By Lia Fabbricante
Are you counting calories again? Are you trying to lose weight with a low-calorie diet?
Did you know that what you’re eating is just as important as reducing calories in order to achieve your weight loss goals?
The other vital issue to keep in mind with any weight-loss program is the issue of health. Calorie content is just as important, if not more important than calorie counting. You cannot separate the two and expect to maintain beneficial support for the body. To develop the best diet for health, fitness and longevity, it’s vital to monitor not only how much you eat but also what you eat.
You might think that by consuming fewer calories you will lose weight and everything will be dandy. Not so fast – what you eat does matter. Let’s take an extreme example. A person eating 1,500 calories per day of just white bread will be unhealthier than someone who eats 2,000 calories daily of a mostly whole-food diet. Eating the wrong thing, or even too much of an OK food, can make you sick or worse. Quality matters as much as quantity.
Food is not just a tool to lose weight; it supports your daily activities. For that to occur, you need a variety of nutrients. Ideally, you can strike a balance where you are not eating too much so that you gain weight, but getting enough food that you benefit your body. The fewer calories you take in, the more important it is to get the very best macro and micronutrients – vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fats. A minimal-calorie diet means that you need a maximum focus on healthy nutrients, and it’s one of the reasons that many people fail catastrophically.
Food is fuel for the body and a high-performance body demands high-performance fuel. Yes, you can lose weight on a low-calorie diet of garbage, but if you want to perform at a maximum level, build muscle, look great and be healthy, then you want high-performance food. The “calorie only focus” ignores this key point.
Top-rate performance is built on the very best food because the body derives its energy and growth from the food it obtains. Poor quality food can impair your training. Of course, nutrient-rich food is important for everyone, but it’s twice as crucial for the athlete. There is a huge difference between a spinach/egg omelet and a few candy bars, despite both dishes having similar calorie counts. The candy bar is loaded with sugar and unhealthy fat. The egg has the highest quality protein, and the spinach is full of vitamins and minerals. It would be a mistake to base your diet solely on calorie count.
The calorie only focus approach can exacerbate the lack of fiber, a typical problem. The average person gets less than half the recommended amount of fiber. Super low fiber intake is epidemic in North America, and the result adds to the obesity problem. Minimal fiber intake is one of the issues that some nutritionists have targeted for improvement in the American diet. However, if someone relies on the calorie only approach to dietary intake, the fiber issue gets marginalized. There is a big difference between the two slices of the same-calorie bread, when one is white flour – based (no fiber) and one is whole grain bread based (5-6 grams of fiber). Another example is a small glass of apple juice (zero fiber) versus a large whole apple (5 grams of fiber), yet both have 100 calories.
Eat good quality protein and fat with each meal. Focus on protein at breakfast and don’t just have cereal, toast, juice and coffee. This registers as sugar to the body. Sugar increases insulin and puts you below a healthy level and works to store fat. Examples of quality protein would be grass-fed beef, organic chicken, quinoa, organic eggs, almonds and almond butter, wild salmon and organic plain Greek yogurt. Examples of good fats would be avocado, sardines, olives and olive oil, sunflower seeds and oil, walnuts, brazil nuts, fish oils, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil and sesame.
Eat slowly digested carbohydrates with a low to moderate number according to the Glycemic Index, as opposed to following a no- or low-carbohydrate diet. The Glycemic Index is a number that is assigned to each food telling how fast the carbohydrate triggers a rise in blood sugar, how fast it turns into simple sugar in the blood. Table sugar has a 100 GI, a banana is a 62, an apple is a 38.
There is no question you should be aware of calories. Your daily amount plays a major role in gaining or losing weight. However, it’s also essential to be aware of the quality, or lack thereof, in those calories. It’s vital to know the nutrient content of food. Nutrients matter – not only for weight control but for health, energy and growth. If you want to lose weight and get healthy, pay attention to what constitutes those calories.
Lia Fabbricante is a certified personal fitness trainer, an advanced sports nutrition specialist and owner of Confident Fitness, Oreland.
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