Diets of old return to the fray

NIKI BEZZANT
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2013

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OPINION: The other day I received a press release about "the original low-carb diet - Atkins" which is being promoted again.

The "New Atkins," according to the material, involves eating "real whole foods" and promises "truly satisfying" and fast weight loss.

Funnily enough, Atkins was all the rage when we started Healthy Food Guide magazine back in 2005 - proving that just like fashion, diet trends keep coming back around.

I can't see too much "new" about the New Atkins - possibly less emphasis on butter and bacon and more on vegetables, which can only be a step in the right direction. At its core though, it still promotes severely restricting carbohydrate foods to as low as 20g a day - the same carbohydrate content as one banana. And there is a heavy reliance on bars and shakes made (surprise) by the Atkins company, which to me are very far from "real whole foods" since they are made from various types of protein powder and contain artificial sweeteners and fibres to bulk them up.

So I feel about this diet the way I do about most diets. It will certainly work to lose weight, just like any restrictive diet. It will suit some people. But it's going to be difficult for most people to do, and very difficult for most people to sustain, even when you're allowed 120g carbs a day (which is still not much) in the "lifetime maintenance" phase.

You are going to be constantly thinking "Can I have that?" when looking at food, which is no way to live. It's the kind of thinking that's a ticket to an unhealthy relationship with food. And once you give the diet away, it's very easy for the kilos you've lost to creep back on.

When I see these low-carb diets, I can't help but think of my time in Japan earlier this year. The Japanese diet is centred around carbohydrate foods.

The recommended "ideal meal" in Japan is a tray with rice (considered the staple food) in the middle, and vegetables, meat or fish and soybean products around it. Rice is served at every meal, whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner. Yet, despite the carbs, Japan has one of the lowest rates of obesity in the world, and one of the longest life expectancies. That doesn't mean rice is a superfood. It does suggest there is more than one way to eat well for optimum health.

There are in fact populations of people in many places who stay lean and healthy, and they eat all kinds of diets.

Interestingly, the so-called "blue zones" where the healthiest people on the planet live, all have quite different diets, but they do share some things in common, not all of them food-related.

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They all eat real, whole foods (not protein bars) and lots of vegetables and fruit. They eat varying amounts of carbohydrates and fats. But they all have a positive outlook on life, low stress and spend lots of time enjoying life. So perhaps that's a reminder to focus less on what and more on how we eat (as well as how much).

Niki Bezzant is a healthy cooking expert and the editor of Healthy Food Guide magazine, latest issue on sale now.

Do you have a question for Niki? Email editor@healthy food.co.nz with SST in the subject line.

- Sunday Star Times

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