This new school of food science is led by Allen Lim, PhD, who's focus is to correct popular misconceptions about food, particularly about carbs and fat. Proponents of this new approach believe, for example, that a diet heavy in starch causes your body to burn sugar instead of fat, so you bonk more easily, often eat too much and end up overweight rather than properly fueled.
FALLACY #1: A Calorie is a Calorie
This might be the biggest weight-loss misunderstanding in existence. For years, we've been told that weight loss is a simple calories-in, calories-out equation, and 3,500 excess calories will put on a pound whether they come from soybeans or banana cream pie. That's simply not true.
There are three key types of calories: carbohydrate, protein and fat. They're as different as gasoline, motor oil and brake fluid in terms of the roles they play in keeping your body operating optimally. Many of my clients might eat the perfect number of calories, but they have cut their fat intake too much. So the jobs that fat does, such as repairing cell membranes and optimizing hormones, go undone, and the surplus carbs are stored as fat. By correcting the balance of carbs, protein and fat without changing their calorie intake, my clients are able to effectively lose weight, improve their immune system, gain muscle and boost energy.
Eat a representative of each macronutrient at every meal. I recommend getting 50 to 55 percent of your calories from carbs (fill your plate with vegetables, fruits and some whole grains), 25 to 30 percent from fats (olive oil, avocado and so on), and 15 to 20 percent from protein (lean meats, fish, eggs and poultry). Just be sure to skew your pre-workout meals or snacks to be heavier in carbs and lower in fat and protein to fuel up properly and avoid cramps. Include a good source of both protein and carbohydrate for your post-workout meals or snack.
FALLACY #2: Starches are Sensible Fuel
At some point, starch became synonymous with carbohydrate. While pasta and bagels are carbohydrates, and you do need carbs for fuel, they're often not the best sources, especially if you're trying to keep weight off. Starchy carbs are easy to overeat, and any surplus goes to your fat stores. Our brain operates on sugar, and when you eat bagels or potatoes, your body turns them into sugar and delivers them to your cells quickly, which makes your brain happy and leaves you wanting more. In this case, you shouldn't listen to your body. But this is hard, isn't it?
Fruits and vegetables, by contrast, are rich in carbs but often lower in calories and also digest more slowly. You're less likely to plow through so many berries and carrots that you end up with more fuel than you need. As a bonus, plant foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals and immunity-boosting phytonutrients that make you healthier and stronger, so you can go about your day and exercise better, thus burning more calories.
Choose carbs wisely. Eat starchy, quick-digesting carbs only during and right before and after training or exercise bouts. These are times when it's important to get food that can be quickly digested and converted to fuel. Otherwise, get your carbs from fruits and vegetables.
How much is enough? If you're eating considerably more than 50-55 percent, especially from starchy sources of carbohydrate, then you risk changing your metabolism. When I see someone who is eating lots of starch, they have not only gained fat, but they've also changed their metabolism from fat-burning to sugar-burning. This doesn't happen over one plate of pasta, but the body is adaptable. So overtime, constant intake of starchy foods will do damage, causing your body to switch over to burn whatever you're feeding it most.
When possible, pair your carbs with some protein. Lean meats, nut butters, fish and eggs slow digestion, so you feel full sooner, get more even energy from your meals and stay full longer. The amino acids in protein also help repair, build and maintain muscle tissue.
FALLACY #3: All Fat Makes You Fat
It's no coincidence that Americans got heavier as fat consumption went down. For years, the government preached low-fat, carb-heavy diets. That wasn't only misguided; it was flat-out wrong!
As your body becomes more conditioned, you become a better fat burner. You need ample amounts of healthy fat, which, contrary to widely held belief, won't make you fat. In fact, starchy foods turn to stored fat far more quickly. What's more, evidence is tacking up that healthy unsaturated fats are essential for firing up your fat-burning metabolism. In a study of 101 men and women, Harvard researchers put half the group on a low-fat diet and half on a diet that included about 20 percent of calories from monounsaturated fatty acids. After 18 months, the healthy fat-eating group had dropped 11 pounds; its low-fat eating peer had shed only six. Fat is also slower to digest than carbs, so it helps you stay full for a longer period of time.
Fat will help you exercise longer so you can burn more calories. In fact, research shows that athletes who get about 50-plus percent of their diet from fat produce better average times to exhaustion in exercise tests than those eating typical low-fat, high-carb diets.
Add healthy fats to every meal. Strive for about 20 percent of your calories from Monounsaturated fats, or about 45 grams per day at 1,800 calories. Because most athletes don't have time to count fat grams, the simpler message is: Include small portions of good fats, like almonds, avocado, and olive oil, with all meals and snacks. Try nuts and seeds, olive-based tapenades and even the occasional chunk of dark chocolate.
Here are some healthy portions to shoot for:
- Nuts and Seeds: Everything from pecans to pine nuts, almond butter to tahini. A serving size is 2 tablespoons.
- Olives: Black, green mixed or blended in a spreadable tapenade. A serving is 10 large olives or 2 tablespoons of spread.
- Oils: Canola, flaxseed, peanut safflower, walnut, sunflower, sesame or olive. Cook with them; drizzle them; eat them in pesto. One serving is 1 tablespoon.
- Avocado: As guacamole or just slice and serve. One-quarter cup equals one serving.
- Dark Chocolate: Go for one-square of dark or semi-sweet every so often.
Many athletes who think they're eating healthfully often consume far more sugar and sodium than they realize because they eat so much pasta, cereals, energy bars and other processed foods. Very honestly, the vast majority of grocery-store foods are packaged and processed junk. Some items also contain trans fats - the kind of fats you want to avoid like the plague. The sugar is also troublesome for weight loss because it causes the body to step up its production of insulin, which in turn blocks hormones that control appetite. As a result, the food you eat is quickly stored as fat and at the same time, leaving you hungry.
Eat mostly whole foods that are part of an animal or plant. Fill most of your cart with foods from the grocery store's perimeter first. If you think about it, that's where the fresh produce, meats, fish and other whole foods are found. If necessary, then go down the specific aisles to get the few foods to fill in the rest.
FALLACY #5: Skipping Breakfast is Fine if You Need to Drop a Few Pounds
What can I say...EAT BREAKFAST. That bit of essential advice is simply food gospel. Still, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, fewer than half of us eat a morning meal.
Breakfast is the key that starts your fat-burning metabolism. Without it, you go into an energy deficit that only leave you ravenous (and more likely to overeat) later, but also suppresses your fat-burning furnace, so what you do eat is more likely to go into fat storage. Research shows that people who skip breakfast are 4 1/2 times more likely to be overweight than those who don't.
Because you have a whole day of activity - whether it's with or without exercise - try to eat about 25 percent of your daily calories at your morning meal. That meal should include protein, healthy fat an fiber-rich carbs like fruit. A British study found that exercisers who ate a breakfast high in fiber burned twice as much fat during workouts later in the day than those who at less fibrous foods.
For a power breakfast that'll sustain you well into the day, try two eggs any style; 1/2 cup whole oats, cooked; 6 oz. Greek non-fat yogurt; a cup of mixed berries; and 1 cup coffee or tea.
FALLACY #6: You Can Eat the Same at Age 40 as Age 20
Muscle is the engine that powers you through your day and exercise, but it also drives your calorie-burning metabolism. The more lean tissue and muscle you have, the more calories you burn and the leaner you stay. As we age, we naturally lose muscle and thus gain fat. Exercise and strength training in particular help prevent that loss, but the right foods are more important for muscle maintenance than most people realize. Because of age-related kidney changes, our blood becomes more acidic and we excrete nitrogen, as essential component of muscle protein, faster than we take it in. Therefore, we essentially end up peeing away our muscles.
Prevent nitrogen loss and preserve muscle mass by increasing the alkalinity of your blood to neutralize the acidity. One way method of doing this is to take supplements such as greens, but you can also eat foods that enhance alkaline. Fruits and vegetables are the only foods that offer a net increase. Fats and oils are neutral. All other foods, including grains, legumes and meats, have an acid-producing effect. If you don't get most of your carbs from fruits and vegetables, you're losing muscle mass as well as calcium from your bones, which also gets leached away in an acidic environment as you age.
FALLACY #7: You're Never Hungry...or You're Always Hungry
Most diets treat hunger as the enemy. But it's actually the key to your success. Once you start the fat-reduction process, you'll be a little hungry, but not starving. This is true, but only when it's getting close to the time to have another meal or snack. The trick is to balancing the two, so you're losing weight, but not setting yourself up for a binge.
Try to eat every 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Eat breakfast, then wait until you feel hungry and eat just until you're no longer hungry. If it has been 3 or 3 1/2 hours and you're not feeling particularly hungry, eat a little something such as a few nuts and a few grapes, but not too much more. This will help to keep your metabolism burning and prevent you from overeating later when you DO feel hungry. Once you get the hang of it, weight loss and maintenance will be a breeze.
Alissa Robertson, MS, RD