Tag Archives: nutrition

Why Is Optimizing Protein Intake So Important?

23 May

Why Is Optimizing Protein Intake So Important?

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn2

When it comes to improving overall health, performance, body composition, appetite control, and satiety, there is arguably not a single more effective, well-established dietary factor than optimizing one’s protein intake. Research has shown that consuming diets higher in protein are not only safe for otherwise healthy individuals, they may provide a host of benefits. Higher protein diets may:

  • Accelerate fat loss and spare lean body mass while following a reduced-calorie diet.
  • Attenuate weight regain and contribute to long-term weight maintenance.
  • Optimize 24-hour muscle protein synthesis and facilitate the maintenance or building of muscle mass.
  • Boost metabolic rate.
  • Preserve metabolic rate after weight loss.
  • Increase satiety and improve appetite control.
  • Improve carbohydrate metabolism and glycemic regulation.
  • Increase calcium absorption.

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Establishing the ‘New Normal’

While the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has established a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein intake at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (or, about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight), research illustrates quite clearly and convincingly that an increase in dietary protein intake to at least TWICE (i.e., ≥ 1.6g/kg or 0.72 g/lb) that of the IOM recommendations may be “metabolically advantageous,” particularly for individuals looking to improve body composition (e.g., lose fat) as well as older adults (who are likely to lose muscle mass as they age) and physically active folks (e.g., athletes, military personnel, recreational exercisers).1

The International Society of Sports Nutrition’s (ISSN) Position Stand on Protein states that “protein intakes of 1.4–2.0 g/kg/day [0.63 – 0.91 grams of protein per pound] for physically active individuals is not only safe, but may improve the training adaptations to exercise training.” Further, the ISSN states, “While it is possible for physically active individuals to obtain their daily protein requirements through a varied, regular diet, supplemental protein in various forms are a practical way of ensuring adequate and quality protein intake for athletes.”2 Further, the American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada support higher protein intakes in this range to optimize body composition and performance.3

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, renowned protein researcher Dr. Kevin Tipton from the University of Sterling suggests that a high-protein diet may be defined by as much as 35% of total daily caloric intake.4 What’s more, in a breakthrough study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, researchers revealed the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for protein has underestimated protein requirements by as much as 30 – 50%. Using a novel, validated scientific method, researchers have established that folks should be consuming as much as 35% of their total daily caloric intake from protein. Along these lines, researchers posit that one can optimize protein intake by eating 1.5 – 2.2 grams of high-quality protein per pound of body weight per day.5

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Show Me the Data

High-protein diets have been shown to accelerate fat loss and spare lean body mass while following a reduced-calorie diet. In one study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers from the University of Illinois found that women consuming 0.72 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (about 125 grams per day or 30% of their total daily caloric intake) for 10 weeks had a 66% better ratio of fat to lean body mass loss compared to the “normal” protein group (who consumed half the amount of protein). This means the high-protein group lost MORE fat and LESS muscle—despite consuming the EXACT same amount of calories.6

Interestingly, when the same group of researchers, led by Dr. Donald Layman, combined exercise (5 days of walking plus 2 days of strength training), the effects of the high-protein diet were amplified. Over the course of 16 weeks, the folks combining a high-protein diet (about 30% of calories per day) with exercise lost 43% more fat than the “normal” protein group, who consumed the same number of calories and followed the same exercise program. Even more, compared to the normal protein group that dieted without exercise, the high-protein plus exercise group lost 75% more fat over the course of the 4-month study.7

In a recent randomized control trial published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from McMaster University found that men combining a reduced-calorie high-protein diet (about 1 gram per pound of body weight per day) with a strenuous exercise program lost over 10 pounds of fat in 4 weeks—37% more than the low-protein group eating the same number of calories and performing the same exercise routine. What’s more, the high-protein group gained over 2.5 pounds of muscle­—despite heavy calorie restriction—while the low-protein group experienced no change. That’s the holy grail of body composition: Fat loss PLUS muscle gain!8

In a recent randomized control trial, a group of researchers from UCLA, led by Dr. Lorraine Evangelista, found that study participants consuming a high-protein diet for 12 weeks lost 77% more weight and dropped more than TWICE as much body fat than the standard protein group.9 In another recent randomized control trial, a group of German researchers, led by Dr. Marion Flechtner-Mors, found that folks consuming a high-protein diet for 12 months lost over TWICE as much weight as the standard-protein group.10

In yet another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Navarra in Pampalona, Spain, a research team led by Dr. Idoia Labayen found that obese women consuming a high-protein diet (about 30% of daily caloric intake) for 10 weeks lost nearly 10 MORE pounds (or, 92% more weight) and 88% more fat than the standard-protein group—once again, despite both groups eating the exact same number of calories.11

In another recent study, researchers from the University of California-Davis, led by Dr. Sidika Karakas, found that overweight women consuming a high-protein diet lost THREE times more weight and over SIX times more fat than the standard-protein group despite sticking to the same amount of reduced calories.12

One of the most objective analyses of the effects of an intervention (like high-protein diets) is something called a meta-analysis, in which researchers gather all of the studies on a particular topic and perform a highly sophisticated statistical analysis. Along these lines, in a meta-analysis of 24 weight-loss studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from the University of South Australia found that high-protein diets led to significantly greater losses in body weight and body fat and spared losses in lean body mass and reductions in metabolic rate, which are common with standard-protein, reduced-calorie diets.13

The study authors concluded that, compared to standard-protein diets, high-protein diets (between 25 – 35% of total daily caloric intake) provide benefits for weight and fat loss and for mitigating losses in lean body mass and resting metabolic rate.

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No One-Trick Pony

What’s more, high-protein diets help attenuate weight regain and contribute to long-term weight maintenance. That’s right, not only have high-protein diets been shown to lead to greater fat loss and improvements in body composition during dieting trials, researchers have also found that high-protein diets increase compliance and long-term weight management.14 In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that after dropping over 20 pounds during an 8-week weight loss trial, folks consuming a higher protein diet (25% of daily caloric intake) maintained body weight over the next 12 months whereas individuals consuming a standard-protein diet regained some of the weight lost.15

As mentioned above, high-protein diets also help preserve metabolic rate after weight loss.16 A common concern and consequence of standard-protein, reduced-calorie diets is a significant decline in metabolic rate, which frequently leads to weight regain. However, studies have shown that high-protein diets may conserve metabolic rate, and therefore, prevent weight regain. In one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that metabolic rate was conserved to a significantly greater extent in folks who consumed a higher protein diet (30% of total calories) compared to individuals who consumed a lower protein diet (20% of total calories).17

One way by which high-protein diets may improve weight-loss outcomes is through increased satiety and improved appetite control. High-protein meals boost satiety, which means that protein-dense foods are much more likely to make you feel full and satisfied.18 What’s more, diets rich in high-quality proteins improve appetite control, as well as reduce daily food intake.19 In a recent study published in the Nutrition Journal, researchers from the University of Missouri found that consuming higher protein, dairy-based snacks (e.g., yogurt) improved satiety, appetite control, and limited subsequent food intake when compared to higher fat and higher carbohydrate-based snacks.20

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Balanced Bites

Many people tend to follow a skewed pattern of protein intake throughout the day. In other words, they might have a carbohydrate-dense breakfast (e.g., oatmeal, cereal, bagel) that contains just a few grams of protein, and at lunch, they may have a salad, sandwich, and/or soup that contain less than 20 grams of protein. Then, at dinner, they tend to have a large meal with their largest portion of protein for the day.

In fact, many people consume as much as 50% of their daily protein intake at a single meal in the evening.21 Contrary to this common pattern (referred to as a “skewed” intake of protein), research shows us that a “balanced” intake of protein throughout the day appears to be optimal to take advantage of the many beneficial attributes of protein.

For instance, in a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that balancing protein intake over the course of three meals (about 30 grams of protein per meal) significantly increased muscle protein synthesis (by 25%) when compared to a “skewed” protein intake typical of the American diet.22

Why is this so important? Maximizing protein synthesis is paramount to looking, feeling, and performing your best regardless of your age or goals, and it’s especially important for improving body composition, optimizing metabolism, improving carbohydrate tolerance, avoiding age-related declines in muscle mass and metabolic rate, improving performance, and optimizing physical function.

In a separate study published in the American Journal of Physiology, researchers from McMaster University discovered equally impressive findings when they compared a balanced to a skewed protein intake combined with calorie restriction (i.e., dieting). In general, dieting results in a marked decrease in muscle protein synthesis, which typically leads to muscle loss. In fact, losses in lean mass may account for as much as 25% of the weight lost.23,24

The researchers found that a skewed protein intake combined with calorie restriction led to significantly greater reductions in muscle protein synthesis. In other words, a balanced protein intake “rescued” much of the normal decline seen in protein synthesis with dieting. Even more, they found that combining resistance training with a balanced protein intake completely rescued the decline in protein synthesis seen with energy restriction and skewed protein intake.25

As far as how much protein to eat, the research suggests at least 30 grams per meal (3 – 4 meals per day) as a starting point. More specifically, researchers suggest that about 0.18 grams per pound of bodyweight per meal seems to be optimal.26

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Take-Home Points

  • Optimizing protein intake is a well-established nutrition priority for looking, feeling, and performing your best.
  • Studies show that higher protein intakes accelerate fat loss, preserve lean body mass, promote recovery and performance, increase satiety, improve appetite control, reduce cravings, improve glycemic control, preserve metabolic rate, and attenuate weight regain.
  • The evidence suggests that an optimal protein intake may be between 0.7 – 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day as a starting point.
  • Research also suggests that a balanced intake of protein (versus a skewed intake) throughout the day may be optimal to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Based on the current body of research, an intake of around 0.18 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per meal may be a good starting point.
  • Combining resistance training with an optimal protein intake appears to be superior (for body composition, health, performance) than a higher protein intake alone.
  • High-quality sources of protein are likely best and include: lean meats, poultry, fish/seafood, and wild game (preferably pasture-raised, wild, organic, etc., when appropriate); eggs (preferably pasture-raised); dairy (e.g., Greek yogurt, cottage cheese; preferably organic); protein supplements. [Note: Many protein studies use milk-based protein supplements (e.g., whey, casein), which are considered superior due to their protein quality (e.g., leucine content) and are often used to establish key baselines.]

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References:

  1. Pasiakos SM. Metabolic Advantages of Higher Protein Diets and Benefits of Dairy Foods on Weight Management, Glycemic Regulation, and Bone: Benefits of higher protein…. J Food Sci. 2015;80(S1):A2-A7. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.12804.
  2. Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4(1):8. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-8.
  3. Rodriguez NR. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(3):509-527. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.01.005.
  4. Tipton KD. Efficacy and consequences of very-high-protein diets for athletes and exercisers. Proc Nutr Soc. 2011;70(02):205-214. doi:10.1017/S0029665111000024.
  5. Pencharz PB, Elango R, Wolfe RR. Recent developments in understanding protein needs – How much and what kind should we eat? Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. April 2016:1-4. doi:10.1139/apnm-2015-0549.
  6. Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, et al. A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr. 2003;133(2):411-417.
  7. Layman DK, Evans E, Baum JI, Seyler J, Erickson DJ, Boileau RA. Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr. 2005;135(8):1903-1910.
  8. Longland TM, Oikawa SY, Mitchell CJ, Devries MC, Phillips SM. Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103(3):738-746. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.119339.
  9. Evangelista LS, Heber D, Li Z, Bowerman S, Hamilton MA, Fonarow GC. Reduced body weight and adiposity with a high-protein diet improves functional status, lipid profiles, glycemic control, and quality of life in patients with heart failure: a feasibility study. J Cardiovasc Nurs. 2009;24(3):207-215. doi:10.1097/JCN.0b013e31819846b9.
  10. Flechtner-Mors M, Boehm BO, Wittmann R, Thoma U, Ditschuneit HH. Enhanced weight loss with protein-enriched meal replacements in subjects with the metabolic syndrome. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2010;26(5):393-405. doi:10.1002/dmrr.1097.
  11. Labayen I, Díez N, González A, Parra D, Martínez JA. Effects of protein vs. carbohydrate-rich diets on fuel utilisation in obese women during weight loss. Forum Nutr. 2003;56:168-170.
  12. Kasim-Karakas SE, Almario RU, Cunningham W. Effects of protein versus simple sugar intake on weight loss in polycystic ovary syndrome (according to the National Institutes of Health criteria). Fertil Steril. 2009;92(1):262-270. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.05.065.
  13. Wycherley TP, Moran LJ, Clifton PM, Noakes M, Brinkworth GD. Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(6):1281-1298. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.044321.
  14. Layman DK, Evans EM, Erickson D, et al. A Moderate-Protein Diet Produces Sustained Weight Loss and Long-Term Changes in Body Composition and Blood Lipids in Obese Adults. J Nutr. 2009;139(3):514-521. doi:10.3945/jn.108.099440.
  15. Larsen TM, Dalskov S-M, van Baak M, et al. Diets with High or Low Protein Content and Glycemic Index for Weight-Loss Maintenance. N Engl J Med. 2010;363(22):2102-2113. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1007137.
  16. Soenen S, Martens EAP, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Lemmens SGT, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass. J Nutr. 2013;143(5):591-596. doi:10.3945/jn.112.167593.
  17. Ebbeling CB, Swain JF, Feldman HA, et al. Effects of dietary composition on energy expenditure during weight-loss maintenance. JAMA. 2012;307(24):2627-2634. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6607.
  18. Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(5):373-385.
  19. Leidy HJ. Increased dietary protein as a dietary strategy to prevent and/or treat obesity. Mo Med. 2014;111(1):54-58.
  20. Ortinau LC, Hoertel HA, Douglas SM, Leidy HJ. Effects of high-protein vs. high- fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women. Nutr J. 2014;13:97. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-97.
  21. USDA Agricultural Research Service. Energy Intakes: Percentages of Energy from Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, and Alcohol, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2009–2010.; 2012. http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=18349.
  22. Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, et al. Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. J Nutr. 2014;144(6):876-880. doi:10.3945/jn.113.185280.
  23. Weinheimer EM, Sands LP, Campbell WW. A systematic review of the separate and combined effects of energy restriction and exercise on fat-free mass in middle-aged and older adults: implications for sarcopenic obesity. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(7):375-388. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00298.x.
  24. Areta JL, Burke LM, Camera DM, et al. Reduced resting skeletal muscle protein synthesis is rescued by resistance exercise and protein ingestion following short-term energy deficit. AJP Endocrinol Metab. 2014;306(8):E989-E997. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00590.2013.
  25. Murphy CH, Churchward-Venne TA, Mitchell CJ, et al. Hypoenergetic diet-induced reductions in myofibrillar protein synthesis are restored with resistance training and balanced daily protein ingestion in older men. Am J Physiol – Endocrinol Metab. 2015;308(9):E734-E743. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00550.2014.
  26. Moore DR, Churchward-Venne TA, Witard O, et al. Protein Ingestion to Stimulate Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Requires Greater Relative Protein Intakes in Healthy Older Versus Younger Men. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2015;70(1):57-62. doi:10.1093/gerona/glu103.

 

Habits of Highly Effective Nutrition Plans

5 Nov

Habits of Highly Effective Nutrition Plans

Tim Skwiat, CSCS, Pn2

While there are quite a few effective nutrition programs out there, there’s not necessarily a single, universal “best” option. In fact, in a recent article published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers compared various popular diets differing in macronutrient composition, and they found that differences in weight loss and metabolic risk factors were small (i.e., less than a couple of pounds) and inconsistent.1

What they did find, however, was that the single-most important factor influencing weight loss and improvements overall health (i.e., disease-risk outcomes) was adherence, or the ability of folks to stick with a program and consistently meet program goals for diet and physical activity. This led for the researchers to “call for an end to the diet debates.”

In the POUNDS Lost study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers compared four different diets (with varying amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), and they found that “reduced-calorie diets result in meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.”2

With all of that being said, there are some common themes—criteria, if you will—amongst the most effective nutrition plans, including:3

  • They raise awareness and attention.
  • They focus on food quality.
  • They help eliminate nutrient deficiencies.
  • They help control appetite and food intake.
  • They promote regular exercise and physical activity.

While there may be no universal “best” diet, there may be a best option for you, and that’s what’s most important. How can you begin to find what works best for you? The following Habits of Highly Effective Nutrition Plans is a great place to start.

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Habit 1: Eat slowly and mindfully. For fat loss, there are two habits that you’ll need to master, and speaking generally—when combined with good food quality and done consistently—these two simple tools are typically enough for almost all clients to lose fat:

  • Eat slowly.
  • Eat until 80% full (i.e., just until satisfied; no longer hungry, but not “full”).

Slow eating provides a host of benefits:

  • Slow eating helps you “check in” and be present, pay attention, and sense into the cues that your body is sending you, why you’re eating, etc.
  • Slow eating allows you to sense into your body’s internal hunger/satiety cues.
  • Slow eating creates awareness of food textures, tastes, and smells.
  • Slow eating enhances digestion.
  • Slow eating doesn’t depend on controlling what you eat. It can be done any time, anywhere, and no matter what’s on your plate or who’s around, you can always eat slowly.
  • Slow eating makes you and your body the boss. You don’t have to rely on eternal cues and control methods (e.g., calorie counting, weighing/measuring food, points, etc.), and relinquishing external control gives you more real control.

Slow eating also ties into another extremely important component of how to eat: Learning appetite awareness. This is key to distinguishing when you feel that want to eat, need to eat, and have eaten enough (or too much). This ties into the concept of eating until 80% full, which you can track using this handy 80% Full Food Journal. Incorporating an Appetite Awareness Tracker along with the aforementioned food journal can be quite helpful in this regard as well.

If you can master the art of eating slowly and mindfully and learn to sense into (and listen to) your physical cues, you will be well on your way to improving your health, body composition, and vitality. You’ll be a nutrition ninja!

Extra Credit ==> Mindful Eating: HOW Do You Eat?

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Habit 2: Eat protein-dense foods with each meal. When it comes to improving body composition (e.g., losing fat, building/retaining muscle), optimizing protein intake may be one of the single most important dietary and lifestyle changes that one can make. Protein-dense foods increase satiety (i.e., feeling of fullness) and thermogenesis (i.e., boost the metabolism), and high-protein diets have consistently been proven to be effective at improving body composition (e.g., fat loss), preserving metabolic rate, and improving overall health (e.g., better blood lipids, blood sugar management, insulin concentrations).4–6

Increasing protein intake means moving from “surviving” to “thriving” and from “adequate” to “optimal.” Ideally, you should aim to consume a portion of protein-dense foods with each meal. Generally speaking, one palm-sized portion of protein is equivalent to approximately 20 – 30 grams of protein, and we recommend that:

[If you like to “count,” then a good rule of thumb is probably somewhere around 0.18 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per feeding.]

Your best protein options include:

  • Lean meats, poultry, fish/seafood, and/or wild game (preferably grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic, etc., when appropriate)
  • Eggs (preferably pasture-raised, which is distinct from free-range and cage-free)
  • Lean dairy, especially Greek yogurt (with live cultures) and cottage cheese (preferably grass-fed, pasture-raised)

As noted above, there are a number of beneficial outcomes associated with a higher protein intake, and most experts tend to agree that folks can optimize protein intake by consuming about 0.7 – 0.9 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. This can be tricky, and this is why a protein supplement like BioTRUST Low Carb is “foundational” for the overwhelming majority of folks.

Bonus recommendation ==> Branched-chain amino acids, which play an intricate role in muscle building and recovery (particularly leucine), reduce muscle breakdown, and help regulate blood sugar levels. BCAAs are particularly useful during exercise, and they may also be especially applicable when protein needs aren’t being met (e.g., fasting, not enough protein at a given meal). What’s more, there’s some evidence to suggest that BCAA supplementation may be especially important (to help maintain muscle and metabolic rate) for older folks, whose protein absorption mechanisms may not be as effective.7

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Habit 3: Eat vegetables with each meal. Mom and grandma were right: Veggies are good for your health and your body composition. Studies show folks who eat more veggies tend to do a better job of losing fat and keeping it off. What’s more, a diet high in vegetables helps balance the body’s pH, which is important for both bone and muscle strength. Vegetables have a high nutrient-density and low energy-density, which means that you can consume a relatively large volume comparative to their calorie content. (See Move More, Eat MORE for more on this.)

While vegetables are also packed with important micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals), they are also loaded with important phytochemicals that are necessary for optimal physiological functioning. These same plant chemicals often serve as anti-oxidants that combat oxidative stress, one of the most important factors mediating the deleterious effects of aging.8–10

Vegetables can essentially be prepared any way that you like (and it’s a good idea to include some healthy fats to maximize absorption of key nutrients),11–13 and while there’s not a limit on the number of non-starchy vegetables that you can include, the following is a good starting point:

Generally speaking, the more color (and the more varieties of colors) means the greatest array of beneficial phythonutrients, and it’s a good idea to consume a variety of vegetables each day. To optimize health, you may consider trying to include at least one serving of each of the primary colors each day:

  • Greens: Various lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini
  • Reds: Tomatoes, red bell peppers, red cabbage
  • Oranges: Carrots, orange bell peppers, various squashes, pumpkin
  • Whites: Onions, garlic, parsnips, cauliflower, yellow squash
  • Purples: Eggplant, purple cabbage, beets

For more examples, please see the World’s Healthiest Foods list.
Bonus recommendation ==> Supplement with a greens powder, which contain vegetables, fruits, grasses, etc., that have been distilled into powder form. While not necessarily a substitute for eating whole vegetables and fruits, greens powders are a good option to add to smoothies, when traveling, and for folks who struggle with adding vegetables to each meal.

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Habit 4: Carbohydrate intake should match activity levels. For fat loss, most people will do better by reducing carbohydrate intake, but it doesn’t mean that a low-carb diet is necessary. Rather, a controlled-carbohydrate diet seems to work best. Generally speaking, most people will do best with some carbs, with appropriate adjustments made for activity level, goals, and body type. In other words, the more active you are, the more smart carbs you’ll need; on the other hand, sedentary folks, especially those who are trying to lose fat and/or have more endomorphic body types, typically need fewer carbohydrates.

While there is often debate about low-fat versus low-carbohydrate diets and whether or not there are any metabolic advantages (there doesn’t seem to be any given the data at this time), there is some evidence to suggest that an individual’s insulin sensitivity status may influence the outcome of a reduced-calorie diet.14 For instance, in a study published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, researchers found that folks with poor insulin sensitivity lost less weight on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet compared to more insulin sensitive folks (as well as compared to folks who followed a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, regardless of insulin sensitivity status).15

Why? Adherence (or lack thereof): Folks with a poor insulin sensitivity status had a much more difficult time sticking to the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, and as a result, they were much less likely to lose weight. Why did they have trouble sticking to it? It’s hard to say for certain, but we can speculate that their less-than-stellar carbohydrate metabolism induced a sequence of hormonal and metabolic changes that increases hunger and energy intake (after consuming a low-fat, high-carbohydrate meals).

Overall, when it comes to choosing smart carbs, the emphasis should be placed on whole, minimally-processed foods that are slow-digesting and high in fiber. Some folks find that consuming the majority of these carbs after exercise is best for body composition and recovery. When carbohydrates are added to meals (not necessarily every meal), the following is a good starting point:

Again, carb intake should be proportionate to activity levels, and particularly when the goal is fat loss, a portion may not be included at each feeding. For advanced folks, focusing on including carbs in the hours after exercise may be optimal. When you do choose to add carbs to a meal, the following are the best choices:

  • Colorful, starchy vegetables (e.g., sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, winter squashes)
  • Colorful fruits (e.g., berries)
  • Other sweet/starchy fruits and vegetables (e.g., bananas, plantains, potatoes)
  • Legumes (e.g., lentils and beans)
  • Whole, intact grains (rather than foods made from processed flours), including whole or steel-cut oats; wild, brown, or red rice; quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat groats; sprouted grains; kamut or spelt grains; maize; millet; and barley
  • Other whole grain products (e.g., sprouted grains)

Bonus recommendation ==> Managing blood sugar and insulin concentrations are key to optimizing body composition, health, and performance. Supplements like IC-5 can help improve carb tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic flexibility, which are key players in weight management.

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Habit 5: Eat healthy fats daily. Don’t fear the fat! Despite a bad rap, fat does NOT make you fat. In fact, healthy fats from whole foods play important roles in manufacturing and balancing hormones. They also form our cell membranes and brains and nervous systems. They also transport important vitamins and minerals.

Healthy fats are critical for recovery and repair and supporting mental health and feelings of wellbeing. Fats slow gastric emptying and the release of glucose into the bloodstream (i.e., reduce the glycemic response), and furthermore, studies show that consuming fats can reduce the amount of food eaten in subsequent meals.

Generally speaking, the following are good starting points for portion sizes:

The key is to balance fats, and a variety of healthy fats usually does the trick:

  • Raw nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc.) and nut butters (e.g., almond butter)
  • Raw seeds (e.g., pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Olives and extra-virgin olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Butter (preferably from grass-fed cows, e.g., Kerrygold)
  • Fresh coconut, coconut milk, and extra-virgin coconut oil
  • Cold-pressed, extra-virgin oils (e.g., walnut, macadamia nut, avocado, hemp, pumpkin, flax)
  • Fatty fish (e.g., wild salmon, mackerel)

Bonus recommendation ==> Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, which, for the overwhelmingly majority of folks, will be “foundational.” For more on why this (i.e., fish oil) is such an important supplement, please refer to the following article:

The Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation

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In sum, for most people who are eating 3 – 4 meals per day, the following is a good starting point:

  • 1 – 2 palm-sized portions of protein
  • 1 – 2 fist-sized portions of vegetables
  • 1 – 2 thumb-sized portions of healthy fats
  • 1 – 2 cupped-handful portions of carbohydrates can be added as needed (i.e., not every meal), depending on activity levels, goals, and body type.

With all of that being said, this is just a starting point. Remember to practice the first Habit, which emphasizes how you eat. Tune into your internal cues (e.g., satiety, appetite) to gauge what works best for you. In other words, find and do what works (for you). Focus on food quality and emphasize building a solid foundation of high-quality nutrition, done consistently.

Depending on where you are in your journey, you might start with something small, like adding a fish oil supplement to help balance your fat intake and reduce inflammation. From there, you might want to make sure that you consume a portion of lean protein at each feeding. Once you’ve nailed that, you might make sure that you’re consuming some colorful vegetables and/or fruits with each feeding.

In other words, take it one step at a time and focus on working on one change or new habit. Direct all of your time and energy into something that you are ready, willing, and able to do. Master that task or habit, and then take that next step. As Robert Collier said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

Many find this step-like, habit-based approach to be far more tolerable, and more importantly, successful for long-term behavior change and weight management. However, some folks need or desire to make bigger changes, faster (e.g., athletes making weight, preparing for an event). In these cases, it’s important to understand that you’ll need to tolerate a greater amount of discomfort and disruption to your routine. Worry not, we’re here to support and encourage you every step of the way.

Notice and name what you do well and where you need help. Are there certain challenges that you face? The more awareness (here’s that mindfulness thing again) that you have of your habits, behaviors, and triggers, the more proactive that you can be in your approach to good nutrition. Remember, good nutrition (and being healthy) is not about perfection; it’s about improvement. It’s about the process—the journey. It’s about making the best, wise choices, as often as possible. It’s about living with purpose and getting up each day being your “best self,” with integrity. It’s about chasing health and wellness.

++++

Bonus resources:

Additional references used for this article: 16,17

References:

  1. Pagoto SL, Appelhans BM. A Call for an End to the Diet Debates. JAMA. 2013;310(7):687. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.8601.
  2. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009;360(9):859-873. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0804748.
  3. Berardi J. Paleo, vegan, intermittent fasting…Here’s how to choose the best diet for you. Precis Nutr. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/best-diet.
  4. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1558S – 1561S.
  5. Soenen S, Martens EAP, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Lemmens SGT, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass. J Nutr. 2013;143(5):591-596. doi:10.3945/jn.112.167593.
  6. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Nieuwenhuizen A, Tomé D, Soenen S, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2009;29:21-41. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-080508-141056.
  7. Casperson SL, Sheffield-Moore M, Hewlings SJ, Paddon-Jones D. Leucine supplementation chronically improves muscle protein synthesis in older adults consuming the RDA for protein. Clin Nutr Edinb Scotl. 2012;31(4):512-519. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2012.01.005.
  8. Floyd RA. Antioxidants, oxidative stress, and degenerative neurological disorders. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med Soc Exp Biol Med N Y N. 1999;222(3):236-245.
  9. Betteridge DJ. What is oxidative stress? Metabolism. 2000;49(2 Suppl 1):3-8.
  10. Fernández-Sánchez A, Madrigal-Santillán E, Bautista M, et al. Inflammation, Oxidative Stress, and Obesity. Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(12):3117-3132. doi:10.3390/ijms12053117.
  11. Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. J Nutr. 2005;135(3):431-436.
  12. Brown MJ, Ferruzzi MG, Nguyen ML, et al. Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(2):396-403.
  13. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C, Failla ML, Ferruzzi MG. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012;56(6):866-877. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201100687.
  14. Pittas AG, Roberts SB. Dietary Composition and Weight Loss: Can We Individualize Dietary Prescriptions According to Insulin Sensitivity or Secretion Status? Nutr Rev. 2006;64(10):435-448. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00174.x.
  15. McClain AD, Otten JJ, Hekler EB, Gardner CD. Adherence to a low-fat vs. low-carbohydrate diet differs by insulin resistance status: Research Letter. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2013;15(1):87-90. doi:10.1111/j.1463-1326.2012.01668.x.
  16. Berardi, J, Andrews R. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Second Edition. Precision Nutrition; 2013. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/cmd.php?Clk=5266221.
  17. Berardi J, Scott-Dixon K. Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certification: Master Class. Precision Nutrition; 2014. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/pn-level-2-vip.

All About Probiotics

15 Oct

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn2

What Are Probiotics?

According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), probiotics are defined as “living microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”1

The digestive tract alone contains roughly 100 trillion bacteria. To put that into perspective, we have 10 trillion cells that make up our bodies. In other words, the bacterial ecosystem that makes us who we are outnumbers our cells on the order of 10 to 1. From a DNA perspective, the genes of the microbes that inhabit our bodies exceed the amount of human DNA we each have by a factor of 100.

small world

Cani PD, Delzenne NM. Pharmacol Ther. 2011;130(2):202-212.(2)

Building and maintaining a healthy gut flora—which involves optimizing the balance of “good” to “bad” bacteria—is critical to digestive system health and function, overall health, immune system function, mental health and wellbeing, metabolism and weight management, respiratory (i.e., lungs) and integumentary (i.e., skin) systems, and more. When the gut flora is at a healthy balance, it provides immense support to digestive function, immune system, metabolism, skin health, mental wellbeing, and more.

However, when the gut is unbalanced and unhealthy, a number of issues can ensue. In fact, research suggests that having inadequate levels of healthy bacteria in your gut may contribute to over 170 different health issues, including weight gain and difficulty with weight management, as well as digestive-, skin-, and mental wellbeing-related issues. Along these lines, there are many common factors that can upset the balance of gut bacteria, including:

  • Aging
  • Environmental factors
  • Food choices (e.g., Certain artificial sweeteners like sucralose have been shown to reduce the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut and negatively alter the gut flora.11)
  • Stress
  • Medications (e.g., antibiotics12)
  • Smoking

In other words, a modern lifestyle—characterized by poor food choices, stress, and antibiotics, as well as factors outside of your control like nutrient-deplete soil, environmental toxins, and pollutants—can wreak havoc on the gut flora. The great news that there is a solution to an unhealthy gut, and you can begin restoring your gut health by supplementing with high-quality probiotics.

western living

Adapted from Schippa S, Conte M. Nutrients. 2014;6(12):5786-5805.(5)

This leads us into a discussion of how probiotics may be helpful. In the GI tract, probiotics serve a number of important functions, as they:

  • Support a balance of healthy bacteria in the gut
  • Keep pathogenic bacteria from settling and growing
  • Help digest and absorb nutrients and support a healthy GI tract
  • Help regulate and support a healthy immune system
  • Produce key nutrients (e.g., B & K vitamins, short-chain fatty acids)
  • Keep the system moving
  • Help metabolize chemicals and phytonutrients
  • Synthesize polyamines
  • Produce coagulation and growth factors
  • Promote a healthy balance of cytokines
  • Regulate secretion and use of intestinal mucus
  • Help regulate blood flow to internal organs
  • Provide gut barrier reinforcement
Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al.(1)

Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al.(1)

A Lesson in ProBiology

Symbiosis refers to a “mutually beneficial relationship between two different organisms living in close approximation.” Pertinent to the conversation on probiotics, humans have evolved intimate symbiotic relationships with gut microbes. In fact, human beings can be considered “superorganisms” as a result of their close symbiotic associations with the gut microbiota.3 Optimal human health and homeostasis revolves heavily on this symbiotic relationship, which entails maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.

Along these lines, dysbiosis refers to microbial imbalances on or within the body. In other words, dysbiosis describes the state of an unhealthy imbalance of bacteria in the gut flora, characterized by excessive levels of pathogenic bacteria, inadequate amounts of commensal and probiotic bacteria, and/or reduced bacterial diversity. Fundamentally, gut dysbiosis destroys the symbiotic relationship between humans and microbes; in fact, gut dysbiosis has been linked to numerous human health issues, including obesity.4–9

This is leads into why probiotics are critical to restoring gut health and fortifying the gut microbiome. By their very definition, probiotics are non-pathogenic, healthy bacteria that confer a clear beneficial effect on the host (i.e., humans). Supplementation with these commensal bacteria—which supply essential nutrients and defend against pathogens—helps restore a normal, healthy microbiome. Beyond restorative and reactive measures, probiotics help to prevent a normal, healthy individual from acquiring dysbiosis in the future.

In both cases, probiotics promote probiosis (i.e., an association of two organisms that enhances the life processes of both) and support and fortify the symbiotic relationship between humans and gut microbes.

The symbiotic relationship between humans and gut bacteria. Commensal bacteria supply the host with essential nutrients and defend the host against opportunistic pathogens. They are involved in the development of the intestinal architecture and immunomodulatory processes (i.e., healthy immune system function). On the other hand, the host provides the bacteria with nutrients and a stable environment.(10)

The symbiotic relationship between humans and gut bacteria. Commensal bacteria supply the host with essential nutrients and defend the host against opportunistic pathogens. They are involved in the development of the intestinal architecture and immunomodulatory processes (i.e., healthy immune system function). On the other hand, the host provides the bacteria with nutrients and a stable environment.(4)

What Does This Mean for You?

Building and maintaining a healthy gut flora—which involves optimizing the balance of “good” to “bad” bacteria—is critical to digestive system health and function, overall health, immune system function, mental health and wellbeing, metabolism and weight management, respiratory (i.e., lungs) and integumentary (i.e., skin) systems, and more. When the gut flora is at a healthy balance, it provides immense support to digestive function, immune system, metabolism, skin health, mental wellbeing, and more.

However, research suggests that having inadequate levels of healthy bacteria in the gut may contribute to over 170 different health issues (including weight gain and difficulty with weight management), and a modern lifestyle characterized by stress, processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, nutrient-deplete soil, and environmental toxins can wreak havoc on the gut flora and disrupt the natural balance of healthy bacteria.

With that in mind, I would consider a high-quality probiotic (recommendation: BioTrust Pro-X10) “foundational” for nearly everyone to support optimal levels of probiotics, establish and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, promote a healthy digestive system, and support a robust immune system. Along with probiotic supplementation, you can also fortify your gut by eating plenty of traditionally fermented foods:

  • Kefir, yogurt
  • Sauerkraut, pickles, and other properly fermented vegetables
  • Miso, tempeh
  • Kombucha
  • Red wine

Establishing optimal gut health is a balance between what’s there and what’s not there. Along those lines, it’s also advised to be mindful of and reduce exposure to the controllable factors (e.g., diet, stress, medications) that may negatively impact the composition of the microflora, gut health, and every other aspect of human health and function mentioned above.

References:

  1. Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014;11(8):506-514. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2014.66.
  2. Cani PD, Delzenne NM. The gut microbiome as therapeutic target. Pharmacol Ther. 2011;130(2):202-212. doi:10.1016/j.pharmthera.2011.01.012.
  3. Li M, Wang B, Zhang M, et al. Symbiotic gut microbes modulate human metabolic phenotypes. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2008;105(6):2117-2122. doi:10.1073/pnas.0712038105.
  4. Martín R, Miquel S, Ulmer J, Kechaou N, Langella P, Bermúdez-Humarán LG. Role of commensal and probiotic bacteria in human health: a focus on inflammatory bowel disease. Microb Cell Factories. 2013;12(1):71. doi:10.1186/1475-2859-12-71.
  5. Schippa S, Conte M. Dysbiotic Events in Gut Microbiota: Impact on Human Health. Nutrients. 2014;6(12):5786-5805. doi:10.3390/nu6125786.
  6. Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature. 2006;444(7122):1022-1023. doi:10.1038/4441022a.
  7. DiBaise JK, Frank DN, Mathur R. Impact of the Gut Microbiota on the Development of Obesity: Current Concepts. Am J Gastroenterol Suppl. 2012;1(1):22-27. doi:10.1038/ajgsup.2012.5.
  8. Turnbaugh PJ, Hamady M, Yatsunenko T, et al. A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins. Nature. 2009;457(7228):480-484. doi:10.1038/nature07540.
  9. Zhang H, DiBaise JK, Zuccolo A, et al. Human gut microbiota in obesity and after gastric bypass. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009;106(7):2365-2370. doi:10.1073/pnas.0812600106.
  10. Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, et al. Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice. Science. 2013;341(6150):1241214. doi:10.1126/science.1241214.
  11. Abou-Donia MB, El-Masry EM, Abdel-Rahman AA, McLendon RE, Schiffman SS. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2008;71(21):1415-1429. doi:10.1080/15287390802328630.
  12. Jernberg C, Lofmark S, Edlund C, Jansson JK. Long-term impacts of antibiotic exposure on the human intestinal microbiota. Microbiology. 2010;156(11):3216-3223. doi:10.1099/mic.0.040618-0.

Move More, Eat MORE

7 Oct

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn2

When it comes to fat loss, it’s quite common to hear the adage, “Move more, eat less,” which stems from the fundamental principle of physiology, nutrition, and metabolism that states:

In order to lose weight, one must consume fewer calories than s/he burns—on a regular basis, consistently over time.1

Simply put, this is saying that a calorie deficit is necessary (over time) for meaningful fat loss. As simple and straightforward as that is, it’s neither easy nor particularly useful. Just ask anyone who’s attempted to lose weight through a reduced-calorie diet (i.e., eat less). For the overwhelming majority of folks, it’s not sustainable. In fact, researchers estimate that fewer than 25% of folks who lose weight are successfully able to keep it off for at least a year.2

While human physiology complies with the first law of thermodynamics, the “move more, eat less” axiom takes into consideration only a narrow aspect of the weight management equation. That is, there’s more to the story than the “numbers game” (i.e., counting calories) including a variety of environmental and behavioral factors.3

In other words choice to eat food can be sparked by metabolic need, hedonic drive (i.e., the “food reward system”), or a combination of the two. In today’s world, we no longer eat only when we’re “metabolically hungry.” Instead, we are driven to eat even when we’re not truly hungry and despite having vast energy reserves (i.e., body fat).

More and more, obesity researchers are investigating the impact of hedonic drive and other factors, which involves cognitive, reward, and emotional aspects, and may include choosing to eat based on food environment, food addiction, stress relief, boredom, and mood elevation.4

For example, think about a time when you ate (or drank) something because you felt that you “deserved” it, whether that was after a tough workout or a stressful day at the office. You weren’t necessarily hungry, but you made up your mind that you “earned” that reward. Another example of hedonic eating is susceptibility to food environment cues. Think back to a time when you ate something “because it was there.” Ever happen to you?

All of that is meant to create awareness that the “Move more, eat less” approach to fat loss, while “accurate,” may not be all that utilitarian or encompassing. In other words, from a well-educated fitness professional, it’s not very articulate or useful advice. However, there is truth to it, but does it tell the whole story?

Move More, Eat More

It’s no secret that most people could stand to move more. Generally speaking, research suggests that lack of physical activity is a significant determinant of the overall rise in obesity amongst adults and adolescents.5,6 Not surprisingly, people who are “normal weight” typically engage in more moderate and vigorous physical activity compared to overweight and obese folks.7

With little to debate about the energy expenditure portion of the equation, what about eating more? That seems to violate the law of thermodynamics and the age-old proverb about eating less, right?

Yes and no. Again, there’s no discounting the energy balance equation; the current body of scientific research suggests that this is necessary to lose fat. However, eating fewer calories (which can be viewed as “eating less”) doesn’t necessarily have to mean eating less food. In fact, studies show that it’s possible to eat significantly more food and lose substantially more fat.

That is, you don’t necessarily need to rely on the “numbers game” to achieve and maintain your ideal body composition. You see, research suggests that people may not limit what they consume based on calories alone. Specifically, feeling full (i.e., satiety) is a major reason that people stop eating. In other words, rather than the calorie content of food, the volume (i.e., weight, amount) of food that is consumed at a meal is what makes people feel full and stop eating.8

In fact, research strongly suggests that how much you eat daily is regulated by the weight of the food rather than by a certain number of calories. Researchers from Penn State have posited that “energy density is a key determinant of energy intake in that cognitive, behavioral, and sensory cues related to the volume or weight of food consumed can interact with or override physiological cues associated with food intake.”9

Energy density is defined as the relationship of calories to the weight of food (i.e., calories per gram). Foods like oils, bacon, butter, cookies, crackers, junk food, fast food, etc., are generally considered “high-energy-dense” foods (i.e., 4 – 9 calories per gram by weight); on the contrary, nearly all fresh vegetables (and fruits) are considered “low-energy-dense” foods (i.e., 0.0 – 1.5 calories per gram, by weight), as they tend to have a high water content and be a very good source of fiber, two important factors reducing energy density. Fiber itself has a relatively low-energy density, providing only about 1.5 – 2.5 calories per gram.

Along those lines, researchers have found that when folks consume low-energy-dense foods, they feel satisfied earlier and those feelings of fullness persist for relatively longer periods of time—despite reductions in calorie intake. In other words, diets rich in low-energy-dense foods like fruits and vegetables allow folks to eat more total food, which leads to greater feelings of satiety, all while reducing calorie intake.10 By definition, that’s eating more (overall food) and less (calories). Bingo!

In one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from the University of Alabama allowed participants to eat as much food as they wanted (think all-you-can-eat buffet) over the course of 5 days, and their menu options alternated from low-energy-dense to high-energy-dense foods. On the low-energy-density diet, the folks ate only about HALF of the calories (1570) that they consumed before feeling full compared with the high-energy-density diet (3000 calories).11 Satiety (i.e., fullness and satisfaction) and food acceptance ratings were not different across days, meaning that they didn’t stop eating because they didn’t like the food.

In another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from the CDC found that men and women (over 7,000 of them) who consumed a diet rich in low-energy-dense foods consumed between 275 – 425 fewer calories per day than did those folks who opted for more high-energy-dense foods; not only that, the men and women eating more low-energy-dense foods consumed upwards of 14 MORE ounces of food per day (that’s almost a pound).10 Not surprisingly, the folks who ate more low-energy-dense foods like vegetables had healthier body weights (i.e., lowest prevalence of obesity).

A number of other studies have confirmed these findings: Diets rich in low-energy-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, broth-based soups, high-fiber foods, foods with high water content, etc., promote satiety (i.e., feelings of fullness and satisfaction), reduce hunger, and decrease overall calorie intake.

What’s more, long-term studies have shown that low-energy-dense diets also promote weight loss. In fact, studies lasting longer than 6 months demonstrate that folks who eat more low-energy-dense foods experience THREE TIMES greater weight loss than people who simply opt to reduce calories.12

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from Penn State University found that overweight women who focused on increasing their intake of low-energy-dense foods (i.e., fruits and vegetables) lost nearly 25% more weight over the course of one year compared to women who were instructed to follow a reduced-calorie diet alone. The women who focused on eating more fruits and vegetables ended up consuming MORE food (despite consuming fewer calories) and experienced greater satiety. The researchers concluded, “Reducing dietary energy density, particularly by increasing fruit and vegetable intakes, is an effective strategy for managing body weight while controlling hunger.”13

With all of that in mind, it should be a bit more clear how you can eat less and more at the same time to support your body composition goals by centering much of your food intake around low-energy-dense foods. This is not only an effective strategy for improving appetite control and reducing caloric intake. You see, what these low-energy-dense foods lack in calories more than make up for in their nutrient density, as they are packed with fiber, essential micronutrients, and important phytochemicals that act as potent antioxidants.

Examples of low-energy-dense foods:

  • Nearly all fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Colorful, starchy vegetables and fruits (e.g., bananas, potatoes, squash, yams)
  • Broth-based soups
  • Beans and lentils
  • Dairy (e.g., Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk)
  • Minimally-processed whole grains (e.g., quinoa, maize, amaranth, oats, rice, barley, sprouted grains, spelt, etc.)

Another Hunger Buster

Speaking of satiety, the discussion would not be complete without mentioning dietary protein, which is a nutrition all-star for a number of reasons, including its impact on appetite control.

In general, protein-rich foods result in a greater sense of satisfaction than fat- or carbohydrate-rich foods, and when you eat protein-dense meals, they tend to decrease calorie intake in subsequent feedings. In other words, protein-rich foods and protein-dense meals help you feel fuller, longer.14

Not only that, dietary protein exerts a significantly higher “thermic effect” than fats or carbohydrates, and high-protein meals are associated with increased thermogenesis. Simply put, a higher protein intake increases energy expenditure and boosts the metabolism.15

Even more, high-protein diets help build and maintain lean body mass and preserve metabolic rate, both of which are frequently compromised when dieting for fat loss.16 High-protein diets also tend to lead to significantly greater fat loss, and as a result, markedly better improvements in body composition.

As a matter of fact, when researchers from the University of Illinois compared the effects a high-protein diet to a standard reduced-calorie diet, they found that those folks who consumed more protein experienced a 62% greater ratio of fat loss—even though both groups consumed the same number of calories. 17

The researchers concluded, “This study demonstrates that increasing the proportion of protein to carbohydrate in the diet of adult women has positive effects on body composition, blood lipids, glucose homeostasis and satiety during weight loss.”

Despite the benefits on body composition, metabolism, and appetite, most folks don’t consume enough protein, and eating lean protein at each meal—a key habit of highly effective nutrition plans—along with low-energy dense foods can be tricky. That’s why a high-quality protein supplement tends to be foundational for optimizing overall health, body composition, and performance.

Because protein supplements are typically mixed with water or low-calorie liquid (e.g., unsweetened almond milk), they are inherently low-energy-dense options. For instance, the protein supplement recommended above mixed with 8 ounces of unsweetened almond milk has an energy density of about 0.6 calories per gram.

What’s also neat about a protein supplement is that it provides an opportunity to “sneak” in more low-energy-dense vegetables and fruits. For instance, you can add a couple of handfuls of spinach and some berries to make a great-tasting, nutrient-dense, low-energy dense protein smoothie.

As mentioned above, certain forms (e.g., cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, milk) of dairy are low-energy-dense and protein-dense, and a number of studies have demonstrated that dairy consumption may contribute to increases in lean body mass along with losses in body fat (i.e., improved body composition).18–22

Some folks do take issue with dairy, and in many cases, mild discomfort (whether real or perceived) can be alleviated by gradually increasing consumption and/or through use of digestive enzyme supplementation. While most digestive enzyme supplements in this category tend to only supply the lactase enzyme—which is necessary for the proper breakdown of the sugar lactose found in milk—it’s a better idea to consider a full-spectrum product that also includes proteolytic enzymes to help with the digestion of the proteins (e.g., whey, casein) found in milk, as they may also contribute to digestive discomfort.

Note: The majority of lean protein sources (e.g., beef, poultry, seafood, eggs, wild game, etc.) classify as “medium-energy-dense” foods, but they are still exceptional food choices and provide extraordinary nutrient density. As cited above, there are numerous advantages behind consuming protein-rich foods and a high-protein diet beyond the energy density discussion.

Move More, Eat More 2.0

Another interesting application of the “Move more, eat more” concept is what Dr. John Berardi has long advocated and described as G-Flux.23 The concept behind G-Flux, or energy flux, is that there is a multitude of benefits associated with a concomitant increase in both energy expenditure and calorie intake, including:

  • Improvements in body composition
  • Increased metabolic rate
  • Better recovery from and adaptations to exercise
  • Improved health
  • Greater nutrient density and improved micronutrient delivery

In general, when one increases activity (e.g., exercise), s/he burns a certain number of calories. Likewise, any time that you eat, your body expends energy (i.e., thermic effect of feeding) to digest, absorb, and assimilate the nutrients contained in food. With that in mind, there should be a predictable increase in energy expenditure when folks increase both physical activity and food intake.

What’s particularly interesting is that research suggests that these “high energy flux” states result in an unexpected and significant increase in the number of calories burned. In other words, when folks simultaneously increase physical activity and food intake, they tend to show significant increases in resting metabolic rate and burn even more calories than would be expected.24,25 Pretty nifty trick, and even more evidence of the “Move more, eat more” slogan.

What’s also interesting to note is that many folks tend to subconsciously increase non-exercise activity levels when they consume more calories. In other words, researchers have found that some people innately burn off more energy—through fidgeting, maintaining posture, daily activities—in response to overeating in order to preserve leanness and avoid gaining body fat.26 Thus, eating more can actually facilitate moving more, which enhances energy flux and body composition.

Take-Home Points

  • When it comes to fat loss, “Move more, eat less” makes sense, and it’s based on fundamental principles of human physiology. Although many researchers argue that there are other factors in play, an imbalance of calories consumed versus energy expended best describes how body weight changes.27 With that said, this common axiom is overly simplistic, and it doesn’t take into account other important factors (e.g., environment, hedonic compensation) that may influence food intake and eating behaviors.
  • “Move more, eat more” means that you can actually eat a substantially larger volume of food (i.e., low-energy-dense foods), which leads to greater satiety, fewer calories consumed, and greater overall nutrient intake.
  • Especially when starting a fat loss program, begin with the highest possible calorie intake. This leaves the most room for progression along the way. Dramatic reductions in food intake result in significant decreases in energy expenditure (e.g., reduced thermic effect of feeding, decreased cost of physical activity, reduced resting metabolic rate, and metabolic adaptations).28,29
  • Try not to get too caught up in the “numbers game.” While calories in versus calories out may be a rational scientific explanation, it’s virtually impossible to estimate the number of calories that you expend during activity or over the course of the day. Calorie counting can be a futile process, as labels and reporting may lead to estimates with a 30% margin of error. What’s more, without sophisticated equipment, it’s not feasible to accurately assess the number of calories absorbed.
  • When you’re encroaching on a plateau, experiment with the G-Flux concept—simultaneously increase physical activity and food intake. Done progressively, in most cases, folks tend to see rapid improvements in body composition and performance. In the worst cases, they remain at the plateau, and even then, they tend to add some muscle.
  • When you’ve reached your ideal body composition, consider the G-Flux approach as well to help facilitate a higher calorie intake. Once you’re able to maintain a stable weight at the higher energy intake, gradually decrease physical activity.

References:

  1. Hall KD, Heymsfield SB, Kemnitz JW, Klein S, Schoeller DA, Speakman JR. Energy balance and its components: implications for body weight regulation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(4):989-994. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.036350.
  2. Wing RR, Hill JO. Successful weight loss maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2001;21:323-341. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.21.1.323.
  3. Greenway FL. Physiological adaptations to weight loss and factors favouring weight regain. Int J Obes. 2015;39(8):1188-1196. doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.59.
  4. Berthoud H-R. Metabolic and hedonic drives in the neural control of appetite: who is the boss? Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2011;21(6):888-896. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2011.09.004.
  5. Martínez-González MA, Martínez JA, Hu FB, Gibney MJ, Kearney J. Physical inactivity, sedentary lifestyle and obesity in the European Union. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord J Int Assoc Study Obes. 1999;23(11):1192-1201.
  6. Pietiläinen KH, Kaprio J, Borg P, et al. Physical inactivity and obesity: a vicious circle. Obes Silver Spring Md. 2008;16(2):409-414. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.72.
  7. Spees CK, Scott JM, Taylor CA. Differences in amounts and types of physical activity by obesity status in US adults. Am J Health Behav. 2012;36(1):56-65.
  8. Holt SH, Miller JC, Petocz P, Farmakalidis E. A satiety index of common foods. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1995;49(9):675-690.
  9. Rolls BJ, Bell EA. Intake of fat and carbohydrate: role of energy density. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999;53 Suppl 1:S166-S173.
  10. Ledikwe JH, Blanck HM, Kettel Khan L, et al. Dietary energy density is associated with energy intake and weight status in US adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6):1362-1368.
  11. Duncan KH, Bacon JA, Weinsier RL. The effects of high and low energy density diets on satiety, energy intake, and eating time of obese and nonobese subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1983;37(5):763-767.
  12. Yao M, Roberts SB. Dietary energy density and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 2001;59(8 Pt 1):247-258.
  13. Ello-Martin JA, Roe LS, Ledikwe JH, Beach AM, Rolls BJ. Dietary energy density in the treatment of obesity: a year-long trial comparing 2 weight-loss diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(6):1465-1477.
  14. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1558S – 1561S.
  15. Halton TL, Hu FB. The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(5):373-385.
  16. Soenen S, Martens EAP, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Lemmens SGT, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass. J Nutr. 2013;143(5):591-596. doi:10.3945/jn.112.167593.
  17. Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, et al. A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr. 2003;133(2):411-417.
  18. Josse AR, Atkinson SA, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Increased Consumption of Dairy Foods and Protein during Diet- and Exercise-Induced Weight Loss Promotes Fat Mass Loss and Lean Mass Gain in Overweight and Obese Premenopausal Women. J Nutr. 2011;141(9):1626-1634. doi:10.3945/jn.111.141028.
  19. Zemel MB, Richards J, Mathis S, Milstead A, Gebhardt L, Silva E. Dairy augmentation of total and central fat loss in obese subjects. Int J Obes 2005. 2005;29(4):391-397. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802880.
  20. Wilkinson SB, Tarnopolsky MA, Macdonald MJ, Macdonald JR, Armstrong D, Phillips SM. Consumption of fluid skim milk promotes greater muscle protein accretion after resistance exercise than does consumption of an isonitrogenous and isoenergetic soy-protein beverage. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(4):1031-1040.
  21. Hartman JW, Tang JE, Wilkinson SB, et al. Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(2):373-381.
  22. Josse AR, Tang JE, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Body composition and strength changes in women with milk and resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(6):1122-1130. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c854f6.
  23. Andrews R. All About G-Flux. Precis Nutr. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-g-flux.
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  28. Saltzman E, Roberts SB. The role of energy expenditure in energy regulation: findings from a decade of research. Nutr Rev. 1995;53(8):209-220.
  29. Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Norton LE. Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):7. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-7.

Eat Your Veggies and Don’t Fear the Fat

17 May

Eat Your Veggies and Don’t Fear the Fat

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

Mom Was Right: Eat Your Veggies

It’s no secret that a diet plentiful in vegetables— packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber—confers many health benefits. According the United States Department of Agriculture,1 eating a diet rich in vegetables may:

  • Reduce the risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke;
  • Protect against certain types of cancers;
  • Reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes;
  • Lower blood pressure; and
  • Help decrease bone loss.

While consuming a diet high in vegetables is associated with lower risks for numerous chronic diseases, the impact of eating vegetables on weight management has not been as widely researched. However, recent studies indicate that higher consumptions of vegetables during weight loss efforts are correlated to more weight and fat lost.2

What’s more, scientists have found that reduced-calorie diets including five servings of vegetables per day can lead to sustained weight loss, with associated reductions in cardiovascular disease risk factors. Further, consuming a higher proportion of calories as vegetables may support greater weight loss.3

According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity,4 there are multiple reasons why a diet higher in vegetables may help folks control energy balance and support healthy body weight management:

  • To lose weight, a person must eat fewer calories than what s/he burns (i.e., negative energy balance).
  • People may not limit what they consume based on calories alone. Satiety (i.e., feeling full) is a major reason that people stop eating. Rather than the calorie content of food, short-term studies indicate that the volume of food people eat at a meal is what makes them feel full and stop eating.
  • At the same calorie level, foods with low energy density provide a greater volume of food, which may help people feel full at a meal while consuming fewer calories.
  • Water and fiber increase the volume of foods and reduce energy density. In their natural state, vegetables have high water and fiber content and thus are low in calories and energy density.
  • Vegetables are good substitutes for foods of high energy density.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans don’t consume enough vegetables. In fact, only 1 in 4 adults eats the recommended amount of vegetables each day. Thus, the first take-home point is to listen to what your mother always told you: “Eat your veggies.”

Don’t Fear The Fat

More and more research has demonstrated that in addition to the micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals) packed into vegetables, there are also important phytochemicals (i.e., plant chemicals) that are essential for optimal physiological functioning. For instance, carotenoids, phytochemicals that are responsible for providing the dark colors of various plant foods, are potent antioxidants that combat oxidative stress,5 one of the most important factors mediating the deleterious effects of aging.6,7

Here’s where things get really interesting. Like some of the important micronutrients (e.g., vitamins A, D, E, and K) in vegetables, carotenoids (e.g., alpha- and beta-carotene, lycopeine, lutein, zeaxanthin) are fat-soluble nutrients. In other words, dietary fat is necessary to ensure absorption of these health-promoting nutrients.

In a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers compared the absorption of carotenoids when participants consumed a salad dressed with a fat-free (i.e., 0 grams of fat), reduced-fat, or full-fat salad dressing rich in monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil). After consuming the salad with the fat-free dressing, the appearance of carotenoids in the bloodstream was negligible. That’s right, the participants literally absorbed NONE of the free radical-fighting nutrients.8 While there was a relative increase in absorption of carotenoids when participants ate the salad with a reduced-fat dressing, “a substantially greater absorption of carotenoids was observed when salads were consumed with full-fat dressing.”

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers from The Ohio State University found similar results when they added avocado or avocado oil to salsa and salads. When avocado or avocado oil, both rich in monounsaturated fats, was added to salsa, the absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids was up to four times higher than when the salsa was avocado-free. If that’s not enough, when avocado was added to salads, the researchers found that absorption of carotenoids was up to 15 times higher than when the salads were consumed avocado-free (i.e., fat-free).9

By now, you’re starting to see the picture, and recent research from Purdue sheds even more light on the types of fats that may be best for salads and veggies. In a 2012 study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, participants were fed salads topped off with saturated (e.g., butter), monounsaturated (e.g., olive oil), and polyunsaturated (e.g., soybean oil) fat-based dressings, and researchers tested their blood for absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids. The researchers found that monounsaturated (e.g., olive-oil) fat-rich dressings led to the greatest carotenoid absorption.10 In all cases, there was a dose-dependent relationship between the amount of fat consumed and the absorption of carotenoids (i.e., the amount of fat has the strongest effect on bioavailability of carotenoids), and soybean oil salad dressing was most dependent on dose.

To make matters worse, soybean oil is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation, particularly when they are consumed in excess of omega-3 fats (e.g., fish oil).11 In fact, researchers attribute the ubiquity of soybean oil, which is the most common oil used in store-bought salad dressings, in the modern day food supply to the massive imbalance of the average individual’s consumption of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fats.12 This omega imbalance is connected to an increase in nearly all inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, mood disorders, mental illness, autoimmune disease, and more.13

“If you want to utilize more from your fruits and vegetables, you have to pair them correctly with fat-based dressings,” said Mario Ferruzzi, a Purdue associate professor of food science. “If you have a salad with a fat-free dressing, there may be a reduction in calories, but you lose some of the benefits of the vegetables.”

The take-home point: Don’t fear the fat. Pair your vegetables with healthy, whole food fats, particularly those rich in monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, avocado oil, almonds, almond oil, macadamia nuts, and macadamia nut oil.

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References:

  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Why is it important to eat vegetables? http://choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-why.html.
  2. Whigham LD, Valentine AR, Johnson LK, Zhang Z, Atkinson RL, Tanumihardjo SA. Increased vegetable and fruit consumption during weight loss effort correlates with increased weight and fat loss. Nutr Diabetes. 2012;2:e48. doi:10.1038/nutd.2012.22.
  3. Tapsell LC, Batterham MJ, Thorne RL, O’Shea JE, Grafenauer SJ, Probst YC. Weight loss effects from vegetable intake: a 12-month randomised controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014;68(7):778-785. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.39.
  4. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Can eating fruits and vegetables help people to manage their weight? Weight Manag Res Pract Ser. 1. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/nutrition/pdf/rtp_practitioner_10_07.pdf.
  5. Rao A, Rao L. Carotenoids and human health. Pharmacol Res. 2007;55(3):207-216. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2007.01.012.
  6. Betteridge DJ. What is oxidative stress? Metabolism. 2000;49(2 Suppl 1):3-8.
  7. Floyd RA. Antioxidants, oxidative stress, and degenerative neurological disorders. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med Soc Exp Biol Med N Y N. 1999;222(3):236-245.
  8. Brown MJ, Ferruzzi MG, Nguyen ML, et al. Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(2):396-403.
  9. Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. J Nutr. 2005;135(3):431-436.
  10. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C, Failla ML, Ferruzzi MG. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012;56(6):866-877. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201100687.
  11. Bosma-den Boer MM, van Wetten M-L, Pruimboom L. Chronic inflammatory diseases are stimulated by current lifestyle: how diet, stress levels and medication prevent our body from recovering. Nutr Metab. 2012;9(1):32. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-32.
  12. Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):950-962. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.006643.
  13. Hibbeln JR, Nieminen LRG, Blasbalg TL, Riggs JA, Lands WEM. Healthy intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids: estimations considering worldwide diversity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6 Suppl):1483S – 1493S.

Extreme Makeover: Kitchen Edition

5 Feb

Extreme Makeover: Kitchen Edition

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

In Switch, an influential book on behavior change, brothers Chip and Dan Heath conjured an image of a person riding an elephant to describe the challenge of the change-making progress. In short, the Heath brothers’ metaphor translates like this:

  • The rider is the voice of reason. He is the “logical” brain that “knows” what to do and tries to control the powerful elephant, something he’s successful at doing…for a very short period of time.
  • The elephant represents raw, powerful emotions. It is physically strong and overpowering, and it is both figuratively and literally significantly larger than the rider. At some point or another, the elephant—our impulses and deep emotional needs—overcomes the rider.

With that in mind, both the rider—or, the “thinky” brain—and the elephant—the primal, emotional brain—both need to be “addressed” appropriately along the path to behavior change.

Speaking of path, the Heath brothers also discuss its significance in the change-making process. Specifically, whether the elephant realizes it or not, it is constrained to a certain path, or environment. In fact, the elephant’s path has an even greater effect on its actions than the “smart” rider.

In tangible terms, this means that in order to build better nutrition habits, you need to consider your environment and shape your path. While your environment can be influenced by social (e.g., people), cultural (e.g., expectations), and intellectual (e.g., beliefs) factors, we’re going to focus our attention on your physical environment—notably, your kitchen.

According to nutrition coach extraordinaire Dr. John Berardi, the “first law” of good nutrition is as follows:

 If a food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate, will eventually eat it.

This is particularly discerning for a number of reasons, and it gives powerful insight into how strongly your environment can affect your eating habits and health goals. This law can be taken at surface level (e.g., if a trigger food is around, it could lead to trouble), or it can take it a step further (e.g., if your living mates aren’t “on board” with your goals, then you could be set up for failure).

What’s also neat about this law is that it has a corollary:

If a healthy food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate will eventually eat it. 

With all of that being said, you can see that you have the power to shape your path toward healthy eating habits and good nutrition behaviors by taking a look at your environment (i.e., kitchen) to identify (and trash) non-nutritious “junk” and “trigger” foods that promote overeating and poor eating habits and derail you from the path to optimal health, body composition, and performance. Likewise, this same process involves making sure that you have the nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods you need to support your goals, as well as the right tools to prepare them in a nutritious manner.

With that in mind, you are now the star of your own reality show: Extreme Makeover: Kitchen Edition!

This process can vary from person to person based on a number of factors (e.g., nutrition knowledge, socioeconomic background, roommates and family members), and a good place to start is with the following assessment:

PN Kitchen Makeover Questionnaire

This questionnaire helps to give you an idea of where your kitchen sits on the spectrum of makeover-ness, and it gives you an idea of the types of foods that you’ll find in a healthy kitchen—along with those that you won’t—as well as the tools that you should have on hand to make sure that you have the capability to prepare healthy meals. In addition, it can give you some feedback about your food-related behaviors (e.g., grocery shopping, prepare foods in advance) and thought processes.

Once you’ve completed the Kitchen Makeover Questionnaire, it’s a good idea to start to get an idea of what foods will stay (and why) and what foods must go (and why). One very effective way to do this is to create a “trigger” list of red, yellow, and green light foods. You’ll start by identifying the red and yellow light foods because these are the items you’ll want to get out of the house. Then, we’ll move on to the green light foods, which will be the locus of your kitchen restocking efforts.

Red light foods are the obvious “junk foods” as well as foods that tend to prompt overeating. While the latter may be a bit more unique to you—for me, it’s nut butters—the former may include:

  • Baked goods
  • Cakes
  • Candy
  • Cheese spreads
  • Chips
  • Chocolate
  • Condiments
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Diet soda
  • Dips
  • Ice cream
  • Instant foods
  • Frozen dinners
  • Fruit snacks
  • Margarine
  • Processed meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces
  • Soda
  • Sweetened drinks
  • Take-out leftovers
  • Vegetable oils
  • Alcohol is negotiable

Yellow light foods are a bit less obvious junk foods, and we like to call these “trick foods.” These foods are generally masqueraded as healthy, but they are far cry from whole, minimally processed foods. Some examples include:

  • Bagels
  • Breads
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Dried Fruit
  • Energy bars
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Fruit-flavored yogurt
  • Fruit juice
  • Granola bars
  • Light/fat-free yogurt
  • Organic “junk” food
  • Pretzels
  • Regular peanut butter
  • Trail mix

As we’ll talk about below, you don’t have to throw out everything. The makeover—just like your body transformation—is a journey. If you’re not ready to toss something, that’s okay. This is a dynamic process, and you’ll just want to continue to be aware (i.e., notice and name) of your relationship with any red or yellow light foods that you keep.

Some people find that getting rid of a couple of things each week—and displacing them with green light foods—works really well. They hold onto their lists of red and yellow light foods, and they cross them off as they go (and they don’t buy more of them).

Green light foods are those that are nutritious and health-promoting, and these are the foods with which you’ll want to stock your kitchen. Along these lines, the corollary to the “first law” of good nutrition says that having healthy foods available to prepare and eat is just as important as getting rid of the “junk” food.

The Kitchen Makeover Questionnaire is a great stepping stone to help you stock your kitchen with nutritious foods, and along with that, the following list may help you with this portion of your kitchen makeover:

Superfood Reference Guide

That guide is a great start, and it emphasizes that you can’t go wrong with whole, minimally processed foods. In addition, the following checklist provides some additional options, along with some coaching tips for navigating the aisles of the grocery store:

Super Market Survival Guide

If at any point during this process you’re feeling a little ambivalent or doubtful, that’s okay. It’s completely normal to want to hang onto that bag of potato chips like a life-saving flotation device or be a bit indecisive about throwing out and “wasting” food.

In the case of the former, this doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” situation, and you can revert back to your red, yellow, and green light lists to establish a makeover continuum. Remember, this is your journey, and you have control over shaping the path.

If you choose not to remove something now, simply notice how you respond by keeping it around. You might find that the bag of chips is more like an anchor and less like a flotation device. Shaping the path is a dynamic process, and you may find that you add and subtract foods and tools over time, as well as maneuver your kitchen for optimal food prep.

In terms of “wasting” food, you might ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Is this really “food” in the first place? It’s likely that most of the things that you’ll be tossing out are mere resemblances of food-related items with little to no health-redeeming qualities. With that in mind, you’re not technically wasting any “food.”
  • Also, you might ask yourself, what would be more of a waste: getting rid of the cheap “food” or ingesting it and allowing it to work against your health and body composition goals by increasing body fat and inflammation?

Remember, this is a process, but it’s an important one. Going back to the metaphor at the beginning, the elephant is stubborn and powerful, and yet it is constrained to its path, which has a much greater effect on the direction it travels (i.e., behavior) than the rider.

By modifying the path (e.g., the kitchen makeover), the job of the rider is considerably easier. Although you may experience some feelings of ambivalence and contradiction initially, changes in your surrounding environment relieve the rider and help to motivate the elephant. Ultimately, shaping your path makes it easier to adopt healthy nutrition behaviors and eating habits, and therefore, optimize your health, body composition, and performance.

Meal Frequency: Does It Matter?

15 Jul

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

You’re ready. Whether it’s doctor’s orders, an upcoming high school reunion, a New Year’s resolution, a significant other (or, potential significant other), or that pair of skinny jeans staring at you in the closet, you now have the motivation that you need to get started on your weight loss journey. You’re going to sign up for a personal trainer at your gym. You’ve got all of your BioTrust supplements. You’re ready to take on the dreaded d-word: The Diet.

One of the first questions that’s bound to come up: When it comes to body composition and fat loss, does meal frequency matter?

Sorry if this hits you like a ton of bricks, but the conditional answer is that meal frequency probably doesn’t matter. It’s conditional because it does hinge on the much more important factors of food choices and portion control. That is, when calories and macronutrients are controlled, meal frequency doesn’t matter. Better said, if you eat the right types of food (i.e., food choices) in the right amounts (i.e., portion control), meal frequency becomes a matter of personal preference.

Thus, if you do a better job of eating more metabolism-boosting protein and health-promoting vegetables over the course of six meals, then that may be the best strategy for you. However, if you do better with a few larger meals, then go for it.

There are some downsides to each approach. Starting with smaller, more frequent feedings, it just doesn’t bode well for many people for some of the following reasons:

  • It typically requires significant meal planning and preparation.
  • Many people “watch the clock” either waiting for the next meal or making sure they don’t miss one.
  • You spend a lot of time eating.
  • Many folks tend to schedule their days around their meals.
  • This population tends to be more apt to get HANGRY.

Likewise, there may be some pitfalls to less frequent feedings:

  • Some folks have a much harder time with portion control.
  • Likewise, some people will find it more challenging to include as much nutrient-dense food in a shorter period of time and/or fewer feedings.

That sounds convincing, but is there any research that actually compares meal frequency?

Yes, as a matter of fact, there is quite a bit of research on the topic. Researchers from Purdue recently performed a meal frequency experiment where they divided overweight men into multiple groups. One group of men consumed six meals per day, evenly spread out every two hours. Another group of men consumed precisely the same total number of calories in three feedings, which were separated by five hours. Both groups were following a calorie-restricted diet, but the scientists noted no significant differences in weight loss as a result of meal frequency.

Interestingly, the authors of the study did find that those subjects who ate fewer, larger meals experienced greater late-night fullness, which could potentially reduce the chances of snacking. Furthermore, the researchers noted that there were more compliance issues with the group assigned to eating six meals per day. On top of the meal frequency portion of the study, the scientists found that, compared to a normal-protein diet (i.e., 14% of calories), a high-protein diet (i.e., 25% of calories) collectively led to improved appetite and satiety and lower late-night urges to eat as well as reduced preoccupation with food.

In another study that appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition, scientists again separated subjects into high meal frequency (i.e., 6 meals per day) and low meal frequency (i.e., 3 meals per day) groups. Both groups of subjects followed a reduced-calorie diet, and at the end of eight weeks, the researchers found no significant difference in body weight, fat mass, lean body mass, or body mass index. The authors concluded that increased meal frequency “does not promote greater body weight loss.”

In a study funded by the National Institute on Aging and the US Department of Agriculture, researchers questioned the notion that, despite its commonality, “three squares” (i.e.,three meals per day) is optimal for health. The scientists separated subjects into two groups. One group group consumed three meals per day while the other group consumed only one. The groups both consumed an equal number of calories daily, which were assigned at maintenance level (i.e., not a calorie-restricted study). After eight weeks, the researchers found that reduced meal frequency (i.e. one meal per day), without a reduction in calories, led to a significant modification in body composition including reductions in body fat, as well as a significant decrease in cortisol.

Perhaps most important, the renowned International Society of Sports Nutrition, one of the world’s top authorities on sports nutrition, recently released their position stand on meal frequency. It should be noted that, when an organization of this magnitude issues a position statement on any given topic, it’s typically regarded as solid evidence—the closest to the truth as we know from science. In said statement, the organization concluded that increasing meal frequency does not appear to favorably change body composition.

What about the idea of “stoking” the metabolism with smaller, more frequent meals?

As you’ll see in our Critical Elements of Fat Loss Training article, there are several components that make up one’s metabolic rate (i.e., energy expenditure). This particular argument rests on the notion that eating more frequently will increase the element of metabolism known as the Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF), which refers to the amount of energy that the body uses to digest, absorb, and assimilate all of the nutrients we consume (from food).

Sure, it makes sense. If you eat more frequently, there will be more increases (i.e., pulses) in metabolic rate due to the TEF associated with each meal. However, do more pulses mean a greater overall response? Nope. As a matter of fact, the most extensive review of studies performed on TEF and various meal frequencies, ranging between 1 – 17 meals, concluded:

“Studies using whole-body calorimetry and doubly-labelled water to assess total 24 h energy expenditure find no difference between nibbling and gorging.” [NOTE: This is NOT an excuse to gorge oneself; rather, it is to make a point regarding TEF. This is a completely other issue in and of itself.]

Furthermore, the researchers also negated the notion that meal frequency has an effect on weight loss and concluded that “any effects of meal pattern on the regulation of body weight are likely to be mediated through effects on the food intake side of the energy balance equation.” Hmmm…that sounds a lot like food choices and portion control.

Surely, if you miss a meal, the body will go into starvation mode, right?

Not so much. Efficient adaptation to famine was no doubt a significant metabolic consequence during evolution (See: Understanding leptin). A decrease in metabolic rate during times of starvation was actually a good thing, as it increased the likelihood of living until one perhaps found some sustenance. However, it’s important to delineate starvation from missing a meal or even fasting for 24 hours. The idea that skipping a meal or implementing a short fast or intermittent fasting (IF) results in a reduced metabolic rate is not substantiated by science.

As a matter of fact, the earliest that scientific research has noted a decrease in metabolic rate in response to fasting is after 60 hours, which resulted in an 8% drop. Other research has shown that a dip in metabolic rate does not occur until 72 – 90 hours of fasting. Even with more pronounced IF protocols that implement daily fasts, the longest time without food is typically about 36 hours, which may actually have the opposite-than-expected effect on metabolic rate.

Ironically, there is frequently a short-term boost in metabolism with fasting. Studies have shown an increase of 4 – 10% in metabolic rate with fasting up to 36 – 48 hours. This likely is the result of increased catecholamines (i.e., epinephrine and norepinephrine), which serve to provide more energy and sharpen focus. This can be seen as desirable as the body is now in somewhat of a “fight” mode to find food. At some point—as mentioned above—this would be counter-productive, and the body would have to decrease metabolic rate in order to simply survive.

With all that being said, the best approach, in terms of meal frequency, may be the one that best works for you. That is, as long as you choose the right types of foods and eat them in the appropriate amounts, then meal frequency doesn’t matter.