By Dr. Mercola July 29 2011
To be thin, you need to make smart food choices, watch your portion sizes and stay active.
One of the most pervasive MYTHS about weight loss is that you can lose weight by just restricting your calories and increasing your exercise. If you believe this and are seeking to lose weight, let me warn you that you will be in for a load of heartache as this is a myth that is not based in reality.
Proper Nutrition Promotes Weight Loss
Rather than listing individual foods that can help you maintain a healthy weight, I’m going to give you some pointers on healthy choices within the three primary groups of nutrients that all people need:
Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats
I believe that once you understand that you need all three, and know which foods within each group to focus on, “dieting” will be a thing of the past for you. Your body is designed to maintain a healthy equilibrium, both in terms of optimal health and weight, and it will do its best to stay that way provided you give it the proper tools—the proteins, healthy fats, good carbs and micronutrients—that it needs to thrive.
If you feel hungry, irritable, sleepy or sluggish after a meal, it’s a sign that your meal did not contain the appropriate ratios of carbs, fats and proteins for you, so it’s important to listen to your body.
When it comes to weight loss, I believe there are two primary dietary recommendations that directly conflict with most people’s dietary choices but could make a very big difference for them:
Severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and increasing healthy fat consumption
To Lose Weight You MUST Limit Fructose to Less than 15 Grams per Day
It is important to understand that the foods you eat are three times more important for controlling your weight than your exercise. It’s very easy to sabotage yourself with sugary foods and beverages; especially beverages containing high fructose corn syrup, which many sports- and energy drinks are chock full of.
Consuming fructose and other sugars just before or during exercise will cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to spike and crash, most likely resulting not in increased hydration, but in reduced athletic performance. Not only that, but consuming fructose after your workout will completely shut down your body’s production of HGH! This includes items that are typically viewed as healthy, such as fruit juice or even large amounts of high fructose fruits.
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, fructose is “isocaloric but not isometabolic.” This means you can have the identical amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different. Different nutrients provoke different hormonal responses, and those hormonal responses play an important role in determining what happens to those calories, including how much ends up being stored as fat. This is why calorie-counting doesn’t work for weight loss.
One of the most thorough scientific analyses published to date on the topic of fructose and weight gain found that fructose consumption leads to decreased signaling to the central nervous system from two hormones, leptin and insulin, both of which play key roles in hunger and satiety, as well as weight control.
Leptin is responsible for controlling your appetite and fat storage, as well as telling your liver what to do with its stored glucose. When your body can no longer “hear” leptin’s signals, weight gain, diabetes and a host of related conditions may occur. Insulin is also a potent regulator of fat accumulation. The analysis concluded that:
“The long-term consumption of diets high in … fructose is likely to lead to increased energy intake, weight gain, and obesity.”
So please understand that the number one step of any weight loss and weight maintenance plan is to severely restrict or eliminate fructose from your diet. My recommendation is to keep your total fructose intake below 25 grams of fructose per day, if you’re in good health. Most people will also benefit from limiting your fructose from fruit to 15 grams a day, and, if you need to lose weight, you likely will need to limit your total fructose consumption to 15 grams a day total, including that from fruit.
Which Carbs Promote Health and Optimal Weight?
It’s also important to understand that while carbohydrates include sugars, grains, fruits and vegetables, not all of these help promote optimal health and weight. All sugars and grains (including organic ones) promote insulin resistance, which sets you firmly on the path toward ill health.
One of the best ways to improve your health and weight is to make sure your carbs are primarily in the form of fresh, minimally processed high quality vegetables, ideally locally-grown and organic, with a majority of them consumed raw. One simple way to boost your vegetable intake is to juice them. I am firmly convinced that juicing is one of the key factors to giving you a radiant, energetic life, and truly optimal health. And for every vegetable you pack onto your plate, you’ll have less room for all those other simple carbohydrates that can expand your waistline.
However, whether you opt to eat them raw or juice them, some vegetables contain more health-promoting nutrients than others. And some, such as carrots and red beets, also have higher sugar content than others, which you’ll want to avoid if you’re currently overweight, are insulin resistant or diabetic, or have any chronic disease.
When selecting fruits, stick to those that are low in fructose, such as apricots, cantaloupe, lemons, limes, passion fruit, plums and raspberries.
Can Fats Help You Manage Your Weight?
Yes, they can. Saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources (such as grass-fed red meat, raw dairy, and tropical plants oils) are, contrary to what you’ve been told for the past several decades, vitally important for optimal health, and they provide a concentrated source of energy, which you’ll need once you cut down on energy-dense sugars and grains.
Trans fats (think margarine and vegetable oils) are the fats you want to avoid as much as possible. These are the types of fats that will clog your arteries and promote heart disease.
Saturated fats, on the other hand, provide the building blocks for your cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances that are essential to your health. They’re also carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and required for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes.
Fats also slow down absorption of your meal so that you feel satiated longer, which in and of itself can help you shed some pounds if your problem is frequent snacking due to constant hunger.
I recommend using coconut oil for cooking, frying and baking, and saving the olive oil for salad dressing only, as it is easily damaged by heat. Also, if you need to increase calories you will need large amounts of these types of fats. When I’m in need of fat, I may have a quarter pound of butter in one day. I typically combine four tablespoons of butter with two tablespoons of coconut oil, a scoop of Pure Protein Power for protein and flavour, then chia or psyllium powder to thicken the mixture. It is an absolutely delicious snack that provides plenty of healthy fats and high quality calories.
It’s important to balance your omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratios, and typically this requires you to increase your omega-3 intake by taking a high quality animal-based omega-3 supplement, while simultaneously avoiding vegetable oils (trans fats), which are the primary source of damaged omega-6 fats.
Protein Helps Cut Hunger
The issue of satiety is a big one, especially when trying to manage your weight, and food manufacturers know this. According to an article in The Food Navigator, published last year, the US diet food market—which is typically focused on increasing satiety without the calories—is valued at $3.64 billion annually! Unfortunately, most “diet foods” are among the worst foods there are. Nearly all of them are processed and pre-packaged, and many contain high amounts of fructose, not to mention a slew of chemical additives.
This goes back to what I said earlier: you cannot judge the “diet-worthiness” of a food based on calories alone. You have to look at the source of those calories, and regardless of how many calories the fructose amounts to, remember that the vast majority of that fructose will turn directly into fat!
As I mentioned earlier, healthy fats can help you feel fuller longer, but protein beats both fats and carbs when it comes to satiety. Eggs (especially the yolks) and whey protein are excellent breakfast options for this reason. I typically also have a whole avocado for breakfast along with some red onions on my vegetable pulp from juicing, and four organic pastured raw egg yolks.
If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably carrying a few extra pounds. I’m here to tell you that not only is it possible to take off the extra weight with a little thoughtful planning, it is also possible to keep the weight off by following a few sensible dietary guidelines. For more comprehensive details, please see my nutritional plan, which is divided into beginner, intermediary and advanced, so that you can slowly work your way toward a healthier lifestyle without too much fuss.