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Common Questions

Some individuals may be confused or misled about important dietary issues based on the following inaccurate claims:

1. “High-protein diets cause dramatic weight loss.”
The weight loss typically occurring with high-protein diets—approximately 11-16 pounds over the course of a year5,6—is not significantly different from that seen with other weight-reduction regimens or with low-fat, vegetarian eating patterns.

2. “Fatty foods must not be fattening, because fat intake fell during the 1980s, just as America's obesity epidemic began.”
Some news stories have encouraged the public to discount health warnings about the amount of fat (especially saturated fat) in the diet, suggesting that fat intake declined during the 1980s, an era during which obesity became more common. However, food surveys from the National Center for Health Statistics from 1980 to 1991 show that daily per capita fat intake did not drop during that period. For adults, fat intake averaged 81 grams in 1980 and was essentially unchanged in 1991. While the American public added sodas and other non-fat foods to the diet, forcing the percentage of calories from fat to decline slightly, the actual amount of fat in the American diet did not drop at all. What did change was portion size. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that meal sizes have steadily risen over recent decades.28

A notable contributor to fat and calorie intake in recent years is cheese consumption. Per capita cheese consumption rose from 15 pounds in 1975 to more than 30 pounds in 1999. Typical cheeses derive approximately 70 percent of energy from fat and are a significant source of dietary cholesterol.

3. “Fat and cholesterol have nothing to do with heart problems.”
Abundant scientific evidence establishes that dietary fat and cholesterol are associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk.16 Nonetheless, some popular-press articles have incorrectly suggested that evidence supporting this relationship is weak and inconsistent.
In addition, the late diet-book author Robert Atkins claimed in interviews that, despite his having followed a fatty, high-cholesterol diet for decades, he did not have artery blockages. The net result may be that dieters believe they can safely disregard well-established contributors to heart disease. After Dr. Atkins’ death, his widow and his personal physician revealed that Dr. Atkins had indeed had coronary artery blockages, although they have maintained that these blockages had nothing to do with his death.

4. “Meat doesn't boost insulin; only carbohydrates do that, and that's why they make people fat.”
Popular books and news stories have encouraged individuals to avoid carbohydrate-rich foods, suggesting that high-protein foods will not stimulate insulin release. However, contrary to this popular myth, proteins stimulate insulin release, just as carbohydrates do. Clinical studies indicate that beef and cheese cause a bigger insulin release than pasta, and fish produces a bigger insulin release than popcorn.15

Also, it is important to realize that different carbohydrate-rich foods have very different effects. Most cause a gradual, temporary, and safe rise in blood sugar after meals. Beans, green leafy vegetables, and most fruits are in this healthful category. The main exceptions are large baking potatoes, white bread, and sugary foods, which can cause an overly rapid rise in blood sugar.

5. “People who eat the most carbohydrates tend to gain the most weight.”
Popular diet books point out that cutting out carbohydrate-containing foods may lead to temporary weight loss. This fact has been misinterpreted as suggesting that carbohydrate-rich foods are the cause of obesity. In epidemiological studies and clinical trials, the reverse has been shown to be true. Many people throughout Asia consume large amounts of carbohydrate in the form of rice, noodles, and vegetables and generally have lower body weights than Americans—including Asian Americans—who eat large amounts of meat, dairy products, and fried foods. Similarly, vegetarians, who generally follow diets rich in carbohydrates, typically have significantly lower body weights than omnivores.



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