- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

Many of us have made resolutions to lose weight, exercise more and eat healthier in the New Year, and while there are ample reasons to do so, discovering the right diet might be more difficult than getting three square meals or strictly following the Department of Agriculture's food pyramid.
There's little doubt that losing pounds can add years to one's life. According to a study published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, non-smoking individuals who are overweight (based on body-mass index) at 40 are likely to die about three years sooner than their slimmer counterparts, those who are obese at 40 are likely to die about six years sooner. Smoking cuts life spans just as much.
However, those of us trying to slim down by strictly following the food pyramid may be doing ourselves less good than we hope, according to Drs. Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer, chair of Harvard's Department of Nutrition and head of the Department of Epidemiology, respectively. In a thought-provoking article in this month's issue of Scientific American, they contend that the food pyramid is "grossly flawed," because it treats all carbohydrates as equally good and all fats as equally bad.
That's far from the case, they argue, pointing out that total fat intake is not the best measure of the risk of coronary heart disease. Rather, it is correlated only with high intake of foods containing saturated fats, such as red meat and dairy products, rather than a diet with a high intake of foods with more unsaturated fats and polysaturated fats, such as olive oil and fish, poultry and legumes. Foods containing high amounts of trans-fatty acids (often found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and fried foods) are thought to be at least as bad as those with a content of saturated fats, while foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) can actually reduce one's risk of coronary heart disease.
The problem is slightly more subtle with carbohydrates breads, cereals, rice and pasta, which the food pyramid recommends we consume six to 11 servings of each day. Refined carbohydrates, found in white rice and white bread, are so easily metabolized that dramatic increases and decreases in blood sugar can result resulting in both a greater risk of coronary heart disease and, claim Drs. Willett and Stampfer, type 2 diabetes. Such foods also contain fewer vitamins and minerals than those containing whole grains.
On that basis, Drs. Willett and Stampfer have proposed a revised food pyramid, one that recommends the consumption of foods containing healthy carbohydrates and healthy fats, and a minimized consumption of their unhealthier counterparts. It's food for thought, especially since the USDA is planning on putting out a revised food pyramid sometime in the next couple of years.
In the meantime, the prescription for a healthy diet remains the same moderate amounts of meat, lots of vegetables and plenty of exercise.

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