In “Making sense of different diets” I reviewed the pros and cons of 12 diet plans, from the Atkins to the Zone. Gleaning the best from each I’ll layout what I consider to be a healthy dietary guideline, whether you are trying to lose weight, maximize athletic performance, or simply stay healthy
Super-size meals equal super-size waistlines. Taking in way more calories than necessary leads to weight gain, and weight loss will not happen unless we limit our intake to a reasonable amount. Many of us were taught to “clean our plate” and finish what we are served so as to not be wasteful. Consider serving sizes!
A proven technique to limit serving sizes is to serve food on a smaller plate – same foods but smaller serving sizes. Also, remember that it takes about twenty minutes for the brain to “catch-up” to the stomach. This means we often eat and eat until our brain is satiated, at which point our stomach is stuffed. Eat half a sandwich or half the entrée, wait a bit, and see if you are still hungry. Have a cup of tea or coffee after a meal, and wait a bit to see if you are still hungry for that calorie-packed dessert
Humans are not equipped to “wolf down” large amounts of food every few days or even once per day. We are designed to be grazers, eating frequent small meals. Having three meals per day with snacks in between fits well with our physiology.
While some studies suggest that skipping breakfast does not interfere with weight loss I have to disagree with the notion that skipping breakfast is ok, particularly for those who are overweight and already have impaired hunger hormone signals. When we awaken from a full night of sleep, the body is ready to “break the fast” and replenish energy supplies. If we skip breakfast, then the body has to breakdown stored energy supplies into glucose for fuel.
Skipping breakfast is sort of an emergency to the body, calling on the stress hormone cortisol to signal glucose production, and it can lead to wide swings in blood sugar and insulin. This will often leave people feeling weak, shaky, tired, or anxious feeling. Excess cortisol also causes fat to accumulate around the midsection.
One CAVEAT however is “intermittent fasting” which does have positive metabolic benefits. I recommend at least 12 hour fast overnight, that is eating dinner by 8pm and breakfast around 8am. Some people do well skipping breakfast, but make sure your individual physiology is in tune with this. If you don’t have symptoms noted above and you feel good then skipping breakfast may be ok.
Our ancestors got their carbohydrates from raw, organic fruits and vegetables. We are designed to get six, eight or even ten servings per day. Are you there yet? 90% of Americans don’t get five per day, and this is where we are supposed to get many vitamins and nutrients that are vital for proper metabolism and hormone function.
Sugar and starch are also carbohydrates. In the year 1900 the average American ate about 3 pounds of refined sugar per year. Flash forward to a 1994 study that showed we were up to between 50 and 150 pounds per year. We are not designed for so much sugar
Starch is a very simple carbohydrate that is digested and broken down so quickly that it may as well be sugar. Grains, potatoes, pasta and rice are classic examples. I’m not saying don’t eat these, just eat so much, and when you do, try for whole-grain products that take longer to break down and have more nutrients. Wheat breaks down to glucose so fast it will actually spike blood sugar quicker than the same amount of table sugar.
Why should fruits and veggies be raw? Enzymes for digestion and the nutrients for good health are found in raw foods. Canned foods lose about 50% of the nutrients, while freezing causes a 20-30% loss. Raw foods also maintain higher levels of healthy fiber.
Why organic? Aside from avoiding all the crazy chemicals (a whole other matter) our foods get nutrients from soil, and soils that rely on synthetic fertilizers are mineral depleted. Organic farming practices encourage nutrient rich soil, which means nutrient rich food. Plus, organic produce usually tastes better.
Proteins and fats typically come together in food. We are designed for lean protein that is either lower in total fat or higher in the healthy omega-3 fats, such as wild game and fish. This does not jive with the American sources including grain-fattened red meat, dairy and processed foods such as chips and pastries. Again, I’m not suggesting one has to altogether avoid red meat or dairy, but to recognize there are other protein rich foods and we are getting proportionately way too much saturated fat from our typical protein sources.
For healthy protein, try grass-finished beef, venison, free-range chickens and eggs, wild salmon and tuna, European or Greek style yogurts, fermented soy products such as Tempeh, protein rich grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes including peas and beans.
Fats are perhaps the most misunderstood dietary element. Since the American Heart Association (AHA) began its ideological low-fat campaign back in the 1980s we have seen obesity rates skyrocket. It seems trading fat for sugar and starch isn’t working out so well. The AHA missed the point in that we need “good” fats, for fuel but also for the essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, which have important roles in metabolism and inflammation.
Consume healthy oils from fruit (olive), nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts), or seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin). Cook with heat stable oils such as coconut oil or butter. Use the more fragile, lighter oils, such as olive, canola or safflower, in salads or dips. Stay away from unhealthy adulterated fats including “trans-fats” and “hydrogenated oils” which are found mostly in processed and packaged foods, and margarines.
My Dietary Plan
Have a salad entrée for lunch or dinner including lots of greens with brightly colored red, yellow, orange or purple veggies or fruits. Have a healthy protein with every meal. Snack on nuts, fruits or veggies. Enjoy sparkling water or tea with lunch and wine with dinner. Avoid sugar in all its forms, minimize high-glycemic carbohydrates and use salt sparingly. Serve meals on small plates with roughly 1 part protein, 2 parts fruit or veggies, and 1 part starch such as bread, pasta or rice.
Take time to sit and enjoy meals – don’t eat on the run or when you are distracted. Set down the utensils, chew slowly, and savor your food. Try to make mealtime an important time to visit with co-workers, family or friends.
If you don’t cook, learn to cook. Make a mess, make mistakes, but learn to cook. It will open up a world of healthy foods. If you have to rely on prepared foods, go for healthy versions such as NutriSystems.
If you need to lose weight be certain that hormones such as thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone are optimized. Get control of high cortisol. Get tested for delayed food allergies particularly to gluten and dairy that can cause weight gain.
That’s it for the “Paleo-Mediterranean-Colorado Diet” – hey, maybe the world needs another diet book!
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.