In my 1st installment, I covered the first 3 of my 8 simple rules to making better decisions in one’s weight loss journey. If you haven’t read it, check it out before reading part 2 (click here for Part I). For the 2nd installment, I’m going to cover why the consumption of processed food (particularly processed carbs) should be reduced and why the consumption of lean protein should be increased.
Rule # 4: Beware the processed carbohydrate
In the past – I’d say within the last 50-60 years – there has been a shift in the American diet due to a transition in food production from smaller farm-based agriculture to the rise of the industrial food giants that dominate today’s food production. With the rise of these foods giants, we have seen an explosion of processed foods, which are cheaper and easier to manufacture than non-processed foods. I don’t want to turn this into a conspiracy theory article about how high fructose corn syrup is making America fat, or that the industrial food giants manipulate the media and general public into various “health trends” to sell food products and diets, BUT it’s hard to deny the rise of metabolic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease etc., (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/4/537/F1.expansion.html) as well as the explosion of diet trends, which sell books (as well as food products).
In fact, looking at food consumption patterns from the US Department of Agriculture, food consumption tables between 1967 and 2000 depicts a 1000% increase in high fructose corn syrup with it now representing about 40% of all added sweeteners in foods (1). While you can’t say that high fructose corn syrup is the only culprit in this obesity epidemic, it certainly seems that we can draw some conclusion that is has played a significant role in it. In addition, I have a serious problem with the diet trends that have risen out of the obesity epidemic. Off the top of my head, I remember the following trends: “Oh all fats are bad for you, low fat diets are how you lose weight.” Then it was Atkin’s with “all carbs are the enemy,” followed by “high-fat diets and good fats,” and now the most current one which I despise: “whole wheat and grain.” Yet when I open up cereal boxes or pasta boxes that are labeled “whole grain” or “whole wheat,” I don’t see any whole grains at all. I have yet to find a single non-processed grain of rye, wheat, bean, legume, rice, you name it in those boxes, but you can bet on the front it has a “whole grain!” or “whole grain heart healthy!” label, so people buy it.
So how are we supposed to know what’s processed and what’s not? The food label shall set you free! Behold a real life example: in one hand I have old fashioned Quaker oats, in the other instant apples & cinnamon oats. Now let me look at the food label of my old fashion oats which include: Rolled oats and 5 grams of culinary justice. Amazing, exactly what I paid for. On the other hand, the instant oats have about 15 different ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup (wow, never saw that coming). In addition, when you break down the macronutrients, the instant oats have 9 additional grams of sugar, as well as added sodium and less fiber and protein than the unprocessed oats. People often too quickly associate a simple label, such as “whole grain” with “healthy.” Case and point: I saw a “whole grain doughnut” the other day. Need I say more?
So why are these processed foods so bad? When they process the food, the molecular structure of the food is fundamentally altered, often times losing much of its nutritional density. The repeated process of extreme heating and cooling, as well as the stripping, bleaching, etc. strip away much of the vitamins and minerals all while keeping the caloric content intact. In the case of the oats, they have gone from being a complex carbohydrate, which takes a long time for the body to break down, into sugars, which can be utilized as a simple carbohydrate that is easy to break down. If you read part 1, you would know that this means it provides the quick rush of glucose that causes the vicious cycle of insulin response, high spikes in blood glucose, and a whole other host of problems that come along with that. Also, processed foods have many additives that are undesirable – I’m looking at you, high fructose corn syrup – which are added in order to re-flavor the food because it has lost much of its taste during the processing, as well as preservatives to help with shelf life.
Rule #5: Eat more protein
Eat more protein. For those of you who are vegetarians or don’t like eating meat, I suggest you start, lest you lose your place at the top of the food chain and be eaten by squirrels. In fact, all 11 squirrel related deaths in 2013 had vegetarians as victims (www.I’m1000%makingthisup.com). In all seriousness, there should be some animal or fish based proteins in your diet. But before I go into the why, let’s break down what protein really is so that we can have a better understanding of its function. Proteins are one of the big 3 macromolecules and are made up of chains of amino acids. Amino acids are organic compounds composed of an anime group, a carboxyl acid group, along with a side-chain specific group that makes each amino acid unique. Now besides being what proteins are composed of, amino acids play important role in neuro-transmitting and biosynthesis (2). There are 20 natural amino acids (I know it is 22; don’t sass me, bio majors. I’m not including selenocysteine and pyrrolysine). Of these 20 amino acids, the human body can only produce 10 on its own, so it’s important that we acquire the remaining 10 from our diet. Don’t worry, you’re getting the remaining 10, otherwise you’d be dead. Failure to obtain all of these amino acids would result in incomplete and useless proteins, and therefore your body would have to break down its own proteins (most likely muscle) in order to obtain these amino acids. Now, these amino acids are then used by the body to build its own proteins through gene expression. Think Lego’s: you keep adding blocks on the end of each other and eventually it is twisted and folded into a complete protein! Each organism has its own unique protein structure as dictated by genetics. The protein structure and shape are how we tell the difference between say, our cells and an invading or foreign bacteria cell. These proteins aren’t just used in building muscle. They perform a vast array of functions and participate in almost every cellular process in the body, including catalyzing almost all metabolic reactions (starting all chemical reactions as most enzymes are proteins), playing a crucial role in anabolic process (rebuilding of cells/tissue remodeling), replicating DNA, responding to various stimuli (immune response), playing a key role in digestion, transporting molecules from one location to another, helping to maintain and regulate cells, and all truly all bodily process. The list goes on and on (3). It’s no wonder proteins are called the building blocks of life.
Anyways, let’s get back to why you should try to get your protein from an animal source. Plant proteins are known as incomplete proteins meaning they lack all the amino acids or the sufficient proportions of amino acids to support biological function in human beings. However, you can still get sufficient amino acids; you just have to have a large variety of plant proteins to meet your basic minimum requirements. This means that you have to eat more, as well as a larger variety in order to get the same amount, and often times the amount is just the bare minimum in order to function. So to each their own, but if I had to get 3 ingredients to make a meal, I’d rather not go to 3 different grocery stores.
Now that we understand why we need proteins in our diet, let’s eat more of them! The most satisfying meal is the one you earn yourself, so go grab a spear (or weapon of choice), find yourself a large animal (or hipster), and let instinct take care of the rest. If this isn’t a viable option, you can always go to the local super market and just buy food. Now the best proteins in my opinion are lean, non-red meat proteins. These include chicken, turkey, fish and eggs (whites preferable). These meats are lower in saturated fat and have a higher protein to fat ratio, but this is not to say that red meats are bad for you. I won’t go into the details in this article, but red meat is not bad for you in correct proportions. It has really just gotten a bad rap, which is quite the shame. Now the reason I’m so big on proteins (meats) besides all the reasons I have already discussed pertains to body fat. Eating a lot protein often does not result in the same addition of body fat that say, carbohydrates or fats would. In a recent study, researchers examined whether the level of dietary protein affected body composition, weight gain, and/or energy expenditure in subjects randomized to one of three hypercaloric diets: low protein (5%), normal protein (15%), or high protein (25%) (5). The subjects were fed an excess of 1,000 kcals a day for 8 weeks, and at the end of the study the results were astounding. While all subjects increased body mass (hard not to on 1000kcal excess a day), the subjects of the high protein diet gained significant amount more of lean-body mass (muscle). To quote the authors, "Calories alone contributed to the increase in body fat. In contrast, protein contributed to changes in lean body mass, but not to the increase in body fat." Am I saying that proteins and amino acids cannot be stored as body fat? Absolutely not. Obviously the metabolic pathway exists for that to happen. However, one very plausible explanation is the fact that the process of storing proteins as fat requires a ton of effort and time. As your body digests proteins, it uses a significant amount of energy to break down the proteins (side note: look up themogenic effect. This article is already too long to explain this. Just know it takes roughly 33% of the calories taken in to digest and break down the protein). The process of gluconeogenesis, which is the process of turning those amino acids into glucose in the liver, takes about another 25% of those calories (6). Therefore, roughly only about 35-40% of those calories left is glucose which the body then has to turn into glycogen, and then can turn into adipose tissue (7). If you think it’s a lot of work to lose fat, make your body work that much harder to put on fat.
And so concludes part two of the three part series. An important thing to remember when reading these is that you should never deal in absolutes. After reading this, should you go dragon kick your pantry door open like Bruce Lee and proceed to purge your house of all non-sanctioned foods? No, absolutely not (but if you do, film it and send it to me). These rules are merely mean to bring you some education about nutrition and to help you make better and more informed decisions. Real permanent weight loss isn’t about diets. I hate that word and it’s got to go. It’s about life style changes that produce real lasting results over a long period of time. If you love soda, don’t go cold turkey on it. It won’t last. After about three weeks, you’re going to be the most irritable person and inevitably have an awful food binge relapse. Instead, maybe reduce your soda intake by half or switch to diet soda (a lesser evil). Over time continue to make positive changes that won’t feel like a diet or torture but rather a new, smarter, healthy way of life. Do I adhere to all my rules? I do my best, but if I’m at a wedding, I’m not going to pass up on having a piece of cake. One of the most important things about dieting is if you have a relapse moment or a cheat meal, don’t let the wheels fall off the wagon. If you had a tire pop on you, you would pull over, change the tire and proceed with life. You wouldn’t pull over and say “Whelp, there goes one, BUT WHY STOP THERE, LET’S DO ‘EM ALL” and slash the rest of your tires. Approach your nutrition changes with the same attitude; it’s OK to have a “cheat meal” every now and then.
For part 3, I’m going to cover my remaining rules, which are:
- Rule#6: why fats aren’t the enemy,
- Rule#7: the importance of cooking and packing your own meals, and
- Rule #8: how to start about your nutritional changes.
1. Bray G, Nielson S, Popkin B. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity Am J Clin Nutr April 2004 vol. 79 no. 4 537-543, American Society for Clinical Nutrition 2004
2. McGuire M, Beerman, KA.: Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food. 2nd edn. Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2011.
3. Gropper S, Smith, JL., Groff, JL.: Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 5th edn. Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2009.
4. Ten Have GA, Engelen MP, Luiking YC, Deutz NE: Absorption kinetics of amino acids, peptides, and intact proteins. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2007, 17 Suppl:S23-36.
5. Bray GA, Smith SR, de Jonge L, Xie H, Rood J, Martin CK, Most M, Brock C, Mancuso S, Redman LM: Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2012, 307:47-55.
6. Hue L. Regulation of gluconeogenesis in liver: In Handbook of Physiology – Section 7: The Endocrine System – Volume II: The Endocrine Pancreas and Regulation of Metabolism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 649-657, 2001.
7. Jéquier E, Acheson K, Schutz Y. Assessment of energy expenditure and fuel utilization in man. Annu Rev Nutr. 1987;7:187-208. Review. PubMed PMID: 3300732.