Week of August 20, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Eating more calories than I should won’t cause a weight problem as long as they’re largely from protein, right?

A: No, if you eat too many calories, you will add body fat, even if the calories include lots of protein. It’s true that protein is important for weight management and healthy body composition. Studies now show that protein helps keep hunger satisfied longer than either the carbohydrate or fat that we eat. What’s more, getting enough protein is important to build and maintain lean body tissue like muscle and to maintain metabolic rate, which is probably important to long-term weight control. In one controlled trial where 25 participants were required to eat similarly excessive calories, body fat increased equally in all groups, regardless of whether people were consuming low, normal or high levels of protein. Bottom line: whether your goal is to lose, maintain or gain weight, do make sure each meal totals up adequate protein from beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables, as well as dairy and seafood, poultry and meat if you choose them. But don’t think of protein as some magic food that goes only to muscle; excess calories from any source still promote excess body fat. This is important, since the real link to increased risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes is not weight itself, but excess body fat.

Q: How are Americans doing at meeting current dietary recommendations?

A: Studies show we are still not consuming nutrient-rich plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans in amounts that support good health (and a healthy weight). Those foods are being pushed out because we overdo on foods high in empty calories from SoFAS (aka solid fats and added sugars) and alcohol. The recommendation is that total calories from SoFAS provide no more than five to fifteen percent of our calories. Analysis of the most recent survey of Americans’ eating habits shows U.S. men and women consume more than three times the amount of empty calories recomended as upper limits. About one-third of these empty calories come from snacks. Although our total grain consumption meets or exceeds recommended amounts, we eat too many refined grains and get only 15 percent of even the minimum of at least three servings of whole grains daily. Less than five percent of Americans get recommended amounts of dietary fiber from foods, 14 grams per 1000 calories. Another area where don’t meet the dietary recommendations is sodium: Half of Americans are advised to limit sodium to no more than 1500 milligrams (mg) per day because they have or are at increased risk of high blood pressure, but less than two percent do so. Even for those advised to aim for a more lenient 2300 mg of sodium per day limit, less than 12 percent meet the target.

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

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