Healthy weight loss
There are many diets published in book form, and many of them creating fat cats rather than thinner people! I promised you a healthy diet, not in book form but in a column, hopefully saving you time as well as money.
It is strange, that despite all the fantastic diets and our increased awareness of health, obesity continues to be a growing problem. We are obviously doing something wrong. Many diets are more or less usable, like the calorie restrictive diets or diets limiting carbohydrates (such as the Atkins diet). You also have the “caveman diet” which seems plausible with the eradication of modern, processed food.
Healthy and simple
A good weight loss diet must meet several conditions: first of all it must be healthy. In addition, it has to be tasty and satisfying so that the dietary changes become permanent and a way of life, in order to prevent the yo-yo effect. Spectacular weight loss is one thing, keeping it off often proves much more difficult. The diet should be simple; you should not have to think all day or having to read labels every time you are in the supermarket. The diet should not be too drastic, as too much of a restriction will cause the body to go in to “starvation mode” where your metabolism will slow down so that the body burns less calories. All diets seem to fail based on the combination of these factors. Before we discuss healthy weight loss, we will look at a healthy diet in general, a diet that prevents or reduces diabetes, cardiovascular disease and probably also cancer.
What is a healthy diet?
One of the rules in medical science is that the findings that are based on a single study cannot be conclusive. Other research groups should confirm possible findings. Nevertheless, it happens all too often that poorly designed or misinterpreted studies are “hyped” and wrongly influence our perceptions of a “healthy diet”, and this can often be over many years. If you are seriously interested in health and nutrition, then you become almost crazy by all the contradictory findings and opinions today. One day you can read that coffee is beneficial to your health whilst tomorrow the opposite will be true. One year you will only hear about anti-oxidants, and the following years they become less and less important in nutritional recommendations. Some say that you should severely restrict the intake of carbs, whilst others argue that fats are to be avoided. And how many glasses of wine will fit in a healthy diet?
There are strong lobbies, such as the meat industry and the dairy industry. For decades we were told to have meat every day and to drink at least three glasses of milk every day. It has long been known that we do not need meat every day, in fact, it is now even considered unhealthy. Of milk it was said that bones would remain strong (seems logical, I have advocated it for years myself), and now it appears this is not the case. What we now know is that the fats in dairy products and meat contain bad cholesterols and are thus harmful for the heart and blood vessels. However, it is strange that with this knowledge, the current advice has not yet been modified in many countries. And why are eggs good? Eggs contain relatively high cholesterol and it is true that compared with other foods they are small cholesterol bombs, so what is that about? By far, the majority of cholesterol in our body is formed from the bad fats that we receive daily (dairy, meat). That little extra cholesterol in an egg is unimportant, if you look at the bigger picture. If this had been known in the past, many families on a tight budget would have been helped, knowing they could buy eggs rather than the promoted, more expensive daily piece of meat …
And the 3 glasses of milk per day? From 2005, many studies have shown that extra milk or calcium intake do not have any positive effect on our bones. Nutritional scientists worldwide have expressed their concern about dairy consumption and its adverse effects on human health (cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, middle ear infections in children, etc.) as well as the detrimental effect on the environment. Incidentally, not all dairy can be accused of having negative health effects. Skimmed yogurt contains (almost) no fat and, like all fermented products (such as; sauerkraut, beer, wine, almond milk, soy sauce, olives) it is rich in vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 plays an important role in the distribution of calcium in the body. A large study in Rotterdam showed that people with relatively high blood levels of vitamin K2 had significantly stronger bones and less arteriosclerosis (thickening of the arteries) compared to people with low blood levels of vitamin K2 . The findings concerning vitamin K2 are relatively recent, with most studies published in 2015 and 2016. It looks very possible that the whole fat and cholesterol discussion will change dramatically in the coming years. It is even possible that as new data is published, it will have to be admitted that the medicalization of high blood cholesterol levels was a serious mistake, influenced and applauded by big pharmaceutical companies.
There are clear indications that cholesterol lowering medication (statins) indeed lowers blood cholesterol but not cardiovascular events, which is of course the exclusive aim of treatment. I will keep you updated on this subject.Everyone agrees that obesity and consequently increasing incidence of diabetes, (even at a young age!) next to smoking, is the greatest threat to public health. An active discouragement is conducted with respect to smoking; advertising is prohibited and cigarettes with less tar and nicotine should no longer wear the name “light”. Unhealthy is indeed unhealthy. Alcohol for young people is severely restricted. In some countries petrol stations and supermarkets are not allowed to display sweets and chocolate bars in a too attractive way, where it can lead us into temptation.
Hamburger chains are, on the other hand, allowed to promote their unhealthy food with names such as “happy meal” and target their promotional campaigns specifically to families and children. White bread, hamburger and French fries…you can hardly find something unhealthier or more fattening.…. If we want to make healthy choices, we are likely to find and be influenced by information that has been poorly substantiated and/or less independent than it should be. The diet that follows is not sponsored by the meat or dairy industry, nor by the fast food chains. This diet is a composition of evidence based knowledge that has in fact in part, been known for a long time, substantiated information that you might have already read elsewhere. I did not invent it, I just try to present information as transparently as possible. From this information, I will suggest a healthy diet and then create a healthy weight loss diet. It worked for many of my patients and for myself!
A healthy diet.
The daily food serves to operate and maintain our bodies. It consists of three main components, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It is important that we take these in a form which is as healthy as possible.
Proteins are broken down into amino acids in the body from which new proteins are built up that have a variety of functions, such as muscle tissue, antibodies and enzymes. There are amino acids, the so-called essential amino acids, which the human body can not produce by itself. Meat, fish, dairy and eggs are important sources of these essential amino acids.
Vegetarians must be careful that they eat sufficient amounts of essential amino acids. This can be easily accomplished by eating more legumes, soy and nuts. Excess protein intake can cause kidney damage and in fact, generally, our protein intake is much higher than needed. To meet our protein needs, a total of three (!) portions (meat, fish or eggs) per week is more than enough in addition to what we consume through vegetables. Alternatives to dairy milk (e.g soy/ almond milk) are vegetable based and therefore also rich in proteins but instead of the bad fats in dairy, contain many healthy fats.
For a healthy diet: 3 servings / week of animal protein (meat, fish, eggs). Our protein consumption includes an important part of the fat intake. We should focus on good fats, so rather eat oily fish than meat or poultry. Under normal circumstances, dairy is completely unnecessary and unnatural after infancy. Soy or almond milk provides an excellent alternative. However, neither dairy milk nor vegetable milk is necessary when there is sufficient protein intake from other sources.
For a weight loss diet: There are many variations of soymilk, including one with few calories (fewer than in skimmed milk). Use only lean meat (roast beef, steak, poultry), but better still; fish.
Fats serve mainly as fuel and energy storage. In addition, fats play an important role in cell formation, hormone production and the absorption of certain vitamins in the gut. Roughly speaking, there are good and bad fats. Good fats (vegetable oils, fish oils) are liquid at body temperature and therefore when in the blood they will not stick to the vessel walls, which causes fatty plaques (atherosclerosis). These plaques are the cause of the thickening, hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels resulting in limiting blood supply to the organs involved.
Bad fats harden at 37 degrees Celsius (body temperature). Just look at fat in meat, or a pack of butter at 37 degrees. And then have a look at oil; liquid!
The best fats (somewhat “hyped” nowadays, but apparently rightly so), are the omega-3 fatty acids (found mainly in oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, nuts and also in avocados and soy milk). Fish contains relatively high amounts of harmful PCB’s and heavy metals, found as a result of pollution of the oceans. However, the quantities measured are yet too small as to demonstrate any effects on our health. In Japan, fish eating nation number one, pregnant women eat plenty of oily fish and so far, no adverse effects on the newborn have been found. Overall, the positive health benefits of the high fish consumption in Japan become evident when you look at their general health profile.
For a healthy diet: Fats are calorie-rich but vital. Put the emphasis on healthy fats, such as in oils: (oily fish, nuts and avocados). Neither meat nor milk are necessary ingredients in our diets. Healthy alternatives are widely available and easily accessible. Don´t want to give up meat altogether? Then go to a proper butcher and buy a big, lean and expensive piece steak once a week rather than the daily consumption of cheaper, processed meats from the supermarket.
For a weight loss diet: Oily fish; but no more than 3 times a week. White fish is lean. Walnuts and avocados are high in calories, so do not overdo it. All meat and dairy (except low fat) contains a lot of unhealthy fats. The exception to this is low fat yogurt, which is a healthy ingredient in a weight loss diet for several (the most important probably being vitamin K2).
Carbohydrates are sugars. They exist in different forms such as glucose for example, and serve in particular as an energy source. The fattening pasta, rice, potatoes and bread contain a lot of starch. These are long chains of glucose, which are broken down in the intestine to all individual glucose molecules, therefore, pure sugar. Why does a cyclist (besides his doping!) take a huge plate of pasta before a mountain race? Because it provides energy from the sugars.
Patients with diabetes sometimes say with surprise: “but I never eat sweets”. A serving of pasta, rice, potatoes or a couple of sandwiches means just like a pastry, a generous portion of sugar in the intestine and then into the blood. If you eat a lot of pasta and you are not planning to cycle a mountain race that day, then the energy from the glucose that you are not going to use will be stored as fat, useful for hard-up times … but not otherwise.If we’re eating starches, it is important to make sure it is as rich in fiber as possible (whole grain). Fibers slow down the release of the sugars through which the insulin peaks needed to process the sugars will be lower and you will be less prone to develop insulin insensitivity (a major cause of diabetes).
For a healthy diet: carbohydrates are sugars. The important thing is in what form we consume them. Avoid sugars in sweets and soft drinks. Pasta, rice, potatoes, couscous and bread contribute relatively little to a healthy diet but contain a lot of sugars. Whole grain products are better than refined ones (such as white bread, white rice etc). Fruits and vegetables also contain a lot of carbohydrates (fructose) but these are much less fattening and fruits contain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, proteins, and fibers.
For a weight loss diet: sweets and starches (including “whole grain”) should be avoided. For example: if you eat pasta with tomato/vegetable sauce: take a lot of sauce (which contains all the vitamins and minerals) and very little or no pasta. Moderate alcohol consumption is part of a healthy diet, especially at an older age. People who drink moderately (1-2 glasses of alcoholic beverage per day), live longer than people who drink no alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol contains lots of calories and also has adverse effects on the metabolism which causes fat to be broken down more slowly. Alcohol also stimulates the appetite. Unfortunately alcohol does not fit in to a weight loss diet.
“Light” products, it sounded so wonderful, soft drinks with 0 calories per glass. I myself have swallowed thousands of liters of light beverages in the last 25 years. Because 0 is 0, right? Yes, 0 is 0, but it appears that by drinking “light”, the weight and in particular, the abdominal girth, increases even more than with drinking ordinary sugar containing soft drinks. Amazingly, it seems that the artificial zero-calorie sweeteners have an adverse effect on the gut bacteria and so on our metabolism. So, unfortunately, “light” soft drinks are just as bad for your figure as the normal soft drinks.
Healthy and simple.
You can turn a weight loss diet into something very complicated, but it is just really about energy-balance. So, if you consume less energy (calories) than you use (for basal body functions and exercise) you will loose weight. Guaranteed!!Unfortunately, you will have to do a lot of exercise in order to lose weight or even counteract extra calorie-intake. So in order to lose weight and get more healthy we have to adjust our dietary intake. Roughly speaking, it means that we have to choose healthy foods and should avoid unhealthy. Being healthy means (fresh) vegetables, salads, fruits, fish, nuts. Unhealthy foods are sweets and refined starches, meat and dairy products (except low fat yoghurt). If you stick to this and drastically limit starches (pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, couscous etc) you will still get plenty of everything you need, but with less calories. After a week your system will become used to the change in diet and you won’t feel hungry anymore because vegetables (also as soups) and fruits provide (thanks to their fibers) a good and lasting sense of fullnes.
If we adhere to a long-term weight loss diet, our bodies will lower the thermostat and burn fewer calories. A deprived human body does not like using the precious fat that it has always needed to survive harsh winters during hundreds of thousands of years. To avoid this low-power mode, it is important to drink plenty of water and instead of three meals a day, take frequent small portions. In addition you should move as much as possible, (45 minutes walking a day is very healthy). Black coffee, green tea and hot peppers accelerate metabolism slightly. Some people, to fool the thermostat and also for psychological reasons, allow themselves ONE day in the week when they can eat chocolate or anything else that should normally be avoided with the diet.
And there are more a psychological aspects to a weight loss diet. Do not go shopping on an empty stomach, you will make the wrong choices in the supermarket! And what you buy is what you are going to prepare and eat at home. So, most mistakes are made in the supermarket. And, don´t forget, behind the presentation of all these foods, there is a lot of psychology involved too! The psychology of temptation. Of marketing. Whatever you are going to buy, you will always pass by unhealthy stuff. The route through the supermarket is simply programmed and planned that way. And then, at the end, when you have resisted all temptations, close to the check-out you find the most unhealthy and tempting of them all. You are waiting in the line and the chocolate is looking at you, calling you, even shouting at you. Two times you resist but the third time…So, if you go to the supermarket go well-armed and well prepared! Go on a full stomach and with the knowledge that the people who just want to make more money off you, spend thousands on psychology and marketing to make sure you are tempted to the max and will end up buying stuff you should not necessarily buy. And on top of that, is unhealthy too. Be prepared and heavily armed when you go in the supermarket and choose to leave there proud, with a bag full of healthy stuff as well as a healthy serving of self esteem!
Another psychological aspect of losing weight is the scales. If you follow this diet you will lose more weight the more carbohydrates (starch) you avoid. If you limit your starch intake to the maximum you might loose 2–3 kilograms in the first week (1 stone = 6.35 kg), which equals a third to a half stone (no need to explain about the kilo’s since you are going to Brexit anyway…;-). Part of this initial weight loss however, is due to water loss. After the first week you start burning fat, this type of weight loss will go at a slower pace. Do not step on to the scales too frequently because the water content of your body can fluctuate by the day, which will make a big difference in bodyweight. After a week of severe dieting your weight may even have increased a little bit. Do not get disappointed, this happens sometimes because of the water balance, you will still have been burning fat during that week. When this weight loss diet is followed closely, people (young and old) usually lose around 4 stones in a half year. And they will feel and be healthier. In general, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels will become significantly lower. This is good news as it usually means that we can start reducing medication in these patients.
Quality of life.
Why do we want to lose weight? To enjoy longer and especially, healthier lives. People who lose weight often have a more positive self-image. Clothing fits and looks better, you move more easily and feel fitter. You have an overall better quality of life. This also means that you could allow yourself that piece of cake at a birthday party (not every week …!) or a Friday night over a good meal and a few glasses. Or maybe, that steak or a piece of cheese. Without quality of life, we become grumpy and that is unhealthy too! So, the next day you can confidently continue with your healthy routine and weight loss diet.
Good luck and happy, healthy eating!
- Photo 1: Wikipedia
- Photos 2, 4, 5, and 7 were generously provided by JennyAxelson.wixsite.com (Facebook: Jenny-Axelson-Photography).