Americans hunger for a healthier diet

By Jeff Hansel

Dr. Arthur Agatston is famous as the progenitor of the South Beach Diet.

But that wasn't his focus when he spoke to specialists at the Mayo Clinic cardiology department Monday.

Instead, his focus was research.


Agatston, a clinical cardiologist who continues to see patients, reviewed results from a variety of researchers while discussing the merits of dieting.

There are a multitude of different diets, he said after his presentation, but the public will soon be receiving a more unified message about the best way to eat. Basic principles will include "good" fats and carbohydrates, with high fiber and other elements experts can agree on.

Many diets, Agatston said, trigger a starvation response in the body. If the diet is discontinued, the body works to store up energy for future famines. Often, that eventually means more weight than the person started out with.

During the past 20 years, Agatston said, the percentage of processed foods in the American diet has skyrocketed. Therein lies the problem, he said. Processed foods do not contain the kinds of grains that increase glycemic (or sugar) levels in the blood stream over long periods of time. Grains that release sugars slowly keep the blood stream supplied until the next meal. But processed foods lacking those grains allow the body's starvation mechanism to kick in. Once that happens, it can take a lot of food to quench the appetite, Agatston said.

"The country has been, in a sense, hungry soon after a meal," he said.

He cited studies that show children who ate high-carbohydrate breakfasts ate more carbohydrates at lunch. People with a high-fiber intake in one study, over 10 years, had less weight gain than those with low-fiber intake, he said. Another study showed a high-fiber diet was correlated with less chance of diabetes at a later date.

"Good fats" like olive oil that have no trans-fatty acids also should be part of the diet, he said.

One study showed people who took fish-oil supplements were less likely to die from cardiac problems. A Mediterranean diet with canola oil saw a 70 percent decrease in cardiac events, he said.


People who eat nuts or whole grains regularly were shown in studies to be less likely to experience cardiac problems.

People want to take a handful of supplements rather than eat a healthy diet, Agatston said. But, with the exception of fish-oil supplements, studies have shown that doesn't work.

It would be great if people went back to cooking from scratch, Agatston said. Because that's not likely, the next best thing is to get more high-grain foods with decreased processing onto the table.

What To Read Next
Get Local