I have had some questions as to what the deal is with all of these “diet” terms we see and hear about every day. Admittedly, these terms can get quite confusing, and it can get quite frustrating to understand what is the best advice to listen to or try. In my own opinion, and in the opinions of many others in the world of healthy lifestyle, the best advice I have heard is to listen to the body and understand what it is saying. This can also be confusing, though, because many times what we think our bodies are saying is really the opposite.
Let me first explain what that last sentence means:
When you crave something, it could either mean you are lacking the nutrients in that food, or it could mean that your body is very hungry and wants a source of fast energy and nourishment. Oftentimes, when the latter is the case, the foods we crave are the exact foods we should stay away from.
An example of this would be not eating all day long, only to get into the eveningtime to be absolutely famished. This kicks off a craving for fast, easy-to-get, and quick foods. That might lead to a fast food craving. Whereas you might have originally cooked up some nice meal at home like a steak and salad, when this craving from hunger signals kicks in, you end up grabbing a processed, carb-laden, nutrient-lacking pre-cooked burger on a carby bun, some heavily fried (in toxic vegetable oil), starchy french fries, and a sugary or chemically created diet soda. This meal is dangerous in so many ways…but it might be what you feel the body was craving. Unfortunately, this is one of the things that happens in starvation…why? Well, it is because the body is craving the nutrients and energy it needs to survive. It is sending signals that say “Hey, I am going into survival mode. I need nourishment to keep up my energy…and I need that quick source of it NOW!” This is a process that we have due to years past when times called for eating whatever was necessary in order to truly survive. This is not the case anymore. Today, there are numerous choices for us to do for meals. We no longer need to go hunt or gather for our foods. We now have many options…so why not pick the very best ones…no matter what the body in its primitive state is calling for. I assure you, your body will thank you if you do choose to pass on that terrible choice and go for the real, nutrient-rich meal that nourishes the whole body and mind!
So, with that said, let us go over the various confusing “diet” terms out there to determine which might be the best choice for each of us!
The common knowledge way of thinking has been pushed over and over since around the end of World War II, and really got under way with the McGovern report wrongly singling out saturated fat as a cause for heart disease rates rising in the 1970s (Bowden, 2010). This way of thinking is known as “low-fat.” Unfortunately, the McGovern report was based on bad science and incorrect ideas. The money behind all of this really pushed it through government and into the public…causing even more problems! Big manufacturers began to produce processed foods that had natural fats taken out and strange chemical or industrial ingredients put in in the place of those good fats. They came up with processes that would lower fat but increase dangerous carbohydrates and things that should not be considered food. Processed, garbage food had begun…and it sticks around today, causing us much harm…not only from the strange “ingredients” that are not natural foods from the earth; but rather, creations of labs and chemists! This is low-fat and no-fat! If you take out the natural, good-for-you, saturated fats…you get crap…plain and simple…you get cardboard that needs flavor…so sugar is put in, chemicals are added, and other things the body cannot utilize are added….you get no nutritional value!
Obviously, low and no-fat are not good choices to be healthy…they have essentially created the obesity epidemic and other health issues we deal with in abundance today.
Now, what about the terms we have heard about since around the 1980s or so? These might include “low-carb” or “Atkins.” Essentially, these two terms are synonymous with one another. They both mean that the person living this lifestyle is cutting back on the carbohydrates he or she is eating. Basically, Dr. Robert Atkins really got this popularized with his reports and writings in 1972. His book, “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” made a splash, and was revised later on. There is a long and controversial history about this…but I want to make sure you understand NOT to believe the hooey that some sources tell you. Dr. Atkins’ diet did NOT promote using hydrogenated vegetable oils or other types of created oils; rather, it promoted the replacement of these commonly used oils (because of that low-fat diet thing) with fats such as that from animals. The key is that Atkins reduces the carbohydrates (such as potatoes, breads, rice, and pastas) that are refined and not good for the body…and it increases the use of saturated fats (like lard, coconut oil, and olive oil). These types of fat will satisfy the person and help to switch the body into fat burning mode.
Of course, there are several varieties of low-carb type lifestyles or diets. Included in these are the “Zone Diet,” “South Beach Diet,” and the father of the low-carb diets “Banting” (not really a named diet, per se, but more often used as a verb…in the early 1900s, one might have said he or she was “banting” if he or she was losing weight by reduction of the carbs). This comes from a guy who, in the 1860s was very obese and lost weight and felt great by the suggestion of reduction of carbohydrates (Hingle, n.d.) (a very cool story that I really recommend you check out sometime).
So what exactly does the low-carb diet or lifestyle require and do? Well, to answer this let’s look at Wikipedia’s entry on it (I admit, I do not like to use Wikipedia as a sole source for information, but sometimes it does have a balanced write-up about things other sources might be biased on…and I want to keep this piece unbiased and factual). So, to summarize Wikipedia on low-carb:
Foods high in carbohydrates (bread, pasta, etc) are restricted or replaced with foods containing higher sources of protein and saturated fats (meats, eggs, dairy, etc.). The low-carb diets also include lower-carb vegetables and fruits such as green, leafy veggies and berries. Amounts of carbohydrates allowed vary from program to program and person to person. Sometimes these diets can restrict carbohydrates low enough to produce ketosis (a process by which the body begins to burn fat and produce ketone bodies, rather than trying to burn quick sources such as carbohydrate for energy… not harmful, by the way). Often, the amounts of carbohydrates counted would be done by looking at the “net” carbs, or those carbs indigestible by the body…like fiber…a good thing, in my opinion. The example of this would be taking the total carbohydrate count of something like romaine lettuce (approx. 3.5 oz. = 3.29 total carbs) (USDA Nutrient Database, 2010 ) and deducting the amount of fiber (2.1 fiber). That gives you a net carb count of 1.19 grams of net carbs in approx. 3.5 oz of romaine lettuce…a low-carb net count!
So anyways, that is essentially low-carb. There is a lot more to it, but it is quite extensive, and I want to keep this as simple as I can for an introduction…plus, we have more to go over!
Now, we have discussed low-fat, fat-free, no-fat (all the same…see above) and low-carb. What’s next? Ahh, gluten-free…
Gluten-free diets are diets that exclude a protein called gluten. This protein is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye (Mayo Clinic, 2010). The protein is not like other, positive proteins. In fact, it can really cause inflammation, and some even consider it an antinutrient that these grains use to make the plant inedible. Truly, it has caused many problems in our population. Those with Celiac Disease are affected most by gluten; however, it may well be that a large number of the population, whether or not they have Celiac or test positive for sensitivity to gluten, could be suffering problems due to gluten.
Recently, gluten-free diets have become more popular. This has resulted in many, many products being (key word here) PRODUCED (production…process…processed) that do not contain gluten. Of course, these products are not only more expensive, but they may also contain other ingredients not useful to the body. Just because it is gluten-free, does not mean it is healthy or good for us. For example, if you pick up a box of gluten-free cake mix, it may not contain gluten, but it probably still contains some sort of artificial ingredient or sugar…not good for the body! While the gluten-free diet may be healthier if done by eating only whole, real foods, it could be potentially deceiving or just not healthy if one relies again on these processed foods. The gluten-free life is a positive step, but it should only be done with the understanding that these processed foods should not be a staple of the diet…basically, avoid processed and stick with whole, real foods such as meats, veggies, and some fruits…and you will avoid gluten. Avoiding grains will also help avoid gluten. A low-carb lifestyle may be low-gluten or gluten-free, but a low-gluten or gluten-free lifestyle is not necessarily low-carb.
There are two terms in this diet area: Low glycemic index and low glycemic load. The index is essentially the standard of how certain foods affect the blood glucose levels in the body. Glycemic load is the combination of the quality and quantity of these foods in one number. I have to say, there is a really great podcast by Dana Carpender on this that you should listen to in order to understand this better. I don’t want to confuse you, so I am not going to go into it any more than to say, these can be helpful, but should not be a lifestyle basis, as they can be confusing, confused, and incorrect. Here is an explanation that really, really hits the nail on the head (thanks Dana!): http://holdthetoast.net/node/192
Now…calories vs. carbohydrates:
I am not going into too much detail here because honestly, if you cut carbohydrates you will also cut down the amount of food you eat…hence, cutting the silly calorie theory.
I think there is a place for calories, but I think the majority of us have this too wrong. Yes, foods contain calories. No, calories in vs. calories out is not valid…why? Well, we are not a closed system. That theory only relates to closed systems. There is much, much more to the biochemistry of the body than just thermodynamics. There is also much more to the calorie than just the number someone attaches to it. A calorie is not a calorie when it comes to our bodies and our nutrients. Plain and simple, calories do not matter if they are understood. This might confuse many of you, so let me just say…don’t count calories…it is futile to do this…and you might end up with calorie obsession or disappointment at not feeling better or losing weight…depending on what you eat.
Now that all of that has been said, I recommend you keep in mind not to count anything. Don’t count calories or carbs. Just eat what mother nature intended us to…that is, if you can hunt and kill it, pick it, or eat it raw…go for it! If it has to be processed, take it easy on it! DON’T count what you eat. DON’T avoid saturated fats because they will NOT make you fat or give you heart disease…those are myths perpetrated by money! DO avoid hydrogenated oil (see blog: The Skinny on Fat). DO eat green, leafy veggies, meat, and some fruits. SHOP the PERIMETER of the grocery store, avoiding the bread if that is where the store has put it. If you do pick up something from the center aisles, try only to pick up things with ingredients you understand. DO avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar (see Podcast: All About Sweeteners). Oh, and one more thing, just as you don’t often believe the hype about many things the media perpetrates or the government spouts, DON’T believe the hype on low-fat or common-knowledge reports! Why would they perpetrate anything that does not push their agendas and is not backed by money? Diet and nutrition is NO DIFFERENT! Think outside the societal box…think “punk rock”…think individual! You are an individual, so keep yourself in mind!
Keep in mind that our ancestors gave us our systems. We are still designed to eat and respond to foods and the environment the ways that they evolved to. It takes a long time for DNA to change and evolve to accept other things…that time is not here, and that is why we have so many chronic problems these days. Almost everything we suffer from today can be eliminated or healing can be assisted simply by taking in proper nutrients and eliminating or restricting antinutrients that inflame us and stress our bodies! Avoiding those elements we can is one step to getting healthy, losing fat, and gaining shapely, lean bodies!
I hope this has helped clear up confusion! Let me know if you need assistance. I am going to do a video series to teach people how to shop and what is good to do at restaurants, etc. It is easier than you think! It is tastier than you think! And this type of living is the healthiest way to live!
Until then, have a healthy day!
Bowden, J. (2010, Jan. 18). Why low-fat caused the obesity epidemic. Retrieved from http://www.thatsfit.com/2010/01/18/low-fat-caused-obesity-epidemic/
Hingle, L. (n.d.). History of low carbohydrate diets. Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/about_5047251_history-low-carbohydrate-diets.html
United States Department of Agriculture. (2010). USDA national nutrient database for standard reference. Retrieved from United States Department of Agriculture website: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/cgi-bin/nut_search_new.pl
Wikipedia.com. (2011, May 21). Atkins diet. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atkins_diet
Wikipedia.com. (2011, May 20). Low-carbohydrate diets. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-carbohydrate_diet#Beginnings
Great blog today , Rachel. Very informative!!