Tuesday, 3 April 2012

It’s official calories do count! The comeback of carbs

I’ve just finished the latest Marion Nestle book ‘ Why Calories Count:  From Science to Politics’ and wanted to cheer when I finished it. She is one of my ‘must read’ authors on food, nutrition and politics and always gives an expertly researched and unbiased account of food and nutrition, delivered without fanfare or pseudo science - just clear, evidence based advice and guidelines (think Nigel Slater of nutrition!).
Is this another nail in the coffin for the low carb diet advocates following on from the recent research linking red meat consumption to increased mortality (http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/archinternmed.2011.2287v1).  Possibly....
Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim argue that calories (either too few or too many) are the source of the world’s health problems.  The book explains what calories are, how they work and discusses food politics and the different dietary regimes.  Reducing calorie intake regardless of the proportion of fats, carbs and proteins in your diet will result in weight loss.  In the long term, individuals will lose weight regardless of the type of diet they follow as long as overall calories are reduced.  
They also suggest and explain simple and effective ways to manage weight including:
Get Organised
Get Motivated
Monitor your weight
Eat Less
Be aware of calories, but don’t count them excessively
Insist on smaller portions
Keep snacks to a minimum
Eat what you like (in moderation, and if you can’t do this set limits!)
Eat better
Don’t drink your calories (alcohol (!) or fizzy drinks)
Stay out of supermarket centre aisles
Move more
Turn off the TV 
My thoughts?  They are spot on.  While in the short term excluding carbohydrates can give very quick results in terms of weight loss, this is not particularly effective as a long term health strategy.  While it makes complete sense to reduce and avoid huge amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugars, surely whole grains, beans and lentils should be valuable additions to a daily diet.   They are excellent sources of B vitamins, fibre and other nutrients and it just does not make sense to exclude them on a long term basis.  
While the Paleo and Dukkan high protein/high meat diets may work for raging carnivores, surely there has to be a question mark around the quality of the red meat we consume today which bears very little resemblance to the wild, lean and omega 3 rich meat our ancestors hunted.   
As always the key is balance, and a healthy dietary approach is not not complicated.  Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, watch your portion sizes, limit refined carbohydrates, sugary and processed foods.  Move more!!
In celebration of carbs, here is my recipe for Spaghetti Puttanesca
Delicious with nutty wholemeal spaghetti and a grating of parmesan.  The sauce is also lovely with roasted fennel (which make a nice accompaniment to baked fish).  
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add a chopped chili and 2 cloves of chopped garlic (be careful not to let it burn).  Cook for 1 minute then add 1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, 4 tinned anchovies, 2 tablespoons tomato paste  and let it cook down to a pulpy sauce for 15-20 minutes.  Add 100g of chopped black olives and 2 large tablespoons of drained capers, let it cook for 5 minutes than add plenty of chopped fresh basil.  Season and serve with wholemeal spaghetti.  Enjoy with a glass of good italian red and a green leafy salad! 

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