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Although the low-carbohydrate diet mania has died down, science is just now catching up with this concept. Several large randomized controlled trials — the gold standard of medical research — have shown that low-carb diets are as good as low-fat diets for losing weight, and may even be better. But how do they fare for long-term health?
Most low-carb diets deliver more protein and fat than "regular" or low-fat diets. We've come to learn that there are good and not-so-good fats and carbohydrates. Could the same hold true for protein sources? If so, then the type of protein that dominates a diet can influence health as much as the kinds and amounts of carbohydrates or fats.
It's highly unlikely that anyone will ever launch a 10- to 15-year-long randomized trial to explore the effects of diet on heart disease, cancer, or longevity. The next best thing would be to look at what many people chose to eat over many years, and see how their diets affected their health.
Doctors and nutritionists have long warned of the dangers of saturated and trans fats. But unsaturated fats are beneficial, particularly if eaten in place of carbohydrates.
If you are trying to watch your salt intake, pay careful attention to the amount of salt in prepared and processed foods. But not everyone benefits from eating less salt.
While flaxseed oil may seem like a good way to get beneficial omega-3 fats, its healthful effects are not as powerful as they appear. Eating fish is still the best way to get omega-3s.
Bacteria have a reputation for causing disease, so the idea of tossing down a few billion a day for your health might seem — literally and figuratively — hard to swallow. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria. Northern Europeans consume a lot of these beneficial microorganisms, called probiotics (from pro and biota, meaning "for life"), because of their tradition of eating foods fermented with bacteria, such as yogurt. Probiotic-laced beverages are also big business in Japan.
Enthusiasm for such foods has lagged in the United States, but interest in probiotic supplements is on the rise. Some digestive disease specialists are recommending them for disorders that frustrate conventional medicine, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Since the mid-1990s, clinical studies suggest that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.
Self-dosing with bacteria isn't as outlandish as it might seem. An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These microorganisms (or microflora) generally don't make us sick; most are helpful. Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.
Do you have rumbling abdominal sounds after eating milk products?
Do you get abdominal cramps, bloating, or diarrhea after eating milk products?
Can you tolerate small amounts of milk?
Do your symptoms improve when you eliminate milk products from your diet?
Careful abdominal exam
Trial of elimination of milk products from the diet
Hydrogen breath test
Lactose tolerance test