Over the past 30 years, experts have changed their minds on which diet is best more times than anyone can count. Out of the huge list of different diets, fads, weight loss plans and eating habits, which ones are actually good for us?
When weight loss is the goal, restricting calories is usually the first strategy people go for. A statement you hear a lot in the fitness industry today is that weight loss is simply ‘calories in versus calories out’.
This means that you will lose weight by either:
- Lowering your energy intake – eating less
- Increasing your energy expenditure – exercising more
Will this make you lose weight? Yes. Will you lose weight fast? Yes. Will all of this weight be fat? No. Is it healthy? Absolutely not. It is sustainable? No.
Some good research highlighting the limited view of ‘calories in vs calories out’ involved participants on one of three kinds of thousand-calorie diets. The diets consisted of either 90 per cent fat, 90 per cent carbohydrates, or 90 per cent protein. If weight loss is simply calories in vs calories out, we would expect each diet to produce identical results because the intake of calories is the same. However, the results show that the 90 per cent protein and 90 per cent fat groups lost between 300 and 400g per day, while the 90 per cent carb group actually gained weight!
As a trainer, I am much more interested in my clients losing body fat and retaining their lean mass – muscle mass – as it will result in a much more aesthetically pleasing and healthy physique. It is also much more sustainable and does not cause metabolic damage. With a generic weight loss program, research shows that up to 40 per cent of weight lost could be muscle.
So, what do we need to eat in order to retain our muscle, lose body fat, and be in the best health possible? Firstly, we need to ask ourselves a few questions.
WHAT WILL EATING THIS FOOD DO TO MY BLOOD SUGAR?
Always choose foods that promote a steady release of blood sugar. Any carbohydrate will spike blood sugar and consequently insulin; the trick is to figure out which carbs have the least impact. The chronic elevation of blood sugar causes inflammation under the surface. It can also be associated with increased risk of cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s) and possibly early death.
Low-starch vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and bok choy are your best choices when it comes to carbohydrates and management of blood sugar. Moderately starchy vegetables like beetroot, sweet potato and carrots are still reasonable choices, but the serving size needs to be controlled.
IS THERE A QUALITY PROTEIN SOURCE?
Protein is essential for tissue repair, muscle building and regulating our metabolism. High-quality protein from animals, containing all the amino acids, is needed to supply your body with the building blocks to make enzymes, hormones and structural components.
Red meat, poultry, fish and eggs are the best choices for humans, as our stomachs contain HCL and pepsin which are ideal for breaking down these foods. We are less efficient at digesting and absorbing vitamins and minerals from plant sources.
WHAT KIND OF FATS DOES IT SUPPLY?
Fats are the best source of energy for human metabolism. They provide the raw materials for the manufacture of hormones, and they also have no effect on blood sugar and insulin.
Fat sources to include are grass-fed butter, ghee, coconut oil, avocado, uncooked virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and fatty meats.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?
Start with a good base of low-starch vegetables. Add high-quality organic, grass-fed and free-range sources of protein.
Use high-quality fats as a primary energy source to match your reduction in carbohydrates.
Be sure to manage your blood sugar and insulin at all times; keep your high-starch vegetables for fuelling your training.
The reason we look the way we do is because of the food we eat, the fitness regimen we follow and the lifestyle choices we make.
Being overweight and burdened with disease should not be the new norm; it is up to us to make informed choices for our future health.