Sunday, February 13, 2011

Low Carb vs Low Calorie Diets

There is a lot of conflicting dietary advice out there, and this just makes it more difficult and confusing for anybody who wants to lose weight.  Here's the simple way I like to look at it:

  1. I'm not aware of any proven diet that "allows" junk or processed foods.
  2. Similarly, white flour and sugar are also common elements that are no-no's.
  3. If you have excess weight because you enjoy eating and cooking (I certainly do), there's no doubt you're going to have to give up something.  The question is what.
So that leaves you with two main choices:
  1. You can go on a low-fat, calorie restricted diet.  By restricting fat intake, you will most likely be substituting this with a fair amount of carbohydrates, and frequent meals.  If you stick to it, you will most likely lose weight.  There are enough diet studies showing that this can be done.
  2. Alternatively, you can cut the carbs.  This will result in a diet that is richer in fat and calories than the calorie-restricted diet, but you will also lose weight.  Not only do I know this for a fact because it's what is working for me, but there is also a growing mountain of nutritional research to back up the health benefits of this approach.
I am surrounded by a mind-boggling array of papers, medical blogs and books all pointing to sugars in the diet (especially those from wheat and processed sugar) as the root causes of triglycerides in the bloodstream, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.

You can read them too, but dry research isn't necessarily going to motivate you enough to reverse your creeping weight gain.

What concerns me more is the simple fact that meals should be enjoyable.  Otherwise a diet isn't going to be sustainable for the average person.

What works for our family is a diet that is relatively unrestricted as far as fats are concerned.  I don't consciously count my protein intake, but I do eat it at almost every meal.  I am somewhat concerned about the potential for kidney damage in the long term, but it appears that this might be more of an issue for people with kidney disease. 

What's left?  Well, having cut out wheat, processed sugar, tropical fruit and other foods rich in starches, my plate is filled with colourful vegetables and a modest amount of protein (eggs, cottage cheese, yoghurt, fish, meat, etc).

It's quite hard to overeat the fats that are added to make a meal more interesting.  You'll find those fats make you quite full, and (after your initial carb withdrawal) you won't really be interested in reaching for something sugary or starchy after an hour or two.  It actually becomes easy to say no when somebody passes around a box of chocolates or cookies.

You won't have to say no when it comes to a slice of cheese, a spoon of guacamole, a handful of nuts or a large Greek salad topped with feta cheese.  After a while, you'll notice that eating out is not nearly as hard as it might seem, and it's very feasible to keep it up in the longer term.

Best of all, if you're somebody who really enjoys cooking and eating, this approach allows you to continue enjoying the use of your kitchen.  You're just doing it a little differently.

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