I get asked all the time about counting calories. Many wonder if it is a useful tool. Usually, my answer is no. The whole point of eating foods with low calorie densities is to avoid counting calories. If you mainly eat foods with low calorie densities you should lose weight especially if you also exercise. Low calorie density foods fill you up with less calories. Remember though, the only way to lose weight is to eat less calories than you burn off. Sometimes though, people will tell me that the weight will not come off. No matter what they do, they cannot lose weight. At this point I do recommend counting calories. I generally find that people are taking in more calories than they think they are. Everything that you put in your mouth needs to be counted. Serving sizes need to be followed closely. That bite of cake needs to be included. All drinks should be included. Furthermore, it is also important to get a good idea of your daily calorie requirements. How many calories are you burning on a daily basis? Get a pedometer to measure your daily steps and activity level. Many people think they are burning many more calories than they really are. Calorie counting can be an excellent exercise to get a good idea of what your overall energy status is – are you positive or negative over time? You need to be honest with yourself. Monitor yourself for at least a few weeks to get a good idea of your overall trends. Be very careful when eating out. Ask restaurants for calories counts for your meals, again remembering to look closely at serving sizes and adjusting as needed. Once you have this information, adjustments to your diet and lifestyle can be made. Reduce your daily calorie intake. Increase your intake of low calorie dense foods. Increase your fiber intake. Increase your exercise levels. Weight loss is absolutely possible. Be patient. Never give up!
Fiber is a miracle nutrient. It has many health benefits including: losing and maintaining weight, reducing risk of heart attack and stroke, naturally lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels, reducing risk of diabetes and helping to control blood sugar levels, reducing risk of several kinds of cancer including colon cancer, helping to maintain bowel regularity, and improving overall immunity. Fiber comes from a plant’s cell wall. It is the indigestible part of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. No animal products contain fiber including milk and meat products. Fiber has bulk, but no calories. It is a type of complex carbohydrate, but cannot be absorbed to produce energy (which is why it has no calories). It is a major reason certain foods have a low calorie density. High fiber tends to mean low calorie density. It fills you up with less calories. The main goal when trying to lose weight is to to eat less calories, and just as importantly, also to avoid hunger. You want to be full. Hunger will quickly kill any diet. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water. It forms a thick gel. It will slow down stomach emptying time. Therefore, sugar is released and absorbed more slowly. This helps prevent a blood sugar spike in your bloodstream and also a spike in insulin release. By keeping blood sugar and insulin levels from spiking, fiber helps to prevent and treat diabetes. It will also assist in weight loss. Soluble fiber also helps to naturally lower your total and LDL cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fiber include: apples, carrots, lentils, oat bran, oranges, peaches, and peas. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It passes almost intact through the GI tract. Insoluble fiber helps to move bulk through the intestines. It helps promote regular bowel movements and prevent constipation, removes toxic waste from the colon, and helps prevent colon cancer. Good sources of insoluble fiber include: flaxseed, wheat bran, cauliflower, and fruit skins. Many people get very little fiber in their diet. A good goal would be 40 grams of fiber a day. Increase your intake slowly and drink a lot of water. Make it a habit to look at labels. Look for foods with the highest fiber amount. Look for pasta with a large amount of fiber. Look for cereals and oatmeal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. For extra fiber, add flaxseed or berries to your breakfast. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables for a snack. The more processed a food is, the less fiber it will have, and the less healthy it will be. Fiber from supplements is not nearly as good as fiber from whole foods. A high fiber diet is a marker of many anti-cancerous properties of whole foods, especially phytochemicals. Fiber intake from food is a good marker of disease risk. Some studies suggest that the amount of fiber consumed may better predict weight gain/loss, insulin/blood sugar levels, and other cardiovascular risk factors than does the total amount of fat consumed. Remember, fiber is only found in plant products and not in meat, dairy, or highly processed products. Slowly increase your fiber intake with a goal of 40 grams a day. It will help both your health and your waistline.
Every year new fad diets come along. The grapefruit diet, cookie diet, low carb diet, diets using shakes, and hormone injection diets have all come and gone. Many people are able to lose some weight on these diets, unfortunately most eventually put it all back on. Diets do not work. Most are too restrictive. Many leave you hungry or tired. So is weight loss hopeless? Should we all give up and have a triple scoop ice cream sundae instead? No!! Your goal should be a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy includes keeping your weight down, but should also reduce your chances of chronic diseases including heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. Losing weight should not mean risking your health at the same time. The key to a healthy lifestyle and sustained weight loss is the concept of calorie density. Calorie density refers to the amount of calories in a set amount of food, usually per gram. Some foods have a low calorie density (for example, 1 calorie per gram) and other have a high calorie density (for example, 10 calories per gram). Your goal is to eat as many foods every meal with the lowest calorie densities. Therefore, you end up getting full on less calories. You do not want to be hungry – which is a critical point. Hunger always eventually leads to binge eating. For example, think of your stomach as a round fish bowl. If you fill it with peanuts, you will have eaten approximately 2500 calories. If instead, you fill it with bananas, you will have eaten only about 500 calories. In both instances you are full and cannot eat anymore. By eating bananas instead of peanuts you have received 5x less calories. By choosing foods that are lower in calorie density you fill up with less calories which will lead to weight loss. So which foods have the lowest calorie density? Those that are filled with water and fiber. Fruits and vegetables top the list. You can eat vegetables all day long and lose weight. You get filled up way before over-eating too many calories. The same goes for fruit. Every meal should include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Your snacks should involve fruits and vegetables. It is impossible to get fat on carrots or peppers. On the other hand fats, oils, and processed foods are quite calorie dense. You get a lot of calories for a small amount of food. Oils, for example have 120 calories per tablespoon. Processed foods are highly calorie dense. When food manufactures process foods they remove the water and fiber. This creates foods that are loaded with calories in a small amount of food. Corn has few calories. Corn chips are loaded with calories. Potatoes are lower in calories. Potato chips are loaded with calories. Processed foods are unhealthy and calorie dense. Many vitamins and nutrients are also removed when foods are processed. The more you avoid them the better off you will be. The more your food looks like when it came out of the ground the better. Your daily goal should be 10 servings of fruits and vegetables. Your stomach has only so much room. Fill it up with healthy fruits and vegetables and there will be little room for the highly processed, calorie dense foods. Start to think about this concept at every meal. Your daily calorie intake will decline as will your weight. We will be discussing this concept of calorie density further in later posts including discussing other foods that are low in calorie density. We will also be exploring a closely related topic – nutrient density. Remember, fill up on healthy low calorie foods and the weight will start to come off and stay off.