Jewish World Review March 7, 2003 / 3 Adar II, 5763

BODYLESSONS: The diet pendulum has swung once again

By Judi Sheppard Missett | Any time the diet pendulum swings too far in any direction, to the detriment of other nutrients, we're asking for trouble. The ongoing battle between high-protein and high-carbohydrate diets is a case in point.

The truth is that neither approach is healthy if it calls for the near-elimination of any other basic food group.

During the 1980s, everyone jumped on the carbohydrate bandwagon, scaling back the intake of protein in the process. The problems that surfaced were twofold: First, most individuals didn't take the time to discern between simple and complex carbohydrates. And second, they didn't realize that protein provides essential amino acids needed to build muscle, repair tissue and create immune system antibodies.

Eating too little protein can leave you feeling tired and more susceptible to illness, and unable to build muscle and/or improve your athletic performance.

However, carbohydrates are a necessary energy source. "They're the primary fuel for your exercising muscles, and the only fuel for your brain,'' notes Jackie Berning, Ph.D., of the American Dietetic Association. Simply put, we need carbohydrates to function at our peak. The caveat is that we eat the right kind.

Carbohydrates come in two basic packages -- simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly and are notorious for causing spikes in blood sugar.

Those spikes can trigger hormone responses that, over time, can put individuals at greater risk of developing diabetes. Common sources include sugars (honey, fructose, molasses, table sugar) and refined and processed foods (cookies, crackers, white bread, white rice).

Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, provide sustained energy and have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, brown rice and whole-grain bread, cereals and pastas are all complex carbohydrates.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the diet pendulum has swung once again, this time in the direction of protein. Suddenly branded as the "bad boys'' of the diet kingdom, carbohydrates have been summarily banished by the likes of Atkins, Zone and Protein Power. But swapping important carbohydrates for animal proteins high in saturated fat is a dangerous trade-off. Not only are people robbing their bodies of a valuable energy source, they are increasing their risk of heart disease, certain cancers and even osteoporosis.

As with most things, the best approach is a balanced approach. Your daily diet should be 55 percent to 60 percent carbohydrates (think complex); 30 percent fat (think omega-3, mono and polyunsaturated); and 10 percent to 15 percent protein (think lean and plant-based), according to Berning.

If you are moderately or highly active, your protein intake should rise to 20 percent or 30 percent of your daily calories respectively, with your fat calories dropping to 10 percent to 20 percent accordingly.

Striking an appropriate balance among carbohydrates, fat and protein is the only way to effectively fuel your activity, build and maintain muscle, and sustain a healthy heart and body that can tackle the following aerobic exercise.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees as you shift your weight into your heels, and tip your torso forward slightly. Make sure your spine remains straight or "neutral,'' with only the natural spinal curves -- no slouching or rounding of the shoulders. Your chest should remain lifted throughout the exercise. Lift your right foot and shift your weight to the left, as you bend your leg behind you and reach your arms to the left for balance.

Now push off your left foot, and leap over to the right, swinging your leg and arms to the right in the process.

Push back and forth, trying to maintain control, balance, and alignment. This will look similar to a speed-skating movement, except you will not be bending over as far forward as a skater. Do as many repetitions as you can before switching to a lower intensity movement.

Judi Sheppard Missett is CEO of Jazzercise Inc., an international aerobic-dance instruction company. Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, Distributed by TMS