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Carbs: A New 'Low'

 Carbs: A New 'Low'In the 90s it was ‘low-fat.’ Now it’s ‘low-carb.’ According to experts from Tufts, the only low Americans haven’t seen in awhile is a low number on the scale. Boston.

Boston [03.24.04] Long a trend in diet circles, eating plans low in carbohydrates have now hit the mainstream - big time. Products such as bread, crackers and even cookies - which used to market low-fat versions - are now filling the supermarket isles with low-carb variations. But according to Tufts experts, this latest nutrition fad may not be all it's cut out to be.

"We're almost seeing the same trend [as with low-fat products]," Alice Lichtenstein, professor at The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told the Associated Press. "[With low-carb diets] it used to be you couldn't eat pasta or crunchy snacks, all sorts of things. Now suddenly there are low-carb versions of anything."

Anticipating confusion among consumers trying to sort through the low-carb claims, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it will set a standard for how many carbohydrates a food must contain to advertise itself as reduced-carb or low-carb.

But a standardized definition of low-carb alone won't necessarily help the nation lose weight.

"I suspect what we're going to see is that the low-carb diets are not going to be as successful as previously [thought]," Lichtenstein told AP.

The Tufts expert said she worries that the low-carb trend will take the same route as the low-fat trend: a change in diet without a reduction of calories. While Americans religiously ate low-fat foods over the last decade, the population only got fatter: two-thirds of Americans are overweight and a third are obese.

Tufts' Larry Lindner, executive editor of the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, agrees that even with new labeling guidelines from the FDA (expected as early as this summer), Americans may not see any weight loss.

"[Lindner said] studies show that people with more choices consume more calories. That's one reason why so many people gained weight on low- and no-fat foods during the 1990s," reported AP. "Eating too many calories interferes with weight-loss regardless of their source. If people eat low-carb foods with the same abandon as they did low-fat products, the nation's collective waistline will only continue to grow."

And scientists aren't convinced that foods high in carbs are unhealthy. Tufts experts found that people who ate whole grains -- a major source of carbs -- actually saw significant health benefits.

"Scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts tracked the eating habits of 2,834 adults over four years and found that those who ate plenty of whole grain foods, especially cereal fiber, significantly reduced their risk of developing a range of health problems that often lead to diabetes," reported AP.

According to Tufts scientist Nicola McKeown, the lead researcher of the study, increased servings of whole grain foods, particularly foods that are fiber rich, produced the benefits.

"The health benefits of whole grain foods were observed among people who consumed three or more servings of whole grains per day," McKeown told Reuters.

The Tufts expert noted that while the average American consumes less than one serving of whole grain foods per day, it should not be hard to increase intake.

"It is not that difficult to do - just substitute your refined grains with comparable whole grain foods" said McKeown. "For example, substitute white rice with brown rice, white bread with whole wheat bread, and choose a whole-grain breakfast cereal."


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