by Julia Blank, MD
So you’re driving down Wilshire, past the familiar tract of fast-food joints, and suddenly you do a double-take. Was that Burger King offering a low-carb menu? And was that a Subway sign touting Atkins-friendly wraps alongside its 6-grams-of-fat sandwiches?
Everywhere you go, low-carb is all the rage: lettuce-wrap burgers at McDonald’s, low-carb chips at the deli, carb-controlled candy bars at the supermarket check-out, the South Beach Diet and Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution on the bookstore shelf.
What ever happened to “low fat”? Despite the bad rap that low fat diets have recently gotten in the press, low-fat/reduced-fat/fat-free products are still available—and, it seems, as popular as ever.
With so many foods and diets to choose from, how do you decide what to eat? And what is the best approach to weight loss—and maintenance of healthy weight?
A Weighty Problem
If you’re concerned about your weight, you’re not alone: studies suggest that at any given time, up to 44% of Americans are trying to lose weight. In the process, they spend $40 to $60 Billion dollars a year on everything from diet drinks and health club memberships to diet books and commercial weight loss programs.
Despite this, the number of overweight and obese Americans continues to climb. According to the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), 64.5% of American adults are overweight—up from 46% two decades ago. Of overweight adults, 30.5% are considered clinically obese (i.e. BMI of 30 or more), up from 14.4% in 1980.
The problem with excess weight is that it leads to significant health complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis, and some forms of cancer. Obesity increases overall risk of death from all causes by 50-100%. In other words, obesity can shave off an estimated 2-5 years of life expectancy. The health problems associated with obesity are also responsible for a significant increase in healthcare costs.