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Protein vs. Carbohydrates

Food Fitness to Nourish Your Body

With 64 percent of Americans overweight or obese, the experts are debating what kinds of foods put on the pounds. A balanced diet is the best way to prevent cancer and heart disease while managing your weight.

What is Making Americans Overweight - Fat or Carbohydrates?

People all across the country are debating this issue. Do you lose weight by eliminating most of the fat in your diet? Or do you shed those pounds by eliminating the carbs and filling up on protein along with the saturated fat that comes with it?

Fruit Stack for Protein vs. carbohydrates Do neither. If you want to lose weight and stay healthy, you have to eat fewer calories and exercise more, not simply cut whole categories of foods from your diet.

The stakes in this debate are high because certain kinds of fat are linked to higher long-term risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. On the other hand, certain types of carbohydrates -- particularly fruit and vegetables -- are linked to lowering that risk.

Choosing Healthful Fats and Carbs

Originally, health experts recommended reducing overall fat intake for heart health and lower weight. However, recent research shows that some fats, used in moderation, may have health benefits. Highly monounsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil are considered to be "heart healthy." Similarly, laboratory tests suggest that omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and canola and soybean oils) may help protect against cancer.

The questionable fats that some cancer research studies show to be hazardous are saturated fats from animal proteins, such as red meat, whole milk and butter. Health experts also advise avoiding products using "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil," which contain harmful trans-fatty acids. Most margarine also contains trans-fats, but after public pressure, some companies created versions that do not; just check the labels.

At the same time, some scientists argue that refined carbohydrates like white sugar, white rice and processed cereals raise insulin levels. In turn, this leads to overeating and storage of excess fat at the waist and hips.

On the other hand, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole wheat, brown rice and bran cereals are digested more slowly and contain dietary fiber that solid research evidence shows is linked to lower colon cancer risk.

Refined sugar foods

The cancer-fighting vitamins and phytochemicals in fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans are another important health benefit. Dismissing these foods simply because they are carbohydrates is short-sighted.

Abandoning fruits and vegetables because they also contain carbohydrates could prove disastrous to your health. A much wiser course is to eat moderate portions of the types of carbohydrates and fats that are good for long-term health. See also: Easy Ways to Eat More Fruit, Easy Ways to Eat Your Vegetables

Dinner plate AICR's rule of thumb makes it easy to choose the right foods in the right proportions. Look at your plate:

  • 2/3 (or more) should be filled with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans
  • 1/3 (or less) should hold lean animal protein

This proportion of plant foods to meat and dairy will provide more health-promoting fats and carbohydrates and fewer potentially harmful ones. Following is a healthy recipe for a good dose of productive protein.

Protein Bites

This powerful treat is just sweet enough to satisfy your cravings, but not so sweet that it will send you on a roller coaster ride of sugar highs and lows. Concentrated with protein, fiber, and B complex vitamins, a Protein Bite is the perfect snack to have, right before heading out for a run or to the gym.

1 cup nut butter (almond, cashew, sunflower seed, sesame paste, etc.)
1/4 cup pitted dates
1/4 cup natural cacao powder (can use regular unsweetened cocoa or carob powder if you'd like)
3 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Optional 1 tablespoon spirulina
Optional coating: 2 tablespoons chia seeds, chopped nuts, desiccated coconut, cacao nibs, chopped goji berries, etc.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or high power blender and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Do not over process. You do not want to liquefy the mixture.

Form the mixture into balls the size of a walnut. If desired, roll in chia seed, chopped nuts, desiccated coconut, cacao nibs, or anything else that appeals to you. Store in the freezer. Makes 8 to 10 protein bites.

Eat Less and Exercise More for Weight Loss

For those concerned about weight loss, reducing portion size and increasing physical activity level is the best course. Experts believe that promotional practices such as "supersizing" and "value marketing" have confused people about reasonable portion sizes. As a result they are consuming approximately 148 more calories per day than they were two decades ago. These added calories could amount to a weight gain of 15 pounds per year. For exercise ideas, descriptions and suggestions, see our Exercise! section.

As you compose your meals to be 2/3 plant-based foods and 1/3 animal protein, gradually reduce the size of portions. Ask yourself how many of those standard serving sizes go into the portions you usually eat, and use them as a guide to adjust your diet to be more healthful. Reduce your portion sizes gradually. Then add more physical activity to your schedule, and weight loss will probably result.

If your weight does not decrease after a few weeks of reduced portion sizes and increased activity, contact your physician or a registered dietitian for an individualized plan.

Resource:  American Institute for Cancer Research

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