Commander's Fit Tip: Going "low-carb" not the answer for losing weight

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Apparently last issue's expose on "glycemic index" caused quite a stir, so rather than move on, let's dig a little deeper on the topic and look at how the "type" and source of your calories matter.

Just as a quick review, dieticians and nutritionists have developed a way to characterize how quickly and significantly a food (or drink) generates a change in your "blood sugar."

This characterization is known as the glycemic index.

The higher the glycemic index, the faster and more intense the conversion is.

Not necessarily bad, but it is well understood that maintaining a stable blood sugar is helpful for lots of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, surges (up or down) can drive erratic eating behaviors and energy levels.

Recent studies also relate some cancer activity to insulin activity, most notably in breast cancer.

We've all heard of the "sugar fix," and most of us have experienced the "post-lunch crash," all related to glycemic index, blood sugar levels, insulin, and "carbs."

But this isn't a case of carb-bashing, even if the popularity of "low-carb" diets continues to grow.

A look into the short-term success and long-term failure of these fads shows why carbs are getting a very undeserved bad rap.

Low-carb diets can be very effective in the short term, particularly if your diet was previously overloaded with high glycemic index "simple sugars."

These low-carb diets work initially because as you shift out of a "carb burning" and into a "fat burning" metabolism, your body goes through a number of adaptations, and if you stick to the calorie limits, one of these adaptations involves teaching your body to rely on your fat stores.

Some of these diets try to all but eliminate carbs, particularly in the first week.

I've actually run though one of the more popular ones (not for weight loss, I was just going along with it to shadow and support my workout partner!) and I can tell you that first week was TOUGH!

I felt just awful after a few days, and I couldn't wait until the 10th day when I could dive into a bowl of cereal. But therein lies the problem.

These drastic measures just aren't sustainable. Worse yet, without carbs, you forsake one of the best diet boosters out there: fiber.

Fiber is nature's great "glycemic index balancer." This is one dietary component that's really hard to overdo.

Fiber has so many benefits - not just for weight loss, but for overall health - that dropping fiber can really complicate your health picture.

Fiber is one of the best stimulators of that "full feeling" that can help you limit your intake.

It is THE key component in maintaining colon health (with a strong correlation to combating colon cancer) and enjoys very strong support among cardiologists as a way to reduce cholesterol.

Since we get fiber from grains, it's really difficult to keep healthy levels going in a low- or no-carb diet.

Plus, losing the short-term, buffering characteristic can be a real challenge in a diet program, so needless to say I'm not a fan of the extreme low-carb approaches.

Eliminating a key dietary component is a rough road, but low-carb diets present a long-term challenge as well.

Just like so many other aspects of our lives, balance is the key, and it gets very difficult to maintain an artificial, low-carb imbalance.

The reason these diets work for many people (in the short term!) is because they start the diet out of balance already, and shutting off the carbs can help restore the balance.

But for the long haul, we need to get the balance back, and if we don't make all the other life changes we need to sustain a healthy weight, the vast majority end up right where they left off.

So, it's clear that the kind of food you eat matters, not just the quantity.

If you are looking to shed some weight, start with a careful and detailed food journal to see if you are overloading in either types or quantity, and then get both back in line. Maybe with one exception ... look very carefully at your fiber sources and intake, and see if you can use that "trick" instead of carb bashing.

You may find that some very simple substitutions and "doubling down" on fiber will make a big difference in your hunger and energy levels throughout the day.