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Even the case against whole milk, condemned by some critics as nothing less than a glass of liquid fat, is more complex than it seems. It's true that kids who drink a lot of whole milk drink a lot of calories, but milk can actually help control weight, since calcium binds with fat in the food digesting in your gut, meaning that you absorb less of that fat. Some studies have seen no significant difference among skim, low-fat and whole milk when it comes to weight control. What's more, when you take all the fat out of milk, you're left with too high a concentration of natural sugars, which interacts like candy with your hormones, especially insulin.
The key, for all of these foods, is moderation. Consume more than 16 oz. (0.5 L) of whole milk (or any two servings of dairy) per day and the calorie load swamps the health benefits. More than an ounce of dark chocolate a few times a week or two glasses of red wine per night can lead to weight gain in the first case and an increased risk of court appearances in the second. Too much coffee can make you jittery. Too much red meat more than 18 oz. (0.5 kg) per week can contribute to weight gain, not to mention denying you the benefits of getting more of your protein from fish, which is rich in brain-building omega-3 fatty acids.
Diet of the Month
If simple truths about basic foods turn out to be as fraught with complexities as they are, it's no wonder that so many equally simple diet fads have come to grief. The popular landscape is strewn with weight-loss crazes that have come and gone, leaving American consumers disappointed, frustrated and no healthier than they were before.
One of the most dangerous food labels to come along in recent decades is the insidious "fat free" moniker. These two little words granted absolution to anyone who indulged and gave the illusion that portion size and sugar content didn't matter. Manufacturers looking to cash in on fat-phobic consumers became very good at stripping natural fats from products; but what was lost in taste and texture had to be compensated for by adding more sodium, sugar and thickeners. As people ate more and more fat-free goodies, they got extra-high doses of other ingredients that were bad for them. And without the filling effect of fat in food, you are left hungry and tend to eat more.
Other fads have included diets that dramatically restrict our food choices. With the cabbage-soup and grapefruit diets, advocates identified a new miracle food and built an entire eating regimen around it a regimen that came with a promise of shedding a full 10 lb. (4.5 kg) in one week. In both of these food-idol diets, some weight does disappear quickly, mostly through loss of fluids. Neither diet is practical or nutritionally sound, and the weight returns as quickly as it comes off.
Much more recent was the earthquake that was the Atkins diet, triggered by a 2002 article in the New York Times Magazine. The Atkins regimen lots of meat and very few carbohydrates (including the natural sugars in fruits and vegetables) had been briefly popular more than 30 years earlier but became a cultural phenomenon after the Times story breathed new life into it. Market forces fed the craze, with menus reformulated to remove the last detectable carbohydrate molecule and carb-free labels slapped on foods that never contained them in the first place. Artisanal bakers wept (no carbs means no baguettes), and the überfaithful began to suffer the bad breath of ketoacidosis, which occurs when glycogen stores are too low.
But weight was being lost lots of it. The problem was, the loss was not being sustained. There are only so many foods you can ban before people's palates rebel, and when you pretty much take pasta, bread, fruits and vegetables off the menu, that rebellion will happen sooner rather than later. What's more, the foods that were permitted particularly the much-relied-on meats can lead to inflammation and irritation, causing some physicians to worry that heart attacks and strokes could result.