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May 19, 2014 | 3 minute read

Calories or Carbs? Weight, Health and Cancer Prevention

A calorie is a calorie – eat too many and you’ll gain weight; eat less and you’ll lose weight. Sounds simple, but a New York Times article by two obesity researchers is making headlines, and they question whether focusing on calories alone is really the answer for weight loss. It’s an important issue because obesity links to eight different cancers.Healthy versus unhealthy.

Their hypothesis, published last Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, proposes that the driving force for obesity in America is because we eat too many refined carbohydrates – chips, cakes, soft drinks, sugary foods and refined grains – rather than just too many calories. They say eating these foods can lead to higher insulin levels and an environment in our body that promotes fat storage. Their proposal that type of food is more important than total calories for both becoming obese and for losing weight is interesting, but does need more research.

What research is clear on – we know that cutting back on sugary foods and drinks and other refined carbohydrate foods is one important strategy in a total program for health and weight loss. And substituting whole plant foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains can help lower cancer risk.

So if you are trying to lose weight or are thinking about trying to lose weight, and are feeling confused about what to do, here are strategies that address concern about refined carbohydrate foods and can be helpful in successful weight loss and maintenance.

1. Replace foods like white bread and sugary cereals, French fries and chips with whole grain breads and cereals, crunchy vegetables and salads sprinkled with nut and whole fruits. You’ll have larger portions and more bites, but more fiber and water with fewer calories. There is research showing that these low calorie dense foods can help you feel full without overdoing on calories.

2. Start your meal with a light soup or salad. Filling up on these lower calorie starters can help you eat a little less at the rest of the meal. And it helps you sneak in more veggies.

3. Cut out sugary drinks (one of AICR’s recommendations) like sodas, lemonade, fruit drinks and sweet tea. These drinks add sugar and calories without filling you up, so you end up eating more calories than if you had just had water or unsweetened drinks.

Finally, a non-food important strategy: Step more and sweat a little. Moving more includes taking more breaks from computer, TV and other screen time as well as getting at least 30 minutes daily of activity that makes you breathe a little harder. Physical activity is an effective strategy for helping keep weight off once you lose it and that 30 minutes or more is also helpful for lowering cancer risk.

AICR’s New American Plate way of eating can help you make changes in your diet to reduce risk of cancer and other chronic diseases and as part of your overall effort to lose weight.

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