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Low-Carb Versus Low-Cal Diets

Neither label means the food is low-cal—which is what really packs the weight-loss punch.

Just because a food is low-carb doesn't mean it will promote weight loss. Since 1999, hundreds of new low-carb products have been created to entice dieters. The problem: Besides paying a premium price for low-carb fare, the customer frequently ends up consuming more calories.

In the past, the words "fat free" on the label encouraged consumers to buy. Customers ate unlimited quantities of snack foods advertised as "fat free" and were surprised when they gained weight. Although the food was fat free, the customers were increasing their overall caloric intake because of the additional calories from sugar and the increased portions.

Independent of the latest diet fads, two facts remain unchanged: First, it is unlikely that your body views low-carb calories as any different from any other calories. It doesn't seem to matter whether the calorie comes from fat or sugar, from a high-carb or low-carb food, from fruit or from a brownie.

Second, if you consume more calories than you expend, you gain weight. The converse: If you consume less, you lose. Consequently, even if you stick with low-carb foods but take in more calories than your body uses, you will gain weight.

Whether a low-carb diet is a successful long-term weight-loss strategy remains unclear. What is clear is that managing caloric intake is essential for anyone seeking to reach and to maintain an appropriate weight.

Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARPFat to Fit online community.

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