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.
Diabesity is the leading cause of most chronic disease in the 21st century. Diabesity describes the continuum of metabolic abnormalities that ranges all the way from obesity to full blown diabetes. It includes mild blood-sugar elevation and insulin resistance. Those with diabesity are at an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, cancer, high blood pressure, and kidney failure.
Before a person becomes a diabetic, they go through a stage called insulin resistance. This means that their cells require more insulin than usual to force sugar into the cells. They have elevated resting blood sugars (greater than 100mg/dL. This problem is caused by many different lifestyle factors including physical inactivity, eating too many calories, high sugar and high starch snacks and meals, and a lack of dietary fiber. People in the insulin resistance stage complain of constantly being hungry, craving sweets, having trouble losing weight and enlarging bellies.
While there are some predisposing genes, diabesity and type 2 diabetes are almost entirely caused by lifestyle factors. Nutrition is the most important modifiable lifestyle factor. When your diet is full of empty calories and an abundance of quickly absorbed sugars such as liquid calories including sodas, juices, sports drinks or vitamin waters and refined or starchy carbohydrates including bread, pasta, rice and pastries, your cells slowly become numb to the effects of insulin. Your body thus needs more and more insulin to balance your blood-sugar levels. This leads to insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and eventually full-blown diabetes.
Elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance are the most important factors leading to rapid and premature aging and all its resultant diseases. Increased levels of insulin, the fat-storage hormone, tell your body to lose muscle and gain weight around the belly. High insulin levels also drive inflammation and oxidative stress. These lead to many health issues including increased weight in the mid-section, inability to lose weight, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low HDL (good cholesterol), low libido, erectile dysfunction, infertility, joint aches and pain, hair growth in women, poor sleep, increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. These conditions are all directly caused and worsened by elevated levels of insulin and inflammation.
Since insulin resistance and diabesity are a direct result of poor diet and lifestyle, the condition is reversible in the majority of cases. Most people just need to eliminate the things that are sending their body out of balance and include what’s needed to help the body rebalance itself. For most, the interventions required are extremely simple and extraordinarily effective. Simply, eliminate sugar and processed carbohydrates. Instead, eat whole real foods. These are foods without labels. Meals should include protein, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and beans. Regular physical activity is also important. Incorporate regular aerobic activities into your days. This means going for regular walks, swimming, playing tennis, or any other aerobic activity you enjoy.
You are responsible for taking back your health. No single change will completely allow you to take back your health. It is the hundreds of little choices you make every day that will transform your overall health and make a difference. Start making changes today and take back your health.
Eating adequate protein is essential for achieving your health and weight goals. Protein is one of three major classes of foods called macronutrients—the other two are fats and carbohydrates. Protein is made up of amino acids, also known as the “building blocks of protein.” We get protein primarily from poultry, beef, lamb, pork, fish and seafood. We also get it from animal products such as eggs, milk and cheese. Protein also comes in vegetable form, including soy, seeds, and nuts.
Protein furnishes the raw materials your body needs to make muscles, organs, hair, enzymes and just about anything else necessary to keep it running like a well-oiled machine. Without protein you would die. (The same cannot be said, by the way, of carbohydrate, but that’s another story. There is no requirement for carbohydrates. Our bodies can manufacture what we need.)
Protein plays a role in weight loss and weight management. Of all the macronutrient, protein is the most satiating, and higher protein diets consistently result in the greatest inadvertent reduction in calories. You don’t consciously stop eating. You’re not fighting your desire for food. You simply don’t want it. That’s the perfect antidote to insatiable hunger.
Compared to carbohydrate, consuming protein has less of an effect on insulin (which drives fat storage), a greater effect on glucagon (which drives fat release) and a considerably greater increase in metabolic rate. Several studies demonstrate greater body-fat loss on a high-protein diet than on a high-carb one. Increasing intake of protein relative to carbohydrates fills you up more, so you wind up eating less. A recent study showed that even eating snacks with a higher protein and lower carbohydrate composition could reduce the amount of food you eat at the next meal. Furthermore, eating protein boosts your metabolic rate. (The technical term is thermogenesis.) In fact, one study showed that healthy young women experienced 100 percent higher thermogenesis after eating high-protein meals—even two and a half hours later 5 than when they ate a “conventional” high-carbohydrate meal.
Try making sure protein is included in each of your daily meals. For breakfast, have some cottage cheese, unsweetened Greek yogurt, turkey sausage/bacon, or eggs. For lunch, have some turkey or chicken wrapped in cheese and lettuce. (Just do not eat the bread!) Add tuna, chicken or turkey to your salad. For dinner have a small amount of lean protein such as lean meat, poultry or fish. For a snack, eat a small amount of nuts or seeds. By adding more protein to your diet you will feel less hungry, eat less calories, and keep your insulin levels down. This is a perfect recipe for good health and weight loss.
I have talked with several people in the past few weeks who were frustrated that they were not able to lose any weight. They have been watching what they eat very closely. They have been exercising frequently. But still the scale still has not budged. They were becoming discouraged. I asked each of them to keep a food diary. I wanted to know their daily carb intake. Some used online counters; others found apps on their phones or I pads to help analyze their daily carb intake. They brought in the results for me to review. What we discovered is that each person was consuming a lot more grams of daily carbs than each realized. All were above 100 grams of carbs a day. Some were above 200grams a day and one was above 300grams a day. It was no wonder they could not lose weight. With their elevated daily carb intake levels, their insulin levels were also surely sky-high. Elevated insulin levels make weight loss very difficult if not impossible. We looked at the foods they were consuming including large amounts of whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and brown rice. Most were consuming large amounts of fruit, including daily bananas. We looked at ways to cut their daily intake below 100 grams a day to promote weight loss. Some people may need to cut down their daily carb intake to 50 grams a day. Everyone is different. If you are having trouble losing weight, count your daily carb intake. If you are not losing weight at your current carb intake level, cut down until the weight starts coming off. You need a low enough daily carb intake level to decrease your insulin levels low enough to promote weight loss. Once it does, be patient. Eating healthy is a lifestyle change, not a diet.
While eating a whole potato would seem on the surface to be a reasonably healthy choice compared with processed foods, spuds can be a dud when it comes to their effect on your blood glucose level. Many potatoes fall into the high range on the glycemic index, (GI) which measures the effects of foods on blood sugar. High GI foods, with a score higher than 70, cause your blood sugar to spike quickly. Medium-glycemic foods rank at 55 to 70 on the scale and have a modest effect on your blood sugar. Ideally, the majority of the foods you eat should be low on the glycemic index and have a value less than 55. These low-GI foods raise your blood sugar slightly over a longer period of time. Unfortunately, most potatoes rank higher than table sugar on the glycemic index.
Russet potatoes are some of the worst offenders when it comes to upping your blood sugar. Russets are the most commonly eaten potato in America. A baked russet has an average GI value of 85. If you eat the skin, it falls a bit lower, whereas peeling the skin away makes it as high as 111. Baked white potatoes have a glycemic index of 82. Instant mashed potatoes have a glycemic index of 87. Sweet potatoes have a glycemic index of 70. A better option is yams. Yams have an average GI of 54, meaning they’ll have less effect on blood sugar. Comparatively, table sugar has a glycemic index of 58. Remember, the higher the glycemic index or load, the higher and quicker your blood sugar raises. The higher and quicker your blood sugar rises, the more insulin your body releases to deal with the elevated blood sugar. Finally, high insulin levels lead to obesity.
Remember, potatoes are carbohydrates that are turned quickly into sugar by your digestive tract. This leads to elevated insulin levels and promotes obesity. If you do eat potatoes, also eat the skins, which lower the glycemic index of potatoes. Also remember, the longer potatoes are cooked, the higher the glycemic index. Cooking potatoes breaks down the carbohydrates, which makes the sugars more easily and quickly absorbed. Overall, avoid potatoes if you are trying to lose weight.
Patients frequently tell me they eat a healthy breakfast every morning – they eat Cheerios. Cheerios are advertised on TV as “heart healthy”. We are told to eat more cheerios as they “can help lower our cholesterol and may reduce our risk of heart disease”. So if we eat more cheerios, will we become healthier? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no. In fact, Cheerios may be making you fat and contributing to your diabetes. How is this possible? The carbohydrates in processed cereals are digested quickly, which increases their glycemic index. As we explained in the prior article, the glycemic index is a way of measuring how much and how quickly a food raises your blood sugar. Cheerios has a glycemic index (GI) rating of 74. For comparison, table sugar has a GI of 65. Remember, the glycemic index lists foods on a scale from zero to 100, with zero being the foods that are digested slowly, resulting in gradual rises in blood sugar levels, and 100 being foods that are rapidly digested, resulting in rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Foods with a GI of 55 or less are considered low. Conversely, foods with a GI of 70 or more are considered high. By starting your day with a bowl of Cheerios, you are causing a spike in your blood sugar and thus a spike in your insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels are what lead to obesity and makes weight loss so difficult. Therefore, even tough Cheerios have a small amount of fiber, they are likely doing more harm than good. So what would be a good alternative breakfast to keep your insulin levels from spiking? Good low glycemic options include an omelet with vegetables, scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, unsweetened yogurt with berries, nuts, turkey sausage, or even some roasted turkey and cheese.
Obesity is a significant problem in our society. Losing weight and maintaining weight loss is incredibly difficult for most people. A major cause of weight gain in many people is elevated insulin levels. As described in prior articles, insulin is the “get fat and stay fat hormone”. If your insulin levels are high you will gain weight, which tends to be deposited in your belly. This is the dangerous fat, which leads to many diseases. Furthermore, high insulin levels lock in the fat already in your fat cells making weight loss extremely difficult, even with exercise. The glycemic index and glycemic loads are tools you can use to help you decide which foods to eat to help lower your insulin levels. Lower insulin levels will lead to weight loss and help to maintain weight.
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food causes our blood sugar levels to rise and how persistent the blood sugar remains elevated. The glycemic index (GI) ranks food on a scale from 0 to 100. Foods with a high GI are quickly digested and absorbed, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar. This leads to a large and persistent increase in insulin secretion. Insulin is the storage hormone that leads to weight gain and prevents weight loss. The foods that rank high on the GI scale tend to be high in processed carbohydrates and sugars. Pretzels, for example, have a GI of 83 and a baked potato without the skin has a GI of 98.
On the other hand, foods with a low GI are digested and absorbed at a slower rate and, subsequently, cause a slower rise in blood sugar levels. This causes low or minimal increase in insulin levels. Low insulin levels lead to weight loss. Low GI foods are typically rich in fiber, protein and/or fat. Examples of these include apples with a glycemic index of 28, unsweetened Greek-style yogurt at 11, and peanuts at 7. Keep in mind that a low GI doesn’t necessarily mean that a food is high in nutrients or healthy. You still need to choose healthy foods high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Following a low GI diet can make it easier to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, since these foods keep us feeling fuller, longer. Low-GI diets have also been shown to improve insulin resistance, and lower glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
One criticism of the glycemic index is that since the scale was created on a standard amount of carbohydrate per food (50 grams), it does not give people information about the amount of food they are actually eating. A common example is carrots. Carrots have a high glycemic index, but to get 50 grams of carbohydrate from carrots, you have to eat 4 cups of chopped carrot. Most people cannot eat this amount of carrots at one sitting. For this reason, the concept of Glycemic load was created, which takes serving size into account. Glycemic load (GL) is a formula that corrects for potentially misleading GI by combining portion size and GI into one number. The carbohydrate content of the actual serving is multiplied by the food’s GI, then that number is divided by 100. So for a cup of beets, the GL would be: 13 times 64 = 832 divided by 100 = a GL of 8.3. As a frame of reference, a GL higher than 20 is considered high, between 11 and 19 is considered moderate, and 10 or less is considered low.
If you are trying to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, lower your blood sugar, or lower you triglycerides naturally try to eliminate high glycemic foods from your diet. Many people are “carbohydrate intolerant”, that is their bodies cannot tolerate the large amount of simple carbs they are ingesting on a daily basis. A lower GI diet which eliminates many processed carbs from the diet is a good natural way to improve your health.
Click on these links to tables listing foods and their glycemic index/load: