Does one diet work for everyone? Is there one best way of eating? Is one diet better than all the others? The answer to all these questions is no. There are clear healthy eating habits everyone should follow. This includes avoiding processed foods, eating real/whole foods, avoiding sugar, and avoiding processed oils. The exact composition of a healthy diet can vary depending on one’s age, metabolism, and genetics. Most children are highly sensitive to insulin. This means they can eat carbs all day long and still remain thin. Furthermore, most children have a good metabolism. Unfortunately, as we get older things change. Most people, as they age, become less sensitive to insulin. This means that excess sugar is not burned by the body’s cells, but instead gets stored as fat. Insulin sensitivity varies from person to person. Some people can cut their carbs to 100grams a day and can lose weight and remain thin. Other people need to lower their carbs to under 25grams a day to lose weight. If you are on a low carb diet and not losing weight, you may need to cut your carb intake even more. Remember that everyone’s metabolism is different. Some people can eat a large amount of food and remain thin. Others are not as lucky. As we get older and lose muscle mass our metabolism slows down. We burn less calories at rest compared to when we were younger. A good way to naturally increase your metabolism is to increase muscle mass by lifting weights. More muscle mass leads to a higher metabolism and more calories burned at rest. The take home message is that everyone is different. Do not believe anyone who claims their diet is the best for everyone. What works for others, may not work for you. The key is to experiment and find what does work for you. Again, you can never go wrong avoiding processed food and sugar in your diet. A good rule of thumb that everyone can follow includes a diet of unprocessed, whole foods that your body recognizes as food. For most people, including a good amount of protein in every meal can help with weight loss. As noted above, cutting back on carbs is also important in losing weight. However, the exact amount will vary from person to person. Therefore, experiment a little with your diet if you are not having success. Keep a food diary if needed. Find what works specifically for you. One size does not fit all.
Since we were children, we’ve been taught that weight loss comes down to the simple idea of “calories in versus calories out.” This equation is simple and easy to understand. If you want to lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you consume. This can be achieved by creating a calorie deficit via a reduced-calorie diet, an increase in physical activity, or a combination of both. The weight-loss industry makes billions of dollars each year trying to cash in our desperate attempts to curb this obesity epidemic that has plagued America, but is it possible that it’s more complicated than the old adage, “eat less and exercise more”?
Employing simple, basic strategies to reduce total calories has been a common method used to lose weight. The strategies include watching portion sizes, limiting high-calorie foods, and increasing exercise. While it’s still true that a calorie is a calorie regardless of what food it came from, not all calories are created equal in the sense that foods will have different effects on your body – even if two foods are identical in their calorie contents.
For example, compare 500 calories from gummy candy and 500 calories from broccoli. When you eat the candy, your gut quickly absorbs the fiber-free sugars in the candy. The sugars spike your blood sugar, starting a domino effect of high insulin and a cascade of hormonal responses that kicks bad biochemistry into gear. The high insulin increases storage of belly fat, increases inflammation, raises triglycerides, lowers HDL, and raises blood pressure.
Your appetite is increased because of insulin’s effect on your brain chemistry. The insulin blocks your appetite-control hormone leptin. You become more leptin resistant, so the brain never gets the “I’m full” signal. Instead, it thinks you are starving. Furthermore, your pleasure-based reward center is triggered, driving you to consume more sugar and fueling your addiction.
You can see just how easily 500 calories of candy can create chaos in your body. In addition, the candy contains no fiber, vitamins, minerals, or phytonutrients to help you process the calories you are consuming. These are “empty” calories, devoid of any nutritional value. Your body doesn’t register candy as food, so you eat more all day long.
Now let’s look at the 500 calories of broccoli. As with the candy, these calories are made up primarily (although not entirely) of carbohydrates — but let’s clarify just what that means, because the varying characteristics of carbohydrates will factor significantly into the contrast I’m about to illustrate.
Carbohydrates are plant-based compounds comprised of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They come in many varieties, but they are all technically sugars or starches, which convert to sugar in the body. The important difference is in how they affect your blood sugar. High-fiber, low-sugar carbohydrates such as broccoli are slowly digested and don’t lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes, while table sugar and bread are quickly digested carbohydrates that spike your blood sugar. Therein lies the difference. Slow carbohydrates like broccoli heal rather than harm.
Those 500 calories of broccoli make up 14 cups and contain 44 grams of fiber (the average American consumes less than15 grams of fiber a day). Broccoli is 23 percent protein, 9 percent fat, and 68 percent carbohydrate, or 340 calories from carbs. The “sugar” in 14 cups of broccoli is the equivalent of only one teaspoon; the rest of the carbohydrates are the low-glycemic type found in all non-starchy vegetables, which are very slowly absorbed.
What happens when you eat broccoli? Broccoli contains so much fiber that very few of the calories would actually get absorbed. Those that did would get absorbed very slowly. There would be no blood sugar or insulin spike. Your stomach would distend (which it doesn’t with candy), sending signals to your brain that you were full. There would be no triggering of the addiction reward center in the brain. You’d also get many extra benefits including lower cholesterol and reduced inflammation. The phytonutrients in broccoli are anti-inflammatory and protect against cancer and heart disease.
The key is that all calories are NOT created equal. The same number of calories from different types of food can have very different biological effects.
Some calories are addictive while others are healing. When thinking about calories, think more about the quality of the calories versus the quantity. Consider what other nutrients are you getting besides just calories. Are there vitamins, phytonutrients, or fiber? Your goal with every bite is to get the most nutrition possible.
Do you drink a glass of orange juice every morning with your breakfast? Does apple juice quench your thirst during the day? Those of you who would avoid soda or candy consumption are essentially consuming the same thing when you pour a glass of orange juice. After years of being touted as a health food, even by the government’s dietary recommendations, fruit juice has now become the latest and most surprising target in the nation’s obesity epidemic. It has been assumed that we should always drink orange juice because it is healthy and contains vitamin C. Unfortunately, that is a serious misconception. Juice of any kind is not particularly healthy, and contains as much sugar as a can of soda, which is the last thing you need if you are struggling with obesity or diabetes. Remember, consuming sugar leads to elevated insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels lead to increased fat deposition in your midsection. Furthermore, high insulin levels lock your fat cells, making it very difficult to lose weight. Even 100 percent juice does not match the level of nutrition in whole fruit because it’s higher in calories and sugars and lacks the fiber to satisfy appetite. So while eating an apple or orange is filling, drinking juice offers calories without satiety. It is always healthier to eat whole foods versus processed foods. Many health experts feel that drinking juice is just as bad as drinking soda. Unfortunately, most people think it is healthy. According to a beverage comparison by Harvard University, 12 ounces of Fanta orange soda and Minute Maid 100 percent orange juice each contain 165 calories. So if you are trying to lose weight or working on lowering your blood sugars stay away from juice. I can hear many of you thinking, well if I cannot drink juice, what can I drink? (By the way, diet soda is also unhealthy – another subject for another article!) The number one drink you should be consuming is water. Most people do not nearly drink enough water every day. It has no sugar and no calories. Add a slice of lemon, lime or orange to your water for flavoring. Carbonated water is another good choice. There are also naturally sweetened waters available, which have little sugar or calories. Unsweetened iced tea is another good option. Not only does it not have any sugar, it is loaded with many healthy anti-oxidants including polyphenols. Iced coffee without added sugar is another good option. So, in conclusion, avoid the juice and improve your health.
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!
Many people assume that they cannot lose weight because they are unable to exercise for various reasons such as knee or back pains. The good news is that weight loss is absolutely possible even without exercise. Remember that the key to weight loss is calories in versus calories out. We all have a minimum amount of calories we need to maintain our weight (Our basic metabolic rate or BMR). If you eat more you will gain weight over time, eat less and you will lose weight. Unfortunately, the less active you are, the less daily calories you will require to maintain your weight at a set level. Furthermore, the less muscle mass you have, the less calories you burn sitting around. (This becomes an important issue for many as they get older and become inactive. Muscle seems to turn to fat which is less metabolically active than muscle. This is why muscle building/strengthening exercises are important at any age.) The basic metabolic rate for most people tends to be between 1500 – 2000 calories a day. One pound is equal to 3500 calories. Therefore, to lose a pound you need to eat 3500 calories less or burn them off with exercise. Clearly, it is more difficult to lose weight when not being able to exercise. If your daily calorie requirement is 1800 calories and you consume 1500 calories you will lose 1 pound in almost 2 weeks (3500/300 = about 12 days). This is not fast weight loss, but should result in slow but steady weight loss (about 2 pounds per month – which then equates to almost 25 pounds in a year!) The key is consistency and patience. Unfortunately, most become impatient and give up too soon. As I have discussed in previous posts, one key is to eat foods that are not calorie dense. You do not want to be hungry or you will give up. Eat good sized portions of low calorie dense foods. (Especially fruits and vegetables!) Make sure your foods are nutrient dense. Your goal is is the most nutrition you can get for the least calories. As people do start to lose weight, many see striking improvements in their energy and their aches and pains which then allows them to become more active and speed up the weight loss process. Overall, have a long term weight loss goal and stick to it. Remember, patience and consistency are critical to long term weight loss. Do not get frustrated. The weight will come off. Just keep thinking how much more energy you will have and how much better you will feel in the long term!