Sunday, May 08, 2005

Healthy South Carolina Initiative Ignores Low-Carb Benefits

A new initiative to get people to pay more attention to their health has been launched by South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford. She's calling it the "Healthy South Carolina Challenge" as an effort to get the people of South Carolina to make "healthier choices in their day-to-day activities."

Let me first say that I applaud this effort by Mrs. Sanford and Gov. Mark Sanford to increase health awareness to the citizens of the Palmetto State. As a former 410 pound man whose idea of exercise was lifting Cheetos into my mouth, I am living proof that even the biggest couch potato can get up off his duff and get healthy by making the right decisions regarding nutrition and exercise.

Mrs. Sanford hopes the 46 counties in South Carolina will use this challenge as a way to motivate each other through some "friendly competition." An awards ceremony and statewide recognition featuring Gov. and Mrs. Sanford as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham will be held at the Governor's Mansion in Columbia, SC in the Spring of 2006 for the county and community groups that show the most improvement in cutting down on obesity, increasing physical activity and lowering the number of smokers. The ultimate goal is to save lives and cut health care costs. A laudable effort indeed.

Statistics from the United Health Foundation show that South Carolina is 47th in overall health and 11th in health care costs. More than one-third of the state budget goes towards health care for South Carolina citizens and the numbers keep going up. Mrs. Sanford said there needs to be "an increased focus on disease prevention and greater personal responsibility on the part of all South Carolinians ... (to) address its health care challenge.

I was encouraged to read her statement that we need to be "changing the many lifestyle choices make that contribute to our state's poor health." I could not agree more. But I am concerned that there is too much focus on only one way to "get healthy" through nutritional content.

On the "Nutrition" page at the official "Healthy South Carolina Challenge" web site, it recommends "eating adequate fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, lean protein choices, and foods low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars." Basically, their recommendation is to do a low-fat nutritional approach. I don't think this is a wise recommendation because the low-fat/low-calorie way of losing weight and keeping it off does not work for everyone. I'm one of them.

I would suggest an alternative to the recommendation of "eating 2 cups of vegetables and 2 1⁄2 cups of fruit daily" such as "get no more than 30 carbohydrates in a day and stay away from sugar and white flour." Many fruits and vegetables have too much sugar in them to be "for good health" as this web site suggests. This would, in turn, create a healthier populace without forcing them to eat foods that will not satisfy them and keep them hungry all the time.

Good nutritional research has shown that decreasing your carb intake and increasing your good fat and protein intake will lead to a more sustainable weight loss and maintenance. I urge Mrs. Sanford in her leadership position in this effort to look closely at the studies on the low-carb lifestyle and offer it as an alternative to the failed low-fat/low-calorie diets that don't work for everyone.

The web site further asserts that "overweight [people] and obesity are a result of an imbalance between caloric intake and caloric expenditure."

With all due respect, that statement is not exactly true. Again, this is the same lie we have been told our entire lives regarding "good" nutrition and exercise. There isn't a zero sum gain regarding calories. Sadly, most people inaccurately believe if they eat 1500 calories in a day that they have to burn at least 1500 calories to prevent their body from gaining weight. This is just not true.

Do your homework on the low-carb approach and you will find millions of people eating 2800 calories a day (as I regularly do) and burning about 1200 of them with exercise and still losing or maintaining their weight. It's the metabolic advantage that low-carb offers. This information is readily available and yet is ignored by intelligent-thinking people every day. What is it going to take to get people to understand the health benefits associated with doing low-carb?

Satistics show South Carolina has the 12th highest rate of inactivity among adults in the United States. On this point, I am in agreement with Mrs. Sanford that we need more physical activity in the form of cardiovascular and strength training workouts. I would have never thought I could do daily exercise when I was bigger, but again my 180-pound weight loss proves it is indeed possible.

Weekly updates on this program featuring tips for nutrition, physical activity and stop smoking techniques will be sent via e-mail to the media and people who sign up at the web site. My only hope is that they will give people multiple ways they can improve their health through nutrition, specifically the low-carb approach.

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