In part 2, we’re going to look at foods you need to eat in order to effectively help you lose weight, burn fat while still maintaining lean muscle mass. Although calories do count (to a degree), what’s even more important when you’re dieting is the kind of foods you eat. Knowing what foods to eat and what foods to avoid is the difference between achieving your ultimate lean, toned physique and being frustrated at another failed attempted at dieting. So lets get started.
Carbohydrates (refined vs. whole):
If you’re used to eating refined carbohydrates, like cereal, bread, pasta, pastries, crackers, cookies, chips etc…you’re not going to like what I have to say. All those foods that I just mentioned should be avoided. At least until you reach your ideal body weight and composition. If you want to effectively transform your body, (in my opinion) there’s really no way of getting around it.
Eating refined carbohydrate foods increases your “insulin” hormone which triggers a slew of metabolic processes that essentially makes your body more favorable to gaining weight and storing fat. Something you want to avoid at all costs.
So replace refined carbohydrate foods like breads, pasta, cereal and so-called healthy snacks like whole grain crackers and chips with natural whole (complex) carbohydrate foods instead. These are your basic vegetables and fruits. Anything that grows naturally and doesn’t require any processing.
The great thing about vegetables…especially dark green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts…is that it’s packed with nutrients, it’s high in fiber and super low in calories so you can eat as much as you want, without having to worry about over eating.
Fruits are also great, although you’re best off choosing fruits highest in fiber and lowest in sugar. Berries top the list of recommended fruits. Other fruits like apples, melons, nectarines, peaches are also higher in fiber and are much better than fruits like bananas, figs and mangoes which are low in fiber and much higher in sugar
Unlike vegetables, fruits have a higher sugar content, so you do need to watch how much you eat even though fructose (which is the naturally occurring sugar in fruits) has a lower glycemic value than glucose. Another reason for moderating how much fruit you eat, is that fructose is harder to digest and it can give you stomach problems like excessive gas, bloating and even diarrhea. Too much fruits also stimulates ghrelin hormone, which increases your appetite…definitely not what you need when you’re dieting. Although, these are generally minor issues it’s (still) best to moderate your fruit consumption to maximize your fat burning and weight loss process, not to mention avoiding any unnecessary gut issues.
Starchy carbohydrates foods are fine but should also eaten in moderation. Starchy carbohydrate foods would include rice, potatoes (preferably peeled), sweet potatoes, yams and other tubers. You should keep in mind that they’re quite high in calories though, so if you’re trying to reduce your total caloric intake, you’ll probably need to keep these in the “once in a while” category.
Legumes fall into the gray zone…not great but not bad either. It has very high soluble fiber and has high mineral contents like potassium and magnesium…which is good. But it also contains oligosaccharides, which is a type of sugar that can’t be broken down in our small intestines. This causes the sugar to get passed down to the large intestines “intact”, where the resident gut bacteria breaks it down. The “not-so-flagrant” effect of this process is gas.
The pros are that the high soluble fiber content of legumes help minimize it’s effect on insulin and it promotes slower digestion so it keeps you full longer. The cons are that it’s high in carbohydrate calories, has high content of lectins (anti-nutrients which can cause gut inflammation - although proper preparation of legumes can reduce much of the negative effects of lectin) and can cause uncomfortable gas.
My recommendation is to place legumes in the “once in a while” category along with starches…at least until you’ve reached your ideal body composition.
Benefits of eating a low carb diet:
Lowering your carb intake has two main benefits. The first and most significant is that it lowers your insulin hormone level which helps mobilize stored fat. That’s one of the biggest keys to burning fat from your body, is to first mobilize them out of the stored areas and lowering insulin levels will do that.
Once the fat is in your blood stream you can utilize it for energy and burn it off. Which is where the importance of exercise comes in. I’ll discuss the importance of exercise and what kind of exercises you need to do (and why) to burn as much fat as possible in the final part of the 3 part series.
The second benefit is that it helps you decrease the total amount of calories you eat without feeling completely deprived of food. Whole (complex) carbohydrate foods have a higher fiber content and lower calorie content compared to refined carbohydrate foods like bread, pasta and cereal, which have a low fiber content and high calorie content. This means that by sticking to eating whole/complex carbohydrate foods instead of refined carbohydrates, you can eat more volume of food, while still keeping your carbohydrate calories low.
Consuming protein is essential in keeping your lean muscle mass, especially when you’re lowering your total daily calories by reducing your carbohydrates. Without adequate protein, you’ll end up losing too much muscle.
Protein has the same calories per gram (4 kcal/gram) as carbohydrates, however unlike carbohydrates, protein doesn’t affect insulin nearly as much. Eating protein does slightly increase insulin, but all in all, it’s effects are minor allowing you to keep a lower insulin level.
Protein also takes more energy to digest than any other foods, which means, when you eat protein you actually burn calories. It also takes more time to digest than other foods, which keeps you full and satisfied longer. This helps you manage your hunger levels and makes it much easier to stick to a lower calorie, low carb diet.
Fat has the highest amount of calories (9 kacl/gram), so you do need to be careful not to go too fat happy. However, eating fat, especially essential fatty acid (EFA: omega 3 fatty acids in particular) is essential to optimize health. It helps strengthen your immune system, helps your body recover quicker and helps improve cardiovascular health, along with a host of other important physiological processes.
Fat is is also completely inert when it comes to insulin. It’s the only food that doesn’t affect insulin, which is great since it helps keep your insulin level low while being able to increase your calorie intake as needed. This is especially important when you need to increase your calories either to stop your weight loss or you’re having a difficult time staying on the lower caloric diet because of lack of energy and/or hunger. This way you can still keep your carbohydrate calories low to avoid any excessive weight gain while still increasing your overall calories.
The best way to produce a total caloric deficit in your diet is by reducing your calories that come from carbohydrate foods. And the best way to achieve that is by shifting most of your carbohydrate foods from high calorie, nutrient poor refined carbohydrates to low calorie, high fiber and nutrient dense whole (complex) carbohydrate foods like vegetables and fruits with occasional starchy carbs and legumes.
How much protein, carbs and fat you need to eat will depend on your current weight, your goal weight and your lean body weight. First, you’ll need to set your goal weight and find out your lean body weight.
There are many ways to find your lean body weight, but probably the easiest and fairly accurate method is to get your body fat measured by a caliper. Caliper is an instrument used by many trainers and other health professionals to measure the fat content of your body. Although you have to get some one to do it for you, it’s generally more accurate than using an online calculator or an equation.
However, if you don’t have access to anyone that can measure your body fat, using the online calculator or the equation is your next best option.
Once you know what your goal weight is and what your lean body weight is, you can figure out your macronutrient (protein, carbs and fat) calories per day.
You should be consuming approximately 1 - 1.5 g of protein per lean body weight (in lb) depending on your activity level.
The amount of carbohydrate foods should be kept under 100 g per day if you want to burn fat and lose weight at an efficient rate. You can go as low as 50 g day for maximum weight loss and fat burning, but you won’t be able to sustain that level for too long and you’ll have to increase your carbohydrate consumption back to 100 g or higher to be able to feasibly maintain it for the long term.
The rest of your calories should come from fat. Fat is used to increase calories without having to increase your carb intake. It’s the most variable macronutrient. In general the amount of protein you consume should stay fairly consistent and your carbohydrate intake should stay low between 50 - 150 g (more if you’re an endurance athlete) if your goal is to get lean and stay lean. So if you’re looking to increase your calories, it’s best done by increasing your fat intake.
How many calories do you have to cut to effectively lose weight, burn fat and change your body…really depends on your goal and how quickly you want to achieve it. My recommendation is NOT to go “gung ho” and cut your calories down so far that it’s basically a crash diet.
When you lose weight too fast, you almost always lose lean muscle mass, so you won’t be able to achieve a lean, ripped physique and 9 out of 10 times you’ll end up gaining it all back and then some. Also, getting into a vicious, repetitive cycle of crash dieting is not only unhealthy, but every time you gain the weight back, it becomes even more difficult to take it off.
Slow and steady is the best approach, so start by cutting your calories by a small manageable amount. And more importantly cut majority of your calories from high calorie refined carbohydrates. When you stick to eating the right kinds of foods, you’ll be able to sustain this way of eating for the long term and enhance your body’s ability to burn fat, get a lean and toned while maintaining optimum health.
Next week I’ll finish off the 3 part series by discussing the importance of exercise and what kinds of exercise work best (especially when combined with low carb eating) to burn fat most effectively while maintaining your lean muscle mass.