What is a credible source regarding diets?
There is so much information about carbs, fats and proteins; the information can be contradictory and confusing. For instance, you can search for “diet plans” on Google and over 18,500,000 results will come back in less than a second. Just scanning the diet plans, you see there are high protein diets, high carb diets, no carb diets, no fat diets and list goes on and on and on. Where should we turn when there is so much information out there?
At LightenUp Fitness, we use ChooseMyPlate.gov and eatright.org as the basis for all of our information related to nutritional coaching for lifestyle change. These sources are evidence-based guidelines and recommendations for Americans. Key words are “evidence-based.”
When you go out and start exploring various diet programs for you to take part in, please make sure the diet is based on good research that has been peer-reviewed. Good research is not something that has been validated by a doctor on TV or by celebrities. Typically, you are looking for something that has been validated in an academic setting. Researchers have no problem calling “BS” on one another, so when you introduce the concept of peer-reviewed, further validity is added to the study.
These guidelines give Americans a structure for our diets. Keep in mind, diets mean the foods we eat, not how much we can starve ourselves. Popular culture has turned the word “diet” into a four-letter word. For the sake of this article, we will use diet, not as the four-letter word, but as the food we consume on a daily basis.
High Protein Diets:
According to the UDSA, ten percent to 35% of our daily caloric intake should come from protein. It is amazing to think that we only need 10% of proteins in our diet to meet the guidelines considering all of the marketing that exists out there regarding high protein diets.
However, when you start thinking about human evolution. Protein sources in the form of meat were a reward for burning our protein sources in the form of our muscles. In other words, our early ancestors to our ancestors from not so far back, say 200 years ago, had to go out and capture, transport and process the protein sources by hand so they could eat. Think about how many calories were burnt and how many muscles were used to do such work.
Now fast forward to present day, you can now see why protein sources has the lowest minimum thresholds out of all of our macronutrients. We do not break down much of our muscles as we push the grocery cart down the aisle and pick up that pound of meat! Or when we sit at our job then drive home in the comfort of our car!
Stay away from diets suggestion you seek most of your caloric intake from proteins (calories from proteins greater than 35%). These diets have been linked to excessive buildup of amino acids and ammonia in the bloodstream, nausea, diarrhea and in extreme cases “rabbit starvation.” (Bilsborough and Mann, 2006)
The Good, the Bad, The Ugly…Otherwise known as Carbs!
According to the USDA, most of our calories should come from carbs, specifically 45% to 65%. Hold on! Don’t go running down to your local all-you-can-eat pasta buffet! There is such a thing as good carbs when discussing weight loss and bad carbs. NOTE: I am not aware of any ugly carbs, but gave the title to this section a bit more color.
Good carbs have a lower sugar to fiber ratio. Bad carbs have a higher sugar to fiber ratio. For example, think of soda. Soda would be considered a bad carb because it is entirely made up of sugar with no fiber found anywhere near it. This concoction is off the map as you consider the sugar to fiber ratio!!! Conversely, good carbs, for instance asparagus, has a very low sugar to fiber ratio. It is actually less than one, with sugar only equating to 2g per serving and fiber equating to 3g per serving. This is some good stuff.
Like protein consumptions, when we bring human evolution into the mix we start to see why our bodies are use to the good carbs and confused by the bad carbs. Think about it, when our society was mainly nomadic; we roamed the lands eating things that were available. In the winter, when activity would be less we relied on more vegetables and grain products that could last longer which allowed slower digestion because of the fiber but gave us some energy in the form of sugars. In the summer, we were exposed to fruits that allowed us to have access to sugars that gave us more energy to stock up on the relatively bleak winters. This process was replicated over and over for tens of thousands of years.
Based on this programming, it is only natural and reasonable that when we are exposed to sugars, we go crazy as we want to stock up on it because we don’t know when that winter is coming again, metaphorically speaking… Now, fast-forward to today’s shopping experience. Not only do you get to choose between sugar and fiber but food manufacturers have made the availability of sugar much more accessible than any other time in history. No wonder we are having an obesity crisis. Our food manufacturing capabilities have severely outpaced our evolutionary abilities to adapt.
The moral to the story is to eat your vegetables. I know, it is what your grandmother may have told you, but she was right. At the end of the day, this will yield the greatest success as it relates to weight loss and control. As MyPlate’s website so effectively illustrates. Picture half your plate consumed with vegetables and some fruits, ideally at every meal.
Fats: The macronutrient no one wants, but we must have!
Too bad that fat has received such a bad name. It is a necessary macronutrient. Believe it or not, the USDA puts the minimum amount of fat at 20% whereas our minimum amount of protein is only 10%. It seems low fat diets are not the way to lose weight. Here are a few reasons why:
- Low fat diets may bring on mental fatigue much sooner. Loss of concentration and focus are symptoms when one is not getting enough fat in their diet.
- Low fat diets increase produce hunger pains. Think of fat being like a control rod for your appetite.
Now consider this, if you have low concentration levels and you feel hungry all the time, what do you think that adds up to? You’re right, your weight! You are not thinking straight while you are hungry all the time. This is the worse combination when you are trying to make healthier choices in your life.
Let’s look at the evolutionary elements of fat intake. Now this was a luxury back in the nomadic times. Primary sources were meats and nuts. Once again, they would hold us over between times of food scarcity. When you found a source of fat, your body was programmed to consume as much as possible so you could build up energy reserves and remain satiated during times of shortages of food.
Now fast forward to present day, there is a very good reason why we love creams, butters and other fatty foods. We are designed to enjoy it. The problem is obvious; due to advances in food production we can now enjoy fats with relative ease and boy do we!
So, natural fats are not the enemy. It is the quantity in which we eat the fats which is the enemy. So, the next time you think of consuming a non-fat, think about eating the low fat version of it, but just not so much.
- Focus on eating more vegetables. Just assume in most cases you are never getting enough. You shouldn’t care if it is organic, frozen, canned or fresh. As a country we are not getting enough. Figure out ways you can eat them (i.e. omelet, sautéed, grilled, etc) and go to town!
- Avoid processed foods (that includes supplements and meal replacement shakes)! If you can’t read the label, then you shouldn’t eat the food. Eat home cooked meals made from scratch. Apart from the social element of preparing and sharing a meal, you actually see how much of the ingredients you are adding, like sugar.
- Eat out less. Take ownership of what you put in your mouth. It is hard to do this when your local restaurant is incented to make you come back. Of course they are going to load it up with sugar, fat and salt. These are the items our body craves due to our evolutionary programming. Once again, make your own food so you can see what and how much ingredients you are putting into your foods.
In good health and fitness!