Nutrition-wise blog

Questions about nutrition — Top 5 FAQs

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. January 25, 2012

We thought we'd share five of the most frequently asked questions we get about nutrition and healthy eating. These represent what's hot on the topic of "you are what you eat."

What should I focus on to control my weight?
The war on obesity is all about reducing calories. We eat foods that are mixtures of the four calorie-yielding nutrients: carbohydrate, protein, fat and alcohol. Should you emphasize or eliminate one for weight control? That argument has been going on a long time and will likely continue as people search for the most effective weight-loss diet. In the meantime, if you want to control your weight, remember it's calories that count.

Are all carbs evil?
No. Carbs run the spectrum from simple sugars to complex indigestible fibers. The trouble comes from refined grains and simple sugars, which can play havoc with blood sugar and triglyceride levels, body weight, tooth health and inflammation. Humans seem to have an innate preference for sugar over other foods, and we scoop it up and guzzle it down.

Higher fiber carbs, on the other hand, offer some health benefits. They are slowly broken down in the gut. This slows absorption of sugar, which makes diabetes easier to manage. Fiber in the gut also links with cholesterol, which helps control cholesterol levels. Fiber provides fuel for intestinal bacteria, which may play a role in cancer protection and immune function. Not to mention that roughage improves regularity. Fiber fills you up, making dieting a bit easier. Bottom line: Switch to whole grains.

Is eating gluten-free risky?
At this time the only recognized reason to go gluten-free is if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis. There are some inherent risks in going gluten-free, so make sure your doctor agrees it's appropriate for you. Because a gluten-free diet excludes many grains it can be lower in fiber and higher in simpler carbohydrates, which can lead to any of the risks described above. Whenever you have a restricted diet, you need to stay in touch with your doctor. Another important point: Don't stop eating gluten before being tested for celiac disease — it makes the diagnosis more difficult.

What is the Modified Atkins Diet used for other than weight loss?
The focus of the Atkins Diet is on production of ketones and their role in control of weight and appetite. However for quite some time an extreme ketogenic version of the diet has been effective in certain types of epilepsy that is resistant to full control with medication. Think of the Modified Atkins Diet as the "lite" version of the traditional ketogenic diet (where all foods are weighed, and proteins and carbs are severely limited). More research is needed on effectiveness of the Modified Atkins Diet, but it may mean better quality of life for those with this type of epilepsy.

What should I eat for eye health?
Age-related macular degeneration is a major cause of blindness. There are hundreds of substances called carotenoids (which the body converts to vitamin A). However, focus is on lutein and zeatxanthin — found abundantly in the lens and macula of your eyes. Foods rich in these carotenoids, certain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids — but not supplements — have been shown to lower risk for cataracts and macular degeneration. Eat more green leafy veggies and more fatty fish.

- Jennifer

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Jan. 25, 2012