With the growing obesity epidemic, our society has begun to focus attention on effective methods to lose weight.
The result has been a social obsession with “miracle diets” which has introduced a surprisingly controversial debate about calorie consumption. You may have heard the phrase “a calorie is a calorie“. This phrase implies that a calorie derived from sugars, fats, carbohydrates or proteins has essentially the same impact on your body when it comes to weight loss. However, when you break down how different food compounds are metabolized by the body, you’ll discover this couldn’t be further from the truth.
What is a Calorie?
A calorie is essentially a measurement unit that lets you know how much potential energy your body can acquire from a nutritional source. Your body obtains energy from food through a process called cellular respiration. In layman’s terms, this means that when you eat something, your body obtains energy by breaking it down. Different components release different amounts of “energy” (read – calories) upon consumption. Carbohydrates have the highest amount of “energy”(calories) released during cellular respiration, while fibre and other indigestible compounds have the lowest.
How Does my Body Use Calories?
You might have read that your body needs a minimum of 2,000 or 2,500 calories (FDA recommended) in order to function. It’s important to note that the FDA recommendation is only appropriate for certain activity levels, or for those who are not looking to lose weight. Here’s an approximation of how the calories you consume are used by your body (not counting extra calories above your requirements):
- 20% is used for brain metabolism and other related functions.
- 79% (approx.) is used for basal metabolic requirements for organs and tissues.
- 1% (approx.) is used for other functions.
How does Metabolism Affect Calorie Intake?
You might have heard that people with a high metabolism are able to eat more calories and not gain excess weight. However, that’s an oversimplification of how metabolism works.
Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is the amount of energy (calories) your body requires when you’re in a “resting” state. Your BMR will decrease with age, as ageing people don’t maintain as much lean muscle mass. Increasing the amount of muscle on your body also increases your BMR, since your body requires more energy to “maintain” your current body type.
Basically, this means that if you’re not active, and don’t have a lot of muscle, you don’t require a lot of energy/calories in order to keep your body functioning properly.
Are All Calories the Same?
Going back to the original statement in the first paragraph, you need to understand that “a calorie is not a calorie”. Different types of food compounds are processed differently by your body. For example, eating 1500 calories of fast food won’t have the same positive effects on your weight and health as eating 1500 “healthy” calories. The chemical breakdown of proteins, fats and carbohydrates is incredibly different.
Some fad diets have suggested that “cutting carbs” is the best way to lose weight. While it’s true that carbohydrates have the highest conversion to body fat, this type of diet is an oversimplification, and can also be unhealthy if done incorrectly.
How Can I Eat “Good” Calories and Avoid “Bad” Calories?
Again, “good calories” and “bad calories” is an over-simplified way of looking at healthy eating. Cutting out all carbohydrates isn’t necessary in order for you to lose weight. Instead, you should simply avoid certain types of carbohydrates. Interestingly enough, fructose and sucrose have two of the highest “fat conversion” rates per calorie of all the sugars. This is one of the reasons why high fructose corn syrup is one of the worst ingredients you could consume while trying to maintain a healthy weight. (Watch this chemistry lecture for a more detailed picture of how fructose affects the body)
How Can I Restructure My Caloric Intake to Lose Weight?
Good calories should come from unprocessed, whole foods without any chemical additives. Avoid preservatives, chemical dyes, artificial flavours and artificial colours. Try to obtain most of your carbohydrates from vegetables. Don’t eat white bread, white sugar or overly processed food items.
The above advice may sound unexciting and over-emphasized. However, the truth is that there is no “miracle” diet to help you lose weight and still be healthy. Combining a healthy diet with moderate exercise, a stress-free lifestyle and a supportive social system is the real “secret” to losing weight and maintaining your health.
Besides tasting great, enjoying a breakfast of whole grain oatmeal can be wonderful for your health.
Oatmeal has many health benefits which have been proven in nutritional studies. Want more incentive to make oatmeal a permanent part of your healthy breakfast routine? Here are five health benefits of oatmeal.
Prevents Breast Cancer
If you’re at risk for developing breast cancer – great news! Eating a diet rich in fibre can help to protect you against developing breast cancer, according to studies done by the UK Women’s Cohort. Eating fibre from whole grains has been proven to greatly reduce the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women.
Reduces Diabetes Risk
Studies have proven that eating oatmeal may help to reduce a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The high levels of magnesium in oatmeal help to enhance insulin production.
Boosts Immune System
The type of fibre contained in oatmeal is called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has been extensively studied by nutritional experts and has been proven to help enhance the body’s defence systems against bacterial infections.
Studies on beta-glucan have also proven that it helps to reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol. Since high levels of bad cholesterol is one of the risk factors for heart disease, eating oatmeal can help promote good cardiovascular health.
Lately, it seems like a lot of fad diets focus on cutting carbohydrates.
These diets claim you can consume fat, protein and calories in abundance while still losing weight – as long as you cut out sugar. While eating unhealthy fats and calories is never recommended, there is a scientific reason why eating too much sugar can cause you to be overweight.
A recent lecture published by Professor Robert H. Lustig of UCSF details exactly how the chemical composition of certain sugars causes excess weight gain. We’ve broken the 90-minute lecture down into some key points to make it more readable:
- Sugar is called a “toxin” by Professor Lustig, because of how it affects the body.
- 100 calories of sugar are metabolized much differently than 100 calories of another compound (like protein).
- The body’s inefficiency at breaking down large amounts of fructose (or high fructose corn syrup) is what causes this difference in metabolic processes.
- Eating excess sugar means more of the sugar calories are converted to fat.
While these points have been detailed in the reasoning for many fad diets (like the “Adkins” and “South Beach” diets), this lecture makes the concept of sugar very easy for the average person to understand.
Check out the full lecture at the source link.
With the popularity of carb-free or low-carb diets, many people have been ignoring the importance of grains in a balanced diet.
While some grains (such as wheat) may be a source of empty calories, certain grains actually have some great health benefits. Quinoa often called an “ancient grain”, can help promote good health and may even assist with weight loss. Here are a few of the health benefits of quinoa.
High in Magnesium
Magnesium is a largely ignored component of the American diet. Just 1/4 cup of uncooked quinoa provides around 43% of your recommended daily allowance for magnesium. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels, lowers risk of hypertension and promotes good cardiovascular health.
Rich in Iron
Did you know that one cup of cooked quinoa provides you with 15% of your recommended daily allowance of iron? Iron is an essential nutrient for the body, helping to carry life-giving oxygen to the body’s red blood cells. Iron is also an essential protein component to aid in proper metabolic function.
High in Protein
Few grains can even claim to come close to the protein content contained in quinoa. A cup of cooked quinoa has about 9 grams of protein, which is significantly more than wheat, barley or any other major grain. By comparison, an egg has around 6 grams of protein.
Great Source of Calcium
A cup of cooked quinoa has 30mg of calcium, an essential building block for keeping bones healthy. A diet high in calcium can also help promote cardiovascular health by regulating contractions of the heart.
A lot of first-time moms wonder about what they should be eating while breastfeeding. The answer might surprise you – essentially, you want to stick to the same healthy dietary choices you made while pregnant. In fact, breastfeeding has been called the “miracle diet”, because you actually burn from 200-500 calories per day by producing breastmilk. Here are a few tips on how you can eat healthy while breastfeeding.
While breastfeeding, you need a substantial amount of protein, just like how you needed additional protein while you were pregnant. An average breastfeeding mother should get over 100 grams of protein per day. Healthy sources of protein include:
- Low-fat Yogurt
- Lean Chicken
- Lean Beef
- Wild-Caught Salmon
- Low Mercury Fish
- Garbanzo Beans
Contrary to what you might think, not all fats are bad! Fat is actually an essential building block for your breastmilk, and your baby’s developing body. However, the trick is to eat the right types of fats, and avoid unhealthy fats. Sources of beneficial fats include:
- Olive Oil
Breastfeeding isn’t the time to try that carb-cutting fad diet your friend told you about. Both you and your baby will benefit from eating healthy, complex carbohydrates during breastfeeding. Sources of healthy carbohydrates include:
- Whole Grains
- High-Fiber Vegetables
Your morning cup of coffee might be doing more than just keeping you awake, according to a recent study.
A senior cognitive scientist at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center has discovered an interesting link between coffee and certain complex brain performances. One of the notable ways that coffee seems to enhance brain performance is in the area of extracting meaning from written or spoken language. So, basically — it enhances your proofreading skills.
Here’s an excerpt:
Caffeine only seemed to make a difference in the student’s ability to spot and fix “complex global errors.” These were mistakes in subject-and-verb agreement (for example, billionaire inventor Tony Stark enjoy a lavish lifestyle) and verb tense (for example, customers were misled into believing they had got approved for low interest loans).”
The study also found that people who consume large amounts of caffeine on a regular basis need higher concentrations of caffeine in order to have the same “editing benefits”. For people who aren’t regular coffee drinkers, a lower amount of caffeine still seemed to enhance editing ability.
Carbohydrates are one of the basic nutrients your body needs to function properly. Today, it is now differentiated as either good or bad carbohydrate. The difference between bad and good carbohydrate is that the bad carbohydrate is also known as the simple carbohydrate, and the good carbohydrate is known as the complex carbohydrate.
The other difference between bad and good carbohydrate is that the bad carbohydrate is the refined, simple sugar. The reason this is not the more desirable carbohydrate to eat is that eating it gives you a surge in your blood sugar and causes you to gain weight. It can also promote the development of diabetes.
The good carbohydrate does not cause you to have sudden surges in your blood sugar.
It is also the recommended kind of carbohydrate for those on low carb diets.
To illustrate the difference between bad and good carbohydrate, let’s look at a simple scenario of eating dessert. If you use a good substitute for sugar in your cake like brown sugar, you are going to be able to enjoy your desert better because of the switch to a less refined carbohydrate. You don’t expose your body to plain sugar, which can leave you feeling lethargic after the sugar rush. Neither do you gain excessive weight from all the simple white sugar you consume?
Some good carbohydrates come in the most natural form as possible as fruits and vegetables that contain natural sugar.
This is good because our body needs it to keep us going. Aside from giving us the energy to do physical activities, good carbohydrates help us in our normal body functions like breathing and digestion.
Meanwhile, the problem with bad carbohydrates is the weight gain and the sudden crash from the sugar high. Do you ever get that feeling when you suddenly lose energy? After a whole day of stocking up on carbohydrates, at one point in the afternoon, you suddenly feel a heavyweight come down upon you. Your eyes feel tired, your body feels heavy, you can hardly function much more engage in any strenuous activity. You have been eating the wrong kind of carbohydrates. What you have been feeding your body was sugar, plain and simple.
If you plan on having an active day, instead of eating candy and chocolate to keep you going, why not try some whole grain cereal or pasta? Not only will you be able to stock up on reserve energy to get you through your day, you do not get hungry. This is one of the obvious difference in bad and good carbohydrates that you can personally experience.
Bad carbohydrates are also easy to digest which will explain why we can get hungry and tired after a while. If we eat good carbohydrates, the nutrients are not as easily digested and are usually packed with fibre.
Easily the difference between bad and good carbohydrates is that one is refined, and the other is more natural. The problem with refined carbohydrates is that when the process of refining happens, nutrients are lost. Since the concentration is on the sugar content, you can bombard your pancreas with too much glucose. Glucose is the blood sugar that is made when we consume carbohydrates. It is glucose that is used to give us the energy to function.
Refined carbohydrates are also not good because the fibre is removed from the carbohydrates which are needed to slow down the sugar release into our body. We need to lessen the number of bad carbohydrates in our body, especially if we want to lose a few pounds. The increase in intake of good carbohydrates will more than compensate for the need for sugar by our bodies. Clearly, there is a big difference between bad and good carbohydrates.