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By Jennifer Ward, RD, LDN, CLC, CPT

As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with articles, guidelines, studies and products that promise easy weight loss and “everlasting” results. However, the solutions often don’t work as promised. The reasons for this are numerous, but here is just a few to start:

When following a nutritional suggestion, there is always a way to follow it and a way NOT to follow it.

What does that mean? It means that there are ways to reduce carbohydrates in your diet and a way NOT to reduce carbs. There is a way to cut down on sugars in your diet and a way NOT to cut down on sugar. There is a way to reduce fat in your diet and a way NOT to cut down on it. There is a way to go “gluten-free” and a way NOT to go gluten-free.

I met with a client about two years ago who discovered that he had a gluten intolerance. His solution was to go on a gluten-free diet, which made sense. After a just a few weeks, he had more energy, was more mentally focused than before and had no more intestinal issues. Everything appeared to be great until he had a physical with his primary care physician and discovered that he was diabetic. He never had issues with high blood sugar levels before. Fortunately for him, his doctor had the sense to ask him about changes in his diet. As it turned out, so many of the gluten-free products that he was eating contained added sugars to enhance flavor, and it was those extra sugars that changed his blood work. It is often said that eating sugar doesn’t cause diabetes, but maybe for some people, it does.

The solution was easy. Stay on a gluten-free diet, but do it by eating whole foods that naturally don’t contain gluten. After a few months of eating mostly vegetables, healthy proteins and fruit, his lab tests returned to normal and he even lost a few pounds in the process.

There’s no substitute for the real thing

When researchers discovered that some people who eat a lower fat diet are healthier, it happened because the individuals observed were eating whole foods that were naturally lower in fat; fruits, beans and vegetables, not fat-free or reduced-fat products. The link between eating less sugar and health comes from eating whole foods with no added sugars rather than artificially sweetened products.  Eating carbohydrates from vegetables (even starchy vegetables), whole fruit, beans, legumes and grains that are kept intact affect health very differently than packaged, processed flour products mixed with added sugars, industrialized fats and often a lot of other fake stuff.

Food companies and representatives work really hard to create new products that appear to “fit in” with the latest health recommendations; however, the products never work as well (and probably never will) as real food. Products that don’t work will continue to be produced because consumers keep buying them. When they are bought, consumers are voting with their dollars. They are sending the message to the companies that more products with enhanced flavors are what they want.

In the end, one surefire way to improve a diet is to keep it real. Foods that have been in existence for hundreds of years should be chosen first. The ingredient lists on packaged foods will reveal the truth. If the ingredient list is long, or if the ingredients are hard to pronounce or completely unknown to you, then maybe those products are best left on the shelf.

When consumers stop buying what doesn’t work, fewer products will be made and selecting healthy foods will get a whole lot easier.

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