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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