Motivation for this column stems from a March 2 article in the Herald titled, "What are best diets? All lead to same place, study finds."
The conclusion of this two-year federally funded research, involving adults fed four different diets (varying levels of fat, protein and carbohydrate plus 90 minutes weekly exercise) was this:
The type of diet doesn't matter. ... All that really counts is cutting calories and sticking with it. ... Participants had trouble staying with a single approach that long, and the weight loss was modest for most.
A July 10 Boston Globe article reported: A decades-long "study of fellow primates stirs health hope for humans. Monkeys on low-calorie diet found to live longer." Similar results had been observed in mice and rats since the 1930s. So, after decades of massive research on diet, nutrition and obesity (and consequences to health), are these conclusions lightning bolts?
By our 20s, or even before, our eating habits are established. Then things change: partners, children, jobs that increasingly demand our time and, for many, less activity. Basically, "Excess storage of energy in adipose tissue (fat) ... always results from an imbalance of food intake and caloric expenditure. Oxidation of stored energy in humans obeys the laws of nature no less than does the burning of wood or coal." Numerically it is this: "The 20 pounds of weight gained by the average American man or woman between the ages of 25 and 55 years represent a remarkably small net imbalance between energy and expenditure - an excess intake of about 0.3 percent of ingested calories (about 65 daily)."
One pound of adipose represents 3,500 calories (kcal). Adding 500 calories per day to a hypothetically energy-neutral diet of 2,000 calories (total 2,500) generates a weight gain of one pound per week. The rub comes in reducing this, not to 2,000 daily, but to 1,500 - a very difficult, and likely unsustainable, "crash" diet.
There is huge controversy about the role of genes in obesity - overweight parents are more likely to have overweight children. Studies of adopted twins show links to the biological parents. Is this truly genetic, or is it "environmental" in the womb? Studies have related changes from subsistence to cash economies to rises in the frequency of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart and renal disease. One only has to look to Australian aborigines, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans (populations I'm familiar with) to witness dietary devastation. Genetic change in a century or two? Or the Western diet?
Old Edwin was a good friend back East. He owned the local hardware store and provided services unknown today. When one needed a replacement axe or maul handle, he would have it (or get it) and helve it for you, as well.
Over a finger or two of whiskey at closing time, he kidded me: "Doc, I have an eating problem. Everything I eat goes to my stomach." That's the case for most of us. Part of the health-food recipe should be less food and more exercise. Some simplicity in a very complicated subject?
Dr. Fraser Houston is a retired emergency room physician who worked at area hospitals after moving to Southwest Colorado from New Hampshire in 1990.