work for you?
Things haven't changed that much
- the word "diet" sells, and people are quick
to jump on the latest diet craze. Some make more sense than others, and all
them will work in the short term to produce weight loss, as long as the
calories are low enough, that is the plain truth. Many of the popular diets
don't provide healthy eating guidelines since the goal of many weight loss
diets are short term and don't focus on developing lifelong habits, but
there are some eating styles that fit very well into a healthy, well
balanced approach to eating and to weight control.
First of all, diets that are very high in
protein or fat and very low in carbohydrate do not meet long term healthy
eating guidelines at all.
Diets such as the Atkins Diet and Sugar Busters
fit into this category. Diets that are very high in animal protein or fat, or
those that exclude or severely limit entire groups of foods are not
practical and may even be harmful. These kind of diets are popular because
they are extreme and are much different from the way most people typically
eat, so this can trick you into thinking that eliminating certain foods is
the cure for obesity. But as we have learned from
research in diet and nutrition, the diet that helps people maintain a
healthy body weight is one that is low in fat and high in carbohydrate, and
contains high quality, nutrient dense foods like vegetables and fruits, and
whole grains. "High" in carbohydrate doesn't mean that you eat a lot of
carbohydrates, it means that you eat the amount of food that is right for
your body size, and that about 50% of that right amount of food would be in
the form of carbohydrates. With that in mind, let's look at a few different
eating styles and see how these fit into a healthy eating plan.
The Mediterranean Diet
This particular eating style has become very popular because of its
potential health benefits - it's associated with a reduced risk of heart
disease. The eating style consists of an emphasis on whole grain
carbohydrates (pasta, rice, cereals rather than refined sugar and processed
carbohydrates like baked goods, snacks, etc.), plenty of fresh fruits and
vegetables, olive oil as the main source of fat, fish and poultry in
moderation, and a limited amount of red meat.
This eating style comes closest to
matching what many consider healthy eating guidelines including the USDA
Food Guide Pyramid, which is pretty good, too. The main difference between
diet plans we recommend and the Mediterranean Diet is that weight reduction
diets should be a little more limited in the amount of total fat, 25-30% of
calories, even though the same types of fats are encouraged (monounsaturated fats like olive oil or canola oil). This helps to
control the calories for weight loss. An advantage to following a
Mediterranean style of eating is that the foods are mostly fun and tasty to
eat, and there is a great deal of variety . Traditional foods of Spain,
Italy, Greece, Crete, the south of France and parts of the Middle East fall
into this style of eating so you can really find a lot of great restaurants
and recipes that you can use on this eating plan.
I know, many of
you will say that you find it difficult not to overeat on pasta and rice
dishes and you are right - the biggest challenge to applying this eating
style (or any other) is keeping the portions within your calorie level so
that weight loss can occur. A typical serving of pasta in a restaurant is 2
cups - that is 4 servings of carbohydrates so it adds up quickly! Even
the good diets have to be controlled in portion size.
The USDA Food Guide Pyramid - Balanced
While this is not a glamorous name for an eating style, the plan makes a lot
of good nutritional sense, and it is based upon improving people's health.
In this plan, there is once again an emphasis on eating whole grains,
cereals, pastas and rice, getting a reasonable supply of fresh fruits and
vegetables, using fats and oils in small amounts, and eating a balance of
dairy products and meats. This plan fits well into a healthy eating plan,
although we recommend a greater emphasis on eating monounsaturated fats and
really limiting saturated fat in the form of dairy products and meat. We
also recommend being more specific in terms of choosing only lean sources of
animal foods, and limiting the calories for weight loss. Nutrition labels in
the U.S. use the Food Guide Pyramid in their labeling to show the relative
contribution that food makes to your daily allowance of certain nutrients.
An advantage of this plan is that it emphasizes a variety and balance to
your diet, moderation rather than complete elimination of fat, sweets, and
alcohol, and the foods are easy to come by and not unusual.
A Vegetarian Eating Style
have developed specific eating guidelines for people who wish to follow
vegetarian or vegan eating plans. Obviously, this calls for some
modification in the food choices by eliminating meat and poultry, and in
some cases, eliminating eggs, dairy products, and any animal foods. To do
this while on a weight reduction plan requires some changes in the protein
content, so it's not a good idea to simply eliminate the animal foods
without balancing the other foods to make up for the loss of protein.
Vegetarian diets are associated with a reduced risk in heart disease and
other diseases, and are generally very high in vitamins, minerals, fiber,
and anti-oxidants. However, I have seen plenty of people who follow a
vegetarian diet, but are not making the most nutritional food choices. For
example, those who eliminate meat and replace it with high fat dairy
products are making a big mistake. Their diets become higher in saturated
fat and cholesterol and more unhealthful! Likewise, some vegetarians pay no
attention to the quality or quantity of baked goods, refined and processed
foods, and their diets are no more healthy than a non-vegetarian. The key to
eating healthfully on a vegetarian diet is to choose a lot of colorful
vegetables and fruits, and to make sure that plenty of beans and
whole grains are included. In addition, dairy products, if eaten, should be
the low fat variety!
The eating style of Asian cultures fit into healthy eating guidelines pretty
well, but Asian diets include a wide range of cultural differences, so you
may have to modify some of the traditional cooking methods and ingredients
to make it work. Although the diet of Asian cultures is typically low in fat
and high in unrefined carbohydrate, there are some differences. The Asian
diet contains very little dairy products, even low-fat or non-fat choices,
so other sources of calcium should be included. For example, in some
cultures, it is typical to eat the small bones of very small fish, and this
can be a source of calcium atypical in the Western diet. Likewise, many of
the Asian diets use a variety of dark green vegetables not typical in the
Western grocery stores, another important source of vitamins and minerals.
In some cases, unhealthy fats are used in cooking - tropical oils like
coconut milk or oil, and animal fats. If you choose such recipes, modify the
fats - use canola oil, and lower fat versions of these traditional recipes.
The rice traditionally eaten in Asian cultures was not the common white
variety we eat now. Use brown rice, or other higher fiber rice and pastas
whenever possible. Lastly, the Asian diets contains a lot of really
interesting, flavorful ingredients that are not typical or available in some
markets, so it can be a more challenging way to eat and to cook!
A well planned weight loss diet gives
you the flexibility to adapt to any food situation and serves as a very good
basis for eating foods from any culture. With the right diet plan, the
same rules to eating well can be applied to any eating style, you just need
to make the appropriate modifications. An obvious example is that when
ordering food in a Chinese restaurant, sweet and sour pork, deep fried
wonton appetizers, and fried noodles are certainly Asian fare, but do not
meet healthy diet guidelines because of the high fat content. A steamed
vegetable dish, with steamed rice rather than fried noodles, wonton soup, or
a stir-fry dish that doesn't contain deep fried meat or fish are much better
choices. Enjoy the wonderful variety of great tasting foods from other
countries. You don't have to eat a boring diet in order to lose fat and
maintain a healthy eating style!
When it comes to weight control, it's
not just about limiting calories. Learning how to eat the right amount
of foods is critical, but learning how to make the best eating choices in
any situation is what will make your diet really "doable" so that you don't
go nuts counting calories, fat, or any other nutrient. My simple eating
guidelines or Plan-A-Meal tool can really help you balance your food choices
so that you get good nutrition and good weight loss at the same time.