No magic bullet in losing weight

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

The bankruptcy of the Atkins company is a good reminder that "there's no such thing as a free lunch." The bankruptcy may have had more to do with business competition and the death of its founder, Dr. Robert Atkins than with problems with the diet, although dietitians have always had problems with it.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that too many of us have seized upon the idea of eating as many proteins as we want -- meat, fish, eggs and cheese -- without taking Atkins' advice to eat more fruits and a vegetables and increasing exercise. The popular view of Atkins played into Americans' tendency to take in ever larger amounts of burgers, steaks, cheese and bacon.

But there is little doubt most of us eat too much bread and sugar, and don't get enough vegetables and exercise.

And, a lot of McCookites are getting the message; low-carb items seem to be becoming more popular, and drivers have to keep an eye out for hundreds of walkers and joggers who ply our streets early in the morning.

So if Atkins has its problems, what can we do?

Perhaps this is one of those areas where the government has the answer.

One of Mike Johann's first jobs as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was to unveil the USDA's new food pyramid recommendations and a new, customizable Web site, MyPyramid.gov.

Now, in addition to checking our e-mail, we can log in to MyPyramid.gov, enter our food intake and exercise output, and let the computer tell us how we are doing.

It's not rocket science, but the USDA makes the following recommendations:

* Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages from the basic food groups, and limit intake of trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol, and follow the food pyramid.

* Try to reach a balance in calorie intake and exercise, or make adjustments to control your weight.

* Exercise more, including cardiovascular conditioning, stretching, exercises for flexibility and resistance training or calisthenics.

* Eat a variety of vegetables, whole grain products and fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent.

* Consume less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg. per day of cholesterol.

* Eat fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains often, and reduce foods with added sugars or sweeteners -- which also has dental benefits.

* Eat less than a teaspoon of salt per day, and use low-salt and potassium-rich foods.

* Drink alcohol sensibly and in moderation, and some of us should not drink at all.

Next time you're online, log in to http://www.MyPyramid.gov, look around, and sign up for customized recommendations. You may find you want to make it part of your daily routine.

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