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For smarter dieting, learn the weight-loss lingo

» Weights and measures

» Food labels

» Food properties

Sounds good; lacks substance

The popularity of low-carbohydrate diets has coined new terms that appear to provide information but tend to be more advertising than nutritional guidance:

Low carb—As yet, there’s no government-regulated definition of a low-carbohydrate food. What’s more, foods low in carbs are not necessarily healthier and may contain high amounts of fat, calories or artificial sweeteners. Likewise, terms such as “carb wise” or “carb fit” are merely marketing gimmicks.

Net carbs—This term refers to the total number of carbohydrates minus fiber, glycerin and sugar-alcohol carbs. It’s based on the idea that these substances don’t raise blood sugar and don’t need to be included in your daily tally. But they can raise blood sugar and do contribute calories.

There is no government-regulated definition for “net carbs,” which is a term created by manufacturers and marketers, not by nutrition experts.

Heart-smart fact

Strength training is a great way to increase your metabolism because it builds energy-burning muscle and reduces body fat.

Nearly everyone, it seems, is dieting. Americans spend $33 billion each year on weight-loss products and services, but two-thirds of adults remain overweight or obese. What are we doing wrong? Simply put, we don’t know how to eat right, and it’s not necessarily our fault. Although we’re bombarded with nutrition news, the information is often conflicting and downright confusing. With scores of trendy diets, self-help books and shelves of weight-loss foods in the grocery store, it can be hard to separate fact from fad. If you’re feeling light on the latest lingo, read on to learn what you need to know:

Weights and measures

  • Body mass index (BMI)—This measure of your weight relative to your height is a better indicator of your size than your weight alone. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 is healthy; 25 to 30 means overweight; and 30 or higher means obese.
  • Body fat percentage—This refers to the percentage of your body that is fat, rather than muscle, bone or water. Men with more than 25 percent body fat and women with more than 30 percent are considered obese.
  • Metabolism—This chemical process converts the food you eat into the energy your body uses to function and determines the amount of calories you burn at rest. You can help increase your metabolism with exercise.

Food labels

Another cause of dietary confusion can be labels on food packages. The following terms are government regulated.

  • Light, lite—Foods labeled with these words must have at least one-third fewer calories, half the fat or half the sodium of the regular version.
  • Reduced—The food has at least 25 percent less fat, sodium or cholesterol than the regular version.
  • Free—Labels with the suffix “-free” mean the food contains virtually none of a certain dietary substance or nutrient.
  • Low—A food labeled low-fat has 3 grams of fat or less per serving. A low-cholesterol food has 20 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol or less and 2 grams (g) of saturated fat or less per serving. A low-sodium food contains 140 mg of sodium or less.
  • Lean—This term is used when describing meat, poultry, seafood and game. It means the food has less than 10 g of fat, 4 g of saturated fat and 95 mg of cholesterol per serving. “Extra-lean” means the food has even less fat.

Food properties

  • Trans fats—Trans fatty acids, created by the chemical process of hydrogenation, are found in margarine, shortening and commercial baked goods like cookies, crackers, muffins and cereals. Consuming lots of trans fats raises your blood cholesterol and heart disease risk.
  • Glycemic index—This number refers to how much a particular carbohydrate will raise your blood sugar. Generally, the higher the number, the greater the spike in blood sugar.

While learning these key words can be confusing, you can keep it simple and still lose weight: Burn more calories than you consume; limit fat, cholesterol and sugars; scale down portion sizes; and exercise.


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