Not Very Common Common Sense

Published November 15, 2006

On November 9, The New England Journal of Medicine published the latest installment of the now-famous Nurses Health Study, which has followed closely the health of 82,802 women since 1976. This new edition analyzed the relationship between the quality and type of protein, carbohydrate, and fatty foods the women consumed and their health outcomes, in order to explore the various unbalanced food regimens surfacing in this era of low-carb/high-fat/protein crazes.

The study’s results should be intuitively obvious to any health specialist, which should make it a waste of time. But common sense has yet to persuade the country’s overweight population that a balanced diet and exercise are the keys to shedding pounds.

Everyone is looking for a magic bullet when it comes to losing weight. People generally have enough discipline to follow any and every dietary regimen that promises to solve their weight “problem,” whether it be in weeks or months. But after the regimen is over, the hidden secret of the diet–which is always simple calorie reduction–becomes obvious to them. So they return to their old eating habits and regain whatever weight they lost … and likely a little bit more.

No harm, no foul, many say. But in fact there is plenty of harm. Aside from the diet book scam, which brings unconscionable wealth to those who continually perpetrate it, the search for a magic bullet makes it all but impossible for regular folks to focus on what they really need to do to become healthy.

The secret, as the new data evaluation from the Nurses Health Study shows once again, is as it has always been: First, to eat any reasonable balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat within the following ranges–protein 30-40%, carbohydrate 25-45%, and fat 15-30%; and second, to be sure your total caloric intake does not exceed your resting metabolic rate plus the calories your burn during exercise. While metabolic rate must be scientifically measured, it is usually in the range of 1600 to 2000 calories for women and between 2000 and 2400 for men.

No matter how you slice your food, the key ingredient to weight control and health will always be the exercise we hate to do. Homo sapiens in their present environs are no longer required to do much useful physical work. They prefer the couch to aerobic movement at every opportunity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now subtly demands that most citizens get an hour of exercise on most days of the week. They are too timid to insist on every day, which they know to be best, though less than 10 percent of us comply with either the lesser or greater amount.

At the same time, the persistent daily dietary mythology scares us away from all important fish for fear of consuming trace amounts of mercury, and from eating enough fruits and vegetables for fear of trace amounts of pesticides, while coaxing us toward organic food whose health claims in no way justify their higher cost.

It is time for Americans to get serious about their own health and turn away from sensationalist dietary formulas that have so long impeded our progress. Perhaps the latest installment of the Nurses Health Study will finally end the food follies that keep most of us overweight and out of shape.

Jay Lehr, PhD. ([email protected]), science director for The Heartland Institute, is an internationally renowned speaker and scientist. He is the author of Fit, Firm & 50 (Lewis Publishing, November 1990) and 14 other books. He has qualified for the 2007 Florida Ironman Competition in Panama City.