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Top Ten Things to Know About Food and Diet

by Ronald Steriti, NMD, Ph.D.

Diet is, by far, the most confusing health topic. There are many diet books with different programs, many of which contradict each other. This Top Ten List was written to help sort out some of the confusion. This List begins with the basic categories of foods and then introduces several popular diets.

1. Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates include starch which is found in grains, cereals, and vegetables. Sugar, bread and pasta are also carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down to form energy in the body. If there is no need for this energy, the carbohydrates are made into fats which are stored for future use.
2. Simple Carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates include monosaccharides and disaccharides. The word saccharide is derived from the Latin word meaning sweet. Mono means one, and di means two. Therefore simple carbohydrates have either one or two “sweet” molecules bound together. Sugar (sucrose) is the most common simple carbohydrate. Other simple carbohydrates are galactose, fructose, maltose and lactose.
3. Complex Carbohydrates
Starch is a complex carbohydrate found only in plants. Starch is formed from polysaccharides, which are long chains of “sweet” molecules (poly means many). Many of the ailments of modern man, including diabetes and obesity, are believed to be caused by the introduction and widespread use of simple carbohydrates such as white sugar and white bread.
4. Protein
Protein is made from amino acids which are the building blocks of the body. Although meat and fish are the most well known sources of protein, blue-green algae contains more protein per gram (and also is high in many B vitamins) which is why it is included in many protein powders. Protein is also found in beans, lentils, tempeh, oats and other grains. Many protein powder supplements are made from rice, soy and whey.
5. Fats
Fats are composed of carbohydrate chains (called fatty acids) attached to a glyceride molecule. They are used to store energy in the body. Oil is a liquid form of fat. The omega-3 and omega-6 oils are also called essential fatty acids because the body needs them to remain healthy. The brain is composed almost entirely of essential fatty acids. Clinically, essential fatty acids (like flax and borage oils) have a marked anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
6. The Balanced Diet
Traditional naturopathic diets stress a balanced ratio of fats, carbohydrates and protein. These diets are often called 30/30/40 diets referring to the percentages of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. This is similar to the diet recommended by Barry Sears in his book The Zone Diet. For many people this means dramatically reducing the number of carbohydrates (such as bread, sugar and pasta) and increasing the amounts of protein and fats.
7. The Low Carbohydrate Diet
Dr. Atkins in his book Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution advocates a diet very low in carbohydrates which is mainly used to lose weight. In his book he advocates high protein meals with an emphasis on meats. If followed strictly, his diet will result in what he terms “benign dietary ketoacidosis” with accelerated weight loss.
8. Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index refers to the rate blood glucose levels rise after certain foods are ingested in comparison to an equivalent amount of pure glucose (sugar). Sometimes pure glucose is replaced by white bread as a standard. Foods with high glycemic indexes include corn flakes, instant and regular potatoes, honey, bread and rice. Interestingly ice cream has a fairly low glycemic index. This is due to the fats which tend to slow blood sugar rises.
9. The Blood Type Diet
Dr. Peter D'Adamo is a naturopathic doctor that has thoroughly researched the relationship between human blood types and diet. His book "Eat Right For Your Type" was a best seller. Many people with chronic illness find that their symptoms improve when following his recommendations and return when they go back to their old eating habits. Dr. D'Adamo has an extensive web site at
10. Low Fat Foods
I would like to end with a caution about many of the “low fat” products currently available. The term “low fat” means that the product has much less fat than the regular brand. It has nothing to do with either diets or losing weight. In fact many of these products are high in carbohydrates which may cause exactly the opposite. Labels should be read carefully. Unfortunately no one has designed a “high health” label, and even if they did there most likely would not be agreement as to which products are healthy.


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