Mr. Norris, it seems so many of my friends are on no-fat, no-carb diets. Is that really good for us? – Joyce B., Tampa, Fla.

First, as a general rule, I believe we should eat to be healthy, not to lose weight. If we eat healthy foods (and exercise), our weight will fall proportionately in line.

Lots of diets can help you to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be healthier or live longer on them. As with so many other diets, there’s partial good and partial bad news to the no-fat, no-carb diets.

Most of the time, what a no-fat, no-carb diet entails is the cutting out of all “white” foods and even all fruits. Though I can vouch for the value of losing some of the former (e.g., white flour, white bread and sugar), to avoid the God-given latter (fruits and even potatoes) is dumb and could be detrimental to your health.

Regarding fats, we’ve long known that saturated and trans fats are harmful, but we more recently have discovered that monounsaturates and polyunsaturates are actually protective against chronic disease, especially when consumed in appropriate amounts. The advice to cut all fats from your diet throws the baby out with the bath water.

The fact is that a diet low in saturated and trans fats and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber-filled foods and lean protein sources is optimal for your health and weight. The Diabetes Prevention Program revealed that such a diet reduces by two-thirds the risk of diabetes among high-risk individuals. The Lyon Diet Heart Study revealed that this type of diet reduces heart attacks. And a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported greater satisfaction, less hunger, and weight loss in individuals when fat was reduced to 20 percent of the total calories in their diets, protein was increased to 30 percent and carbs accounted for 50 percent.

Chuck, I can’t believe how many different types of bread are offered in stores – white, rye, wheat, whole-grain, no-grain, multi-grain, five-grain, seven-grain, 12-grain, etc. Can you help me separate the wheat from the chaff? – “Bonkers Over Bread,” Burnaby, British Columbia

Daily bread was around even before Jesus encouraged us to pray for it – and for good reason; it abounds in benefits for your body. Despite the fact that many low-carb diets restrict its consumption, daily bread should remain a staple of our diets.

First, a little grain schooling. Grain is actually the fruit of a plant in the cereal grass family, which includes wheat, rye, oats, corn, barley, millet, rice and others.

Though the nutritional value of each type of grain varies, there are general nutrients found in grains, which are made of three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. The bran, or outer skin of the grain, is rich in fiber, B vitamins and minerals. The endosperm, used exclusively in producing refined flours, provides some protein but mostly carbohydrate energy (hence, products made from refined grains are often full of empty calories). The germ provides even more B vitamins, unsaturated oils, vitamin E and other micronutrients, including antioxidants.

So whole-grain products, using all three grain components, are generally nutritious foods. The problem is that packaging in the “whole wheat” industry has suffered in a similar way that the “low sugar” and “no trans fat” marketing techniques have. “Whole” grain might be partially true but a last ingredient. “Multi-grain” could be multiple refined grains. And brown breads could be refined grains with molasses added for darkness.

So as always, read the labels and ingredients, and remember that the first ingredients are the most prevalent ingredients. And short lists of ingredients are almost always superior.

On the other hand, white breads and food products made with them should be avoided by all. They not only are stripped of nutrients for your body but also could be harmful to your health.

A study published in 2010 in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that women who ate large amounts of foods rich in carbohydrates – such as white bread, white rice and pizza – were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than women who ate small amounts of those foods.

Only carbohydrates with high glycemic indexes appear to hurt the heart. (Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream have high glycemic indexes.) Carbs with low GIs, such as fruit and pasta, are not associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

And for those who are sensitive to gluten – a protein found in rye, wheat and barley – there are always breads and other products made from wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, oats, soybeans and sunflower seeds.

There’s nothing like a piece of toasted bread with organic peanut butter and sliced bananas to kick off the day!

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