loss and kidney damage.
  • Fad diets: Be wary of any quick-fix diet that eliminates a food group, suggests that food can change body chemistry or says that a specific food causes weight loss or gain. A nutritionally sound diet stresses the importance of a variety of foods as well as healthy eating habits that can be maintained over a lifetime.
  • Two kinds of carbs: Some carbohydrates are healthier than others. Limit less nutritious carbs, such as those found in sugary and refined-flour foods like candy, cookies, processed cereals and white breads and pasta. Whenever possible, choose nutrient-dense carbohydrates - vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains - which are richer in nutrients and fiber.
  • Healthy weight loss: Americans are gaining weight not because they're eating too many carbohydrates, but because they're eating too many calories and exercising less. Healthy, long-term weight loss is slow and requires lifestyle changes. Watch portion sizes, make wise food choices and get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily.

Nutrition education is one way the Washington Basic Food Program (formerly Food Stamp Program) ensures that low-income families eat healthy meals. If you need help with your food budget, consider applying for the program. Depending on your income, you may qualify for up to $115 a month.

For more information on the Basic Food Program, nutrition and other issues related to life as an older adult, call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464), a free and confidential help line. Or visit the Healthy Aging Partnership web site at www.4elders.org.

HAP is supported by its partner agencies, including Public Health Seattle & King County and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.