Carbohydrate Confusion

There are two different kinds of carbohydrates: refined carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are the starches and sugars obtained from plants by mechanically stripping them of their outer layers. These outer layers contain most of the plant’s vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Refined carbs have very little nutritional value. Foods made from refined carbs that should be avoided include white bread, sugary cereals, white flour, candy, sugar containing soft drinks, crackers, pretzels, and pastries. Complex carbs are unrefined, they are “whole”. This usually means they have a fair amount of fiber. Larger amounts of fiber in a food suggests that it is a complex or “good” carbohydrate. Good carbs are digested slowly by the body. Complex carbs include whole grains (whole wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, rye, barley), fruits and vegetables. These unprocessed/complex  carbohydrates, especially fruits and vegetables, are exceptionally health promoting. Every meal should include a piece of fruit or vegetable. Both should also be consumed as snacks. Large amounts of fruits and vegetables can help prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes and also many types of cancer including breast and colorectal cancer.

Why losing weight gets harder as we get older

Energy balance in the body occurs when calorie intake equals the number of calories expended in energy. This means that if your total food calorie intake exceeds your daily use, excess calories will accumulate and be stored as fat and you will gain weight. On the other hand, if caloric expenditure is greater than intake you will lose weight. There are only three ways to produce true weight loss: reduce calories below daily energy requirements (eat fewer calories), maintain normal calorie intake but increase energy expenditure (eat the same, but exercise more), or decrease caloric intake and increase energy use (eat fewer calories and exercise). Reducing calories alone is a tough way to lose weight as the body lowers its basal metabolic rate (BMR) – a survival mechanism. The BMR is the number of calories that your body burns at rest. Two ways to increase BMR are to become more physically active, as activity raises BMR and keeps it up for hours after the activity stops, and to increase muscle mass, as muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. As we get older our BMR naturally decreases. Furthermore, as people get older they tend to gain fat, lose muscle mass and become very inactive. This leads a significant reduction in the number of calories needed on a daily basis. If caloric intake is not also significantly reduced, weight gain will surely occur. To beat the battle of the bulge as we get get older we need to make sure to remain physically active. Going out for a walk for at least 30 minutes can burn an extra 200 calories a day. Taking a parking spot far from your destination and walking is a great way to increase activity levels. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Doing isometric exercises or lifting weights can help maintain muscle mass and increase BMR. Finally, we are just plain eating too much and taking in too many calories a day. Cutting back on calories and eating food that are less calorie dense will also prevent those extra pound from accumulating.

Calories and Calorie Density

The key to weight loss comes down to calories. It is that simple. Eat more calories and gain weight. Eat less food or burn calories though activity and lose weight. All calories are the same. There is no difference in one calorie from another. A calorie from ice cream is the same as a calorie from an apple. On the other hand, there is a difference in calorie density between different foods. Fat has 9 calories/gram. Protein and carbohydrates have only 4 calories/gram. Therefore, if you eat the same weight of fat or carbohydrates you get over double the amount of calories in the fat. Different foods have different calorie densities. Cheese is very calorie dense. Eat a small amount and get a lot of calories. Make sure you look at the serving size of cheese – usually it is quite small. Most people can eat 500-600 calories at one sitting without even noticing it. You need to be very careful. Fruit is not calorie dense. It has a lot of fiber and water. You can eat a fair amount and still not get a lot of calories. For example, to fill your stomach with peanuts would cause you to consume over 5000 calories! An apple or banana will do the same for around 700 calories. You become filled up both ways but you get a lot more calories from the peanuts. Choosing foods with low calorie density will fill you up with less calories. In other words, you can eat more and still lose weight without being hungry. A pound of fat is 3500 calories. To lose a pound you need to eat less or exercise more totaling 35oo calories. By walking a mile a day (2000 steps) you burn 100 calories. Two miles equals 200 calories. Losing weight is not a slow process. The key to losing weight is patience and consistency. By consistently exercising and cutting back on calories most everyone will lose weight. No fancy diets or exercise programs are necessary.

Avoid Simple Carbs

Simple carbohydrates are bad for you. They cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. This leads to a spike in insulin levels and a subsequent large drop in blood sugar. This results both in fatigue and significant hunger. Furthermore, simple carbs lead to weight gain. This is due to the extra calories consumed and the spike in insulin levels. Simple carbs usually have no nutritional value. Thus, you get a large number of calories with no significant nutritional benefit. Diabetics and borderline diabetics especially need to avoid simple carbs as they can lead to increased blood sugar levels. Cutting back on simple carbs will lead to lower blood sugars, weight loss and lowered triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels tend to correlate with blood sugar levels. Both are part of the metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, central obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and low HDL levels). Metabolic syndrome can be treated with both diet and exercise. So what are simple carbs? One of the biggest culprits is sugar, especially white sugar. Sugar has calories and no nutritional value. Sugar also tends to be found in high fat foods. (Sugar in fruits is absorbed more slowly. It is combined with fiber and water in the fruit which slows digestion and helps to prevent a spike in blood sugar levels). White flour is another simple carb. White flour is found in white bread, rolls, crackers, pretzels and pastries. Other simple carbs include white pasta and white rice. Replace simple carbs with complex carbs and whole grains. Complex carbs tend to have a lot of fiber which slows digestion and avoids the spike in blood sugar that simple carbs cause. Fiber is quite healthy, the more you eat the better. Make sure you increase your intake of fiber slowly to avoid GI upset and excessive gas.

Dangerous Trans Fat

When it comes to fat, trans fat is the the most dangerous type of fat. Unlike other fats, trans fat both raises your LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lowers your HDL or “good” cholesterol. A high LDL cholesterol level in combination with a low HDL cholesterol level significantly increases your risk of heart disease.  A major study on the health effects of trans fats was published in April 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study contains several findings, including the following: on a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of coronary heart disease more than any other nutrient, conferring a substantially increased risk even at low levels of consumption. In an analysis involving nearly 140,000 subjects: a 2 percent increase in energy intake from trans fatty acids was associated with a 23 percent increase in the incidence of coronary heart disease. It is truly dangerous even in small amounts. Trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil less likely to spoil. Using trans fats in the manufacturing of foods helps foods stay fresh longer, have a longer shelf life and have a less greasy feel. Commercial baked goods including crackers, cookies and cakes (check all labels!) and many fried foods, such as doughnuts and french fries may contain trans fats. (Be very careful at fast food restaurants!) Shortenings and many margarines can be high in trans fat. Trans fat is what makes many margarines more dangerous than butter. Furthermore, you need to be aware of what nutritional labels really mean when it comes to trans fat. For example, if a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the food label can read 0 grams trans fat. Although that’s a small amount of trans fat, if you eat multiple servings of foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, you quickly ingest a significant amount. How do you know whether food contains trans fat? Look for the words “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil. That’s another term for trans fat. It sounds counterintuitive, but “fully” or “completely” hydrogenated oil doesn’t contain trans fat. Unlike partially hydrogenated oil, the process used to make fully or completely hydrogenated oil doesn’t result in trans-fatty acids. However, if the label says just “hydrogenated” vegetable oil, it could mean the oil contains some trans fat. Finally, you also need to be aware of deceptive advertising. Many foods are advertised as “low fat” or “no cholesterol” but still contain deadly trans – fat. This includes many foods marketed as healthy for you. Make sure you read all labels!


Food as Medicine

There are many diseases that are considered related to diet including: heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Diet is one of the keys to understanding and preventing disease. Many modern disease have been largely self-inflicted. Compared to other areas of the world which eat a low-fat, high complex carbohydrate diet, our rate of chronic disease is quite high. Areas that eat a mostly low-fat, plant-based diet have basically no heart disease or stroke. The incidence of cancer is lower. In the US, a large portion of the population will develop heart disease or stroke. Many cancers, including breast and colon cancer, have been linked to diet. The good news is that each one of us has the power to undo some of this damage by improving our diet. Fat, especially saturated fat, has been directly linked to heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Foods with large amounts of saturated fat include meats, dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream), eggs, and fried foods. Cutting back on these fatty foods is important for your heath and can help you to lose weight. Fruits and vegetables are nature’s medicine. Both are loaded with fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are only found in plants and have many healthy benefits including lowering the risk of cancer. Everyone’s diet should include many servings of fruits and vegetables during the day. In fact, everyone should start out each meal with either a piece of fruit or vegetable. Starting each meal this way will help you to eat less and lose weight. Complex carbohydrates are also an important part of the diet. Eating high fiber carbohydrates can help lower cholesterol, prevent constipation and lower the risk of colon cancer. Everyone hates taking medications. Why not use diet instead of drugs to prevent and lower the risk of many diseases.

Olive Oil

All oils, including olive oil, are 100% fat. All oils are packed with calories. They are calorie dense. This means you get a large number of calories in a small amount. All naturally occurring oils are mixtures of different types of fats. Olive oil is 78% monounsaturated fat, but also contains 14% of the unhealthy saturated fat which clogs arteries. It has less than 1% of the healthier omega 3 fats. In a study from the University of Maryland, researchers found that eating bread dipped in olive oil reduced dilation of the brachial artery. This suggests temporary injury to the endothelial cells or lining of the arteries. In comparison, olive oil is “better” than other oils or fats which contain more saturated fat. Butter is 66% saturated fat and margarine is 18% saturated fat. It is “healthier” than other oils such as peanut or palm oil. Olive oil does taste good, especially on salads. Although, a salad smothered in olive oil is not healthful or slimming.  It will add a large amount of calories. Putting a small amount with several times as much balsamic vinegar tastes just as good or better and has less calories and fat. If you are trying to lose weight, it is important to try and avoid all oils which are calorie dense.