Quickstart Guide to Weight LossWith the holidays now coming to an end, many of us are looking at making some dietary changes. Let's not see that as all bad though. A new year gives us an opportunity to begin some new habits that will yield long term benefits. And hey, these changes don't need to mean that we now have to eat foods we don't like. This Quickstart guide will take the fear out of mealtime and help to make your menu a little more appetizing.
To start off, let's clear up a prevalent misunderstanding. You've probably heard or imagined that fat makes you fat. The sheer existence of skim milk, low fat yogurt and fat free ice cream is proof that low fat alternatives are thought to be better for dieting and health. This is a myth. In fact, low fat products can produce the opposite effect for which they are marketed. That's right, low fat foods can actually make you fat.
How you really put on weight
The real villain in today's obesity epidemic isn't fat; it's sugar. Let's talk a little science to understand why.
When you consume sugar, your body quickly breaks it down into glucose. Remember, sugar is a refined product. In nature, sugar is part of the sugar cane or beet. In whole form, the cane or beet contain the sugar along with fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. If you consumed this food whole, the sugar content would be lower and the additional co-factors would mediate its effects.
If we take that cane or beet and extract the sugar, we now have a refined product that is unaccompanied by the co-factors found with it in nature. Consuming refined sugar added to cookies, cereals, candies, sweets and other products results in a dramatic rise in blood sugar levels.
In order to restore homeostasis, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin. Insulin is the key that lets glucose into the cell for use as energy. The problem lies in the amount of sugar consumed. Back in 2010, ABC News (1) reported that the average American consumed 156 lbs of sugar per person per year. This is not only excessive, but harmful. While insulin ushers glucose into the cell, it also has another purpose – storage. Insulin converts excess sugar into triglycerides which is the form of fat that the body stores. The more sugar you consume, the more triglycerides your body produces and stores.
When fat is consumed in its whole, natural form, it does not raise blood sugar levels and therefore does not cause the pancreas to release large quantities of insulin. It is also not converted into the kind of fat (triglycerides) that your body stores. Consumed fat is instead used for energy, cell membrane construction and hormone production.
How to lose weight
The number one thing you can do to lose weight is to reduce your sugar consumption. Let's take breakfast, for example. What did you eat this morning? Cereal? Toast? Pop Tarts? Tortillas? White flour and corn based products also get broken down by the body into sugar. It takes a little longer for the so-called healthier breakfast cereals, but they're still carbohydrates and they'll still end up being broken down into glucose.
Remember the skim milk and low fat yogurt we talked about earlier? There's no improvement there either. The presence of fat in dairy helps to impede the rate at which sugar is absorbed. All dairy contains a sugar called lactose. Many dairy products sold at the store also contain added sugars. When the fat is removed from milk, yogurt or cream cheese, there is no longer a barrier to moderate the rate of sugar absorption. This is why low fat products won't take weight off of you. They'll actually cause you to gain weight because they dramatically raise blood sugar levels. Your pancreas is recruited to release excess quantities of insulin to lower blood glucose and store it (as fat) for later use.
Changes to help you lose all those holiday pounds
Now that we understand who the real villain is, let's put our focus where it needs to be. The following recommendations will help you to eat healthier and attain your desired weight in the new year and beyond.
- Reduce your consumption of carbohydrates. A breakfast that contains cereal, toast with jelly and orange juice is loaded with sugar spiking carbohydrates. If you're pouring skim milk on that cereal, you're really making your pancreas work overtime!
- Avoid low or reduced fat products. Such foods may be higher in sugar to compensate for the loss of taste caused by making the product low fat. I tell people that God put fat in the food for a reason and our attempts to outthink Him haven't been productive. Low fat foods don't taste good and while added sugars improve taste, they do not improve health.
- Beware consuming too many dried fruits. There is some debate as to whether or not fruit impacts blood glucose levels. I can personally attest that I notice a difference in my own after I eat certain quantities of fruit (I use a glucometer). We typically consume more fruits when they are dehydrated and it's easy to keep taking handfuls of trail mix when they taste so good, but appear so small. Some dried fruit is good, just in moderation.
- Increase your fat content. Fats are satiating. If you consume enough fat at breakfast, you won't feel the need to grab that muffin or cookie at 10 AM. Some weeks ago, a missionary and his son stayed at my house. I fed them sourdough pancakes (low sugar) with grass fed butter, bacon and a glass of farm fresh milk. When the donuts got put out at church later that morning, the boy went up to the counter, looked at them and walked away. He was still full from breakfast some two and a half hours earlier!
- Consume good sources of fat including: eggs, butter, avocado, dairy and meat. Choose foods from animals that were grass fed or described as "pastured" on the label. The composition of these fats is vastly healthier than animals raised on feed lots that may have been fed skim milk themselves! If you're worried about saturated fat and cholesterol, see my previous article about that here. It is ok to add properly prepared oatmeal (such as Bob's Red Mill) to your breakfast menu if you're consuming enough fat along with it. Remember, fat slows down the absorption of carbohydrates. I'm not suggesting you eliminate all carbohydrates, just reduce their proportion of the average meal to around 30% with much of that coming from vegetables (they're carbohydrates too!).
- Master the art of sourdough. Sourdough is a symbiotic combination of yeast and lactic acid producing bacteria. It serves as a leaving agent for flour based products. When you ferment grains using sourdough, the beneficial probiotic bacteria consume the sugars present and release lactic acid and carbon dioxide. The lactic acid serves as a natural preservative while the carbon dioxide causes the dough to rise. Sourdough pancakes and English muffins accompanied by a generous portion of grass fed butter make minimal changes to blood sugar levels. They also taste good…really good. You won't miss your low fat yogurt at all. The sourdough from your local grocery store will not suffice, however. It may only consist of sourdough flavoring and not really have gone through the fermentation process. You can find tutorials on YouTube for how to make sourdough or click here to find more information on my website.
- Develop your culinary skills. Moving away from sugars towards healthier options will entail spending more time in the kitchen. You will, however, not only consume foods with less sugar, but also less additives and chemicals. It won't take long to notice the difference – not only in your waistline, but in your temperament, energy level and in your resistance to getting sick.
Are there any healthy sweeteners?
Let's be honest – sweets are just one of life's simple pleasures. It would difficult living without consuming any sweets at all. While all sweeteners do have an effect on blood sugar levels, there are some healthier options. It goes without saying here that white and brown sugars are to be avoided as are syrups that are corn based. Agave, while once considered a good option, actually raises blood sugar levels faster than High Fructose Corn Syrup. It must be avoided as well. There is some debate about stevia, but if its appearance resembles sugar then it's been refined and isn't your best option.
The sweeteners that I recommend are raw, organic honey and Grade B (not A) maple syrup. Both are considered unrefined, meaning they still exist in the condition in which they are found in nature. Honey has long been touted as an antibacterial and antiviral food. Maple Syrup retains a number of healthy minerals that are beneficial to the body. Maple syrup will affect blood sugar levels, so please use it in moderation. If you are looking to buy honey, please ensure you are buying raw, organic honey from a reputable source.
I hope you found this guide to be helpful as you look to make improvements in your diet. As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I help people transition to more nutrient dense whole foods. I also work with those suffering from various health complications that have arisen from years of poor dieting. Send us an email if you would like additional information or individualized counseling. Happy New Year!