Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Plain talk about protein, carbs, fats & calories

Lean proteins and vegetables are the keys to weight loss. 
There are only three sources of calories: Protein, carbohydrates and fats. That's all. Every calorie you consume comes from one of these three macronutrients.

If you reduce the percentage of calories you take in from one group, you will increase the percentage from one or both of the other groups. 

Want to trim fat from your diet? You'll increase protein and/or carbs. Cutting carbs? You'll increase either fat or protein. Dieters who want to limit their fat and carbohydrates will need to eat plenty of protein because there is nothing else to eat. 

High-protein dieting

Because of this balancing act between the nutrients, high-protein diets are in demand by dieters who want to reduce their fat and/or carbohydrate consumption. This is a good strategy, since fats are high-calorie and often unhealthy, and carbohydrates can affect metabolism and lead to fat storage. Protein helps build lean tissue, digests slowly, and helps you feel full and sated.

But before you adopt this strategy, there are a few things to understand.

There are no foods that are pure protein, and many people are led astray by the phrase "rich in protein." Quinoa, for instance, is a grain touted as being "rich in protein" because it provides a lot more protein than most other grains. But while 8 grams of protein per serving is a lot for a grain, quinoa also provides 39 grams of carbohydrate. Substituting quinoa for pasta will boost your protein consumption slightly, but you are still consuming far more carbohydrates than protein when you eat quinoa. It is rich in protein, but it is primarily a carbohydrate.

Nuts are similar. A serving of cashews offers 9 grams of protein, which is a lot among plant foods. But 66% of the calories in a cashew come from fat, 23% from carbs, and only 11% from protein.

Egg whites, on the other hand, are 91% protein. Skinless chicken breast is 90% protein.

How do you know what to eat?

The easiest way to learn how to  balance the three nutrients is to use an online calorie tracking program.  There are lots of free online programs like www.myplate.com, www.fitday.com, as well as apps for your phone or handheld device. Enter what you eat and the program will tally your total calories, plus offer a pie chart of nutrients for each food.

A pie chart from www.myplate.com
Some people are best able to eat healthy and lose weight if they continue to use a program that counts calories for them. Others find it a huge hassle. You may be one of those who choose not to continue tracking, but you will learn a lot even if you use the program for only a few days or weeks, use it occasionally as an educational tool, or use it simply to look up the nutrient contents of particular foods.

How much of each category to eat?

What should your pie chart look like? Opinions vary. The official recommendations in college health textbooks say 60% carbohydrates, 30% fat, 10% protein. That sounds like a lot of fat at first, but keep in mind that fat has more than twice as many calories per gram as carbs or protein.

Healthy diets for weight loss usually recommend raising the protein intake and lowering carbohydrates without increasing fats. More than 30% of calories from protein is generally considered the upper limit; more than that becomes hard for your kidneys to process. If you want to keep 30% of calories from fat, then your carbs will need to drop into the 40% range.

I use a very rough goal of 30-40% of calories from each category - a pie chart divided more or less into thirds.

Keep in mind that your overall calorie intake is still the primary factor in weight loss. If you eat 1600 calories per day ALL from carbohydrates, you may not be very healthy but you will still lose more weight than if you eat 3000 high-quality calories per day. Don't lose track of portion size or overall intake. 

What to know about carbohydrates

Carbohydrates come in two varieties: simple and complex.

(Week 15) Day 99/366 - Heritage - American her...
Simple carbs are unhealthy
and can be addictive. 
Simple carbs are sugars, or substances easily converted to sugars in the body. Simple carbs contribute very little nutrition to the diet and should be enjoyed only in small quantities. Sugar (white, brown and raw), honey, syrup, alcohol, fruit drinks, jams, candy all contain simple carbs. So do many processed foods like crackers, white pasta, and breakfast cereals. If you have uncontrollable urges for simple carbs, you might need to treat them like an addictive substance.

Complex carbs contain more fiber and nutrients and are broken down by the body more slowly than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbs include vegetables, whole grains, oats, beans, lentils, peas, and starchy vegetables like potatoes sweet potatoes, and corn.

Vegetables are the lowest-calorie source of complex carbs. A half-cup of cooked whole-wheat pasta contains 172 calories. A half-cup of steamed spinach contains 32 calories. If your daily calorie limit is 1500 and you want 40% of that to come from carbs, that's three servings of whole-wheat pasta or a whopping 19 servings of spinach. Fill up on lean protein, keep grains to a minimum, eat loads of vegetables and you'll find it easy to control your carbs.

What to know about fats

Fats also can be bundled into two varieties: saturated and unsaturated.

Fat has gotten a bad rap, but some fats are essential for your nerve tissues, brain, skin, joints, and other tissues.

Saturated fats are the ones that are solid at room temperature. These fats clog the arteries and increase levels of bad cholesterol. Fats from meats, butter and dairy products, or animal fats, fall into this category. You can limit your intake of these by eating mostly poultry (white meat), fish, and lean cuts like pork tenderloin or filet miñon and eating less butter, cheese and sour cream.  Click here for a list of meats that are relatively low in saturated fats.

But unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) are considered "good" fats. They increase good cholesterol levels, feed the nerves, joints and tissues, and protect the arteries. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and generally come from plant sources. If you replace butter or margarine in your cooking with olive oil, your overall calorie consumption will remain the same but your heart will thank you. Other great sources of healthy fats include fish, nuts and avocados.

I'm so confused. What should I be eating?

1) Lots of colorful vegetables
2) Lots of lean meats, especially fish and poultry, and egg whites (or other protein sources if you are vegetarian)

***** tip: look at your food. Is it a lean meat or colorful vegetable? If not, don't eat very much of it *****

3) Some fruits, legumes, nuts and whole grains
4) A little low-fat dairy and a small amount of egg yolk
5) Very few simple carbs (alcohol, sweets) and processed or prepackaged foods

Want some more advice? Click here for a video that breaks down healthy low-carb eating simply and beautifully.
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Monday, August 27, 2012

Is evening snacking your downfall?

Do you snack a lot in the evenings? Do you know why you do it?

I once read an article about Sumo wrestlers that explained how they were able to get up to weights of 280-400 pounds or more. They ate — a LOT — and then immediately went to sleep so their bodies could get to work making fat out of the excess calories.

Sumo Wrestler Asashōryū fighting against Kotoshogiku at the January Tournament 2008 (Wikipedia Commons image)
Oh. That was my eating pattern every night of my life! No wonder I'd put on so much weight.

There are many possible reasons (besides WANTING the body of a Sumo wrestler) for evening snacking:

  1. Fatigue. If you stay awake after you're feeling tired, your body might be asking for more fuel to help it resist sleep. Solution: Figure out why you're staying up later than you should, and resolve that issue.  Plan to finish work projects in the morning, let go of your attachment to whatever games or hobbies are keeping you up, or make your bed a more inviting place with new pillows, soft sheets, or a nice sound system.
  2. Habit.  You might associate watching TV with the munchies, or maybe you're in the habit of treating yourself to something tasty at night.  The best way to quit habitual snacking is cold turkey. The first few days you may pace back and forth to the kitchen and feel out-of-sorts without your snack — that's just your inner child rebelling against the loss of treats. Keep yourself calm, keep your hands busy, sit in a different chair, and speak to your inner child with loving firmness. After just a few nights, the battle will be over forever. 
  3. Hunger.  The difference genuine hunger and a snack craving is that genuine hunger is satisfied by a healthy and filling dose of protein, like a bowl of soup, or a piece of grilled chicken left over from dinner. It's alright to give your body a snack of healthy nourishment if it's needed. If you are often hungry in the evenings, it could be that you need a later suppertime, an earlier bedtime, or more protein and healthy fats in your supper to keep you full. 
If you struggle intensely with evening snacking, you may be dealing with Night Eating Syndrome. NES is not fully recognized within the medical community yet, but emerging research – and my personal experience — suggest it is a real, physiological issue. You may have Night Eating Syndrome if you:
  1. Take in more than 50% of your total calories for the day AFTER supper (some sources say 25%).
  2. Binge on carbs — always carbs — in the evening, having 'small' snacks of 200-300 calories (a bowl of cereal, a sandwich, a handful of chips, a couple of cookies, a dab of pasta, a small bowl of ice cream) but keep having one snack after another for several hours. One snack in the evening doesn't indicate NES, whether it's large or small.
  3. Aren't hungry or can barely tolerate food in the morning. (I would not get hungry until at least 2:00 in the afternoon.)
  4. Don't enjoy your evening binges because they're surrounded by guilt. (having a small bowl of ice cream in the evening that you enjoy is NOT a disorder, relax. Just make sure to save up the calories during the day if this is your indulgence of choice.)
  5. The desire to snack is uncontrollable. Willpower is not enough. (I felt like I would run my head through a brick wall if I couldn't have another bowl of cereal at 10pm).
NES is characterized as a sleep disorder. The sufferer lacks brain chemicals (melatonin and leptin) that normally cause sleepiness. People with NES feel driven to eat carbs because their bodies are desperate for building blocks to create serotonin (which converts to melatonin) in order to get past the insomnia.
I solved my Night Eating Syndrome problem by taking this 100 milligram 5-HTP supplement after dinner, well before my snack cravings would normally have set in. 5-HTP is essentially tryptophan (the chemical in turkey that makes people sleepy). The body converts tryptophan into serotonin. Taking the supplement didn't make me immediately sleepy, but it did reduce my cravings to a manageable level. Giving up my evening cereal, chips, bread and other carbs was still unpleasant — I still was in the habit of snacking and still wanted to eat — but it became possible when the chemical imbalance was addressed.

According to Wikipedia, some doctors are having success treating NES with Zoloft, which also affects seratonin levels.

I can't speak for all NES sufferers, but after a dozen years of night eating, I was able to retrain my body. I took the 5-HTP supplent every evening for about 6 months. I learned that, for me, eating even a small dose of carbs leads to an intense craving 20 minutes later, so avoiding the initial dose of carbs lessened my cravings. I learned that my cravings will pass in 10 minutes or less if I don't respond to them. I've also made changes in my career and personal life that have helped me stave off feelings of mild situational depression, and I believe that has helped as well (NES is linked to depression). 

Whatever the cause of your evening binges, they are contributing to an unhealthy lifestyle. It's vital that you pinpoint the cause and find a way to retrain your brain and/or your body. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Throw food away? YES

Last night I had a moment of weakness at the grocery store. I came home with a giant bag of Hint-of-Jalepeño Tostitos and some salsa.

Salsa has no fat and is low in calories, right? So — I told myself — if I'm going to give in to this snack craving, this is a good option.

Came home and ate half the bag. Went to bed without logging the calories, happy as a clam.

**note: I know better than to buy OR eat things without looking at the calorie content first and measuring out a reasonable portion, Like I said, moment of weakness.

Woke up this morning and realized my mistake. 140 calories per serving. Serving size: about 6 chips. 


Worse, half a bag of this delicious temptation was still sitting on my counter. So I threw them away while I was still feeling strong, because there's always another willpower-fail around the corner. For me, it's not a question of whether it will happen but when.

Of course I hate to throw away perfectly good food. I'm well aware of how lucky I am to have cheap, accessible plentiful food. But eating those chips wouldn't have helped a hungry child anywhere — or gotten my money back, or even nourished my own body. It would just make me fat.

Moral of the story: If you make a mistake and buy something you shouldn't have, and there's no one to give it to... throw it away as soon as you come to your senses!

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Weight Loss Plateau... how to cope

It happens to every dieter. Pounds are falling off in a more or less predictable pattern, and then suddenly… nothing. Same diet and exercise program going in, but no results coming out at the other end.

The most important thing is not to give up. It's easy to get frustrated and abandon your weight loss efforts altogether when the stubborn pounds refuse to budge — or when you find yourself losing the same three or four pounds over and over.

If you give up, though, you'll be amazed how quickly you can pack ten or twenty pounds or more back on! If your weight is holding steady, or increasing very slowly, then your efforts really are working to some extent, even if it feels like it's all for naught. Recognize that maintaining your weight loss for a week or more is something to be grateful for, not angry about.

Here are some common reasons for a plateau and some advice:

  • Your caloric needs have gone down. The lighter you are, the fewer calories it takes to sustain you. The same calorie count that was delivering a two-pound-per-week weight loss when you were 15 pounds heavier might cause your new, lighter body to gain a pound per week! If you're using an online calorie counter, make sure you're updating your weight regularly; it should self adjust. If not, use an online calculator (preferably one that takes your gender and age into account) to recaculate your calorie goal for your new weight. I like the one at Livestrong's Daily Plate, but you need to be a member to use it. This one is also good. 
  • Your portion sizes are creeping up. This happens to everyone after a while. It's worthwhile — and eye opening! — to measure everything for a few days until you have a handle on it again. 
  • Your body has adjusted to your workouts. Remember how hard it was when you first started [walking/jogging/zumba/whatever-you-do]? Is it that hard now? You need to be exerting the same amount of perceived effort (label it on a scale of 1-10 for yourself) in order to be burning the same number of calories. As your body becomes more efficient at what you've been doing, you'll need to step it up or change it completely.
  • You are indulging in little bits that add up. When you first started dieting, it probably consumed your mind and you were diligent. Now, maybe you toss 'just one' cookie into your mouth now and then, or have a couple of a friend's french fries. An hour later, you might not even remember that you nibbled fifty calories here, a hundred calories there. Weight Watchers has a rule: You bite it, you write it. Commit to getting serious about your program again.
  • Sometimes you can't identify a reason. It still doesn't hurt to change up what you're eating, what kind of exercise you're doing, or step up your dedication to measuring and recording your food intake. Eating more protein and dropping more carbs helps some people over a hump. Moving calories earlier in the day helps others. Switch up your exercise routine — more cardio/less weightlifting or vice versa — to keep your body responding.
If you discover that you've plateau'd because you were nibbling or overestimating portions, or stopped recording your food altogether, practice forgiveness. You're human, this happens to everyone! Recommit, let it go, and move forward.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is low-carb the best way to lose weight?

English: A wooden table containing: a ladle fu...Whole grains can be part of a healthy diet.
A very small part.
Image via Wikipedia

I grew up with the old-school Food Pyramid. The one with grains and cereals at the bottom. It recommended six to eleven servings per DAY of breads, cereals, rice and pasta.
The USDA's original food pyramid from 1992.The Food Pyramid I grew up with, now recognized as utterly bogus.Image via Wikipedia
What kind of money did the grain farmers have to throw at Congress to make THAT happen, I wonder?

Check out today's recommendations at the new MyPlate.gov website.  For a woman age 31-50, the new recommendation is six "ounce-equivalents," with at least three of those being whole grains. (For women over 50, the recommendation drops to five ounces. )

English: Healthy nutrition pyramid with 7 to 9...This one is more like it. Memorize this & make your plates match it.Image via Wikipedia

A sandwich on thinly sliced bread, for instance, contains two servings. Half an English muffin is an ounce-equivalent serving. A small square of cornbread. A mini bagel. The bagels that fit in your toaster are two to three servings. A large bagel from the bakery could be double that. So make sure you're not eating any other bread, pasta, rice or cereal that day... and make sure that bagel is whole grain!

There is no mention any more of anyone needing to eat eleven servings of grain per day. YIKES!

Most of us are probably eating two to four times as much from this food group every day as we need. And a lot of people are finding that their bodies react to overeating from this food group more rapidly than any other (besides maybe sugar/alcohol, which is also in the carb category).  Low-carb diets are popular because they work. Eating fewer starchy carbohydrate-laden foods tends to lead to rapid weight loss, especially if you were overeating from this food group prior to changing your habits (and who isn't?)
Grains, the largest food group in many nutriti...But it's delicious!
Image via Wikipedia

But studies have shown that the weight loss from many low-carb diets tapers off after six months and people regain the weight. These diets are simply too restrictive to maintain long-term. And some of the low-carb diets are extremely unhealthy. They don't discriminate between starchy, simple carbs like bagels or rice — which the body instantly converts to sugars —  and wholesome, nourishing carbs like vegetables, which offer the body fiber, nutrition, and an appealing variety of flavors/textures.

I prefer a diet that's rich in lean protein, healthy fats (like olive oil, nuts and avocado) and the widest possible variety of fresh vegetables. Vegetables are generally very low in calories, so eating them doesn't raise your percent of calories from carbohydrate very much. A cup of raw spinach, for instance, has 7 calories while a half-cup of rice has over 100.

My rules are simple: Plan every meal and snack around a source of lean protein  — chicken breast, turkey, pork loin, lean beef, fish, egg white — and as many vegetables as you can manage (slaws, salads, plates of raw veggies, soups, and mixed vegetable dishes are my favorite ways to get a variety in every day.) Fill in around your meats, eggs and vegetables with small portions of nuts, yogurt, flaxseed and whole grains. Eat as little else as possible.

It's really that easy to understand, and it's only hard to do at first.

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