All you can eat
Searching for a new diet? You’ve seen the articles telling you why red meat is your worst enemy and gluten-free is the way to be. Or maybe you’re considering going vegan because Zac Efron said it worked for him, and it’s hard to argue with those abs. There’s a sea of information out there, so, we thought we’d do some of the research for you. Just make sure you’re looking for more than just this week’s diet fad…
At Modius Health, we prefer to talk about nutrition plans, because we’re in it for the long haul, not just a last-minute crash diet. And we’re not the only ones thinking this way. Keri Gans is a registered dietitian and nutritionist who still loves her comfort food – “but I also eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats. It’s all about balance.”
If you are ready to commit to a change in your daily food intake, we’ve put together a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of cutting certain major food groups out, but there are a few things to keep in mind as you read on:
Remember, plenty of food products are made up of a number of nutrients: “Hardly any foods contain only 1 nutrient, and most are a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in varying amounts.”
Obviously, sometimes cutting out a certain food group isn’t a decision based on science, but on morals, religion or health reasons. Whether you have chosen to follow a vegan lifestyle and want to know how you can supplement the vitamins found in meat and dairy, or a gluten intolerance is causing you to rethink your meals and you’re unsure of what you can substitute into your weekly food shop, hopefully you’ll find some helpful information below.
We’re just about ready to get started, but while we’re on the subject of specific intolerances or dietary considerations – particularly if you’re diabetic – the NHS advise that you should “Steer clear from cutting out entire food groups. It’s recommended that everyone with diabetes sees a registered dietitian for specific advice on their food choices. Your GP can refer you to a registered dietitian.”
Now, let’s tuck in.
Red meat is incredibly rich in protein, making it a staple of most muscle-building diet plans. As we’ve considered in our recent articles on Weights vs Cardio and Spot Reducing, muscle gain can be an integral element in your body-shaping journey. So, before we cut it out, let’s find out what it does if it’s left in…
According to traditional naturopath Dr. Sally Warren, “Most portions of meat are more than the actual protein requirement, and these larger portions can be replaced by alternative protein sources that are much lighter in calories, still satisfying, and also easier to digest.”
On top of this, eating an excessive amount of red meat can cause other issues. Jenn Sinrich at Reader’s Digest reports:
“The body digests red meat more slowly than it does other foods, so some people report constipation, abdominal pain, and increased gas after a jumbo steak dinner or a large pastrami sandwich.”
Although red meat is high in protein, it also packs some not-so-healthy components and “Cutting out red meat can reduce the amount of saturated fats in the diet, which have been linked to higher cholesterol levels.”
Just as importantly, we should consider what it doesn’t have. Meat, including red meat, does not contain fibre, which is another reason why people can find it tough on the digestive system and some report an anti-inflammatory effect from cutting it out:
“While you may experience some indigestion right after you cut out red meat, it’s mainly the result of eating more healthy, fiber-rich foods. In the long-term, you’ll add healthy bacteria in your gut, which could lower body-wide inflammation and make you feel less bloated to boot.”
But what are the cons of cutting red meat out? It’s fairly easy to replace the abundance of protein, but let’s not forget that red meat is also loaded with B vitamins (particularly vitamin B12) and iron. If you’re planning to reduce or completely remove red meat from your nutrition plan, you may need to consider supplementing these important nutrients.
Sticking with animal products, let’s consider one of the biggest players in western diets: dairy. Although it is such a prevalent component of many nutrition plans, a number of people struggle with various intolerances to dairy products and others do not consume it on moral grounds. However, it’s one of the ‘trendiest’ diet cuts out there.
Hollywood A-listers like Jessica Biel, Margot Robbie and Khloe Kardashian are advocates of ditching dairy. Fighting the fad, Health’s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass points out that the results from cutting out dairy might be more to do with cutting out junk food:
“If pizza, mac and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches were your go-to meals, and you replaced them with lean proteins, whole grains, and fresh produce, then yes – you’d probably see the numbers on the scale drop.”
Unsurprisingly, much like red meat, dairy is a major source of critical nutrients: “Milk, cheese, and yogurt are rich sources of vitamin D, protein and calcium.”
If you are struggling with a lactose intolerance or need to cut out dairy for another reason, Gans explains, “It’s not to say that someone who gives up dairy can’t get enough vitamin D and calcium, but it’s not as easy.” Consult with a qualified nutritionist or speak to your GP if you’re unsure about supplementing parts of your dietary intake.
With meat and dairy gone, we’ve entered the worlds of vegetarianism and veganism and the pros and cons from those reductions of course still apply. For example, we already know that avoiding certain meat products can have a positive impact on cholesterol levels due to the reduction in saturated fat.
Similarly, experts at BMI Healthcare have reasoned that “Those eating a plant-based diet are also more likely to eat fewer calories than meat-eaters and have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.” The drop in caloric intake is a sure-fired method of losing weight, but (sorry to sound like a broken record), you need to ensure this is a nutrition plan that you are prepared to stick to for the long run.
One of the benefits of eating meat is that the animal has already absorbed plenty of goodness for you. According to Dr Ali Khavandi, Consultant Cardiologist at BMI Bath Clinic, “When you eat animal products, the animal has done the hard work on your behalf, and the dense nutrient profile has been built with relatively little work required from you to access this diverse range of nutrients.”
In 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analysed the risk for micronutrient deficiencies in vegan diets, as explained by Brian M. Boyce:
“Vegans in particular need to be conscious of vitamins B12 and D, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, iron and zinc. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, these nutrients can be sourced without the use of meat, but it requires careful planning, and supplementation may be necessary.”
There’s no way you’ve missed the growing awareness of gluten intolerances. Whole sections of supermarkets are now devoted to gluten-free options – and rightly so! But before you go cutting it out, make sure you know why you’re doing it.
Coeliac disease is a condition whereby the immune system’s reaction to gluten causes damage to the small intestine. Gluten intolerance, on the other hand, brings about a number of the same symptoms but the intestinal damage does not occur. If you think you have an issue with gluten, a blood test can identify if you have coeliac disease.
It’s important to get this checked because, according Dr. Daniel A. Leffler, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, “The average American diet is deficient in fiber. Take away whole wheat and the problem gets worse.”
From a weight-loss standpoint, some will find that reducing gluten will help ease bloating, but in terms of overall health, the NHS suggest that “Unless you have a diagnosed health condition, such as wheat allergy, wheat sensitivity or coeliac disease, there’s little evidence that cutting out wheat and other grains from your diet would benefit your health.”
Gluten is a major source of B vitamins, particularly vitamin B9, which is also known as folic acid. Former editor at Harvard Health Holly Strawbridge suggests that “Taking a gluten-free multivitamin-multimineral supplement is a good idea for anyone trying to avoid gluten.”
The lowdown on low carbs
All carbohydrates tend to get lumped into one big category, but not all carbs were created equal. They are split into three core groups: starch, fibre and sugar.
Starchy foods (pasta, rice, potatoes) provide slow-releasing energy. Fibre helps with digestion, promoting healthy bowels. Sugar? Well, that’s the one we could all do with snacking on a little less…
When people go on ‘low carb diets’, sugar is in the bin, but quite often they are maintaining a small intake of starch-based carbohydrates along with plenty of fibre. Kris Gunnars at Healthline explains that “Because fiber grams don’t really count as carbohydrates, you can exclude the fiber grams from the total number. Instead, count net carbs (net carbs = total carbs - fiber).”
Why? Because some of the most fibre-rich carbohydrates are vegetables.
According to the NHS, “On average, most adults in the UK get about 19g of fibre a day. We’re advised to eat an average of 30g a day.”
So, if you follow Gunnars’ advice when you’re going low carb, you can still load up on the veggies and get all of that fibre goodness.
On top of that, “Low carb diets … raise HDL (the good) and improve the pattern of LDL (the bad) cholesterol.” This adjustment has a positive impact on belly fat, which can prove particularly stubborn and has been linked to numerous health issues.
How low is a low-carb diet? That depends.
Less than 150g per day could be considered a low carb diet, depending on your age, weight, gender, body composition and activity level. Once you get into sub-50g territory, your body enters ketosis (this is the basis of the Keto Diet).
While this has proven successful for some people, others struggle with the adaptation phase, which is sometimes known as ‘the low-carb flu’. However, this is a short-term transitional side effect and will pass if you can maintain the willpower to see it through.
When you’re trying to evaluate your carb intake, be mindful of ‘low GI’ labels:
“The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It shows how quickly each food affects glucose levels in your blood when that food is eaten on its own.”
The classification brings us full circle, back to the different categories of carbs. Case in point: “Watermelon and parsnips are high-GI foods, while chocolate cake has a lower GI value.” So, make sure you read the nutritional information and don’t let the packaging fool you.
Trimming the fat
Now, we saved the most obvious one for last. You don’t just want to lose weight. You want to lose fat. So, obviously just cut out fat, right? Wrong. Well, sort of… “Yes, fat contains calories (nine calories in one gram, to be exact). If you eat a lot of fat, it may contribute to weight gain. But the same goes for any nutrient.”
Fat, much like carbs, comes in different varieties. There are good fats and not-so-good fats. If you go tee-total and cut them all out, you can run into some problems, as K. Aleisha Fetters writes:
“When you cut fat, you’re more likely to overdo it in the calorie department – upping your risk of weight gain, obesity, and related conditions like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. That’s because fat is the most satiating nutrient out there, taking longer to digest than either carbs or protein. When you eat fat, your blood sugar levels stay stable longer and you prevent excess hunger.”
Dr. Donald K. Layman from the University of Illinois adds, “The less fat people eat, the more carbs they typically eat.” And we didn’t just write all that info on the benefits of reducing (but not cutting) carbs just for you to overdo it in the bread aisle. We’ve said it before, nutrition is a balancing act.
But why do you go for the carbs when fat is taken away? Nutritionist Jaime Mass explains that “Your blood sugar may dip more often when you cut fat from your diet, which can make you crave simple, often refined carbs for a quick-hit of energy.”
If you are trying to reduce your fat intake, particularly sat fats, remember that low fat doesn’t mean no fat! And just like food packaging tries to convince you to buy low GI foods, low fat substitutes can do more harm than good:
“Processed foods like low-fat ice cream and chips typically contain more sugar and calories than their full-fat counterparts. ‘When you remove fat from a food product, it must be replaced with other ingredients in order to provide a yummy, profitable alternative,’ Mass says.”
According to researchers at Cornell: “When people see a ‘low-fat’ label, they automatically assume it’s healthier.” However, “When people eat low-fat packaged snacks, they wind up eating about 50 percent more calories [than] if they had eaten the full-fat version.”
What’s on the menu
We understand that’s a lot of information to digest. So, let’s simplify it.
The British Nutrition Foundation’s Eatwell Guide is split into five core sections, from largest to smallest:
- Fruit and veg
- Starchy carbohydrates (preferably wholegrain)
- Proteins (including beans, fish, eggs and meat)
- Dairy and alternatives
- Unsaturated oils and spreads
They also state very clearly that “None of these food groups need to or should be excluded. Cutting out a whole food group, for instance, avoiding starchy carbohydrates could reduce intake of key nutrients like dietary fibre and B vitamins.”
If you think a particular food group is causing you trouble, speak to a qualified nutritionist or your doctor and get tailored advice that works for you and your goals.
Whether you end up going gluten-free, low-carb or a brand new variation of ovo-lacto-vegetarian-on-the-weekends, take this pearl of wisdom from Jenn Sinrich with you:
“In addition, any change in diet should include good probiotics, which provide important friendly bacteria to help the gut digest food and make sure it’s properly absorbed.”
You can crunch the numbers, make sure you’re getting the right nutrients and supplement for those all-important vitamins if necessary. But above all, keep in mind that the recipe for long-term success is commitment.
The Modius headset works by helping you get a handle on your cravings. So, find a nutrition plan that works for you, use the Modius headset to help you stick to your goal and make your weight loss journey all the more rewarding.
Remember, your willpower will be around long after next week’s diet fad has faded.