In the previous part we discussed the first and most important rule of hunger-free weight loss – the basics of good nutrition. It is extremely important that you do not skip meals trying to cut the calories; skipping meals doesn’t work for weight loss and leads to further complications, such as overindulging and bingeing and also ruins your metabolism, which is important for losing weight or keeping it stable.
The 2nd important rule is also surrounded by a lot of misconception that I’d like to clear.
2. Fewer calories, more food.
- Try focusing on nutrient-dense foods and not the calorie-dense.
Counting calories for this purpose is not necessary. Some people may benefit from counting macros (calories, carbs, proteins and fats) if they have a certain goal to achieve (contest prep), but for weight loss and health in general you don’t have to do this. Moreover, it is hard to know exactly how many calories you consume, unless you weigh each ingredient of your food to a gram. Eating less calories on its own does not mean that the diet is healthier.
A calories is just a unit of energy needed to heat 1 g of water by 1 degree Celsius. But calories are not created equal. For example, let’s compare 1000 kcal from chocolate and jelly vs. 1000 kcal from broccoli and sweet potato.
About 168 g of Dark chocolate equals 1000 calories. With them you get:
- 77 g of carbohydrates, 40 g of which are sugar;
- 71 g of fat, 40 g of which are saturated (200% of GDA);
- 13 g of protein (roughly 1/4 of GDA for 1/2 of your daily calories…)
Chocolate has quite a good micronutrients profile (vitamins & minerals), which is almost an exception among sweets. It contains from 1 to 15% of recommended daily intake for vitamins in general, and up to 110-160% of RDI for some minerals (Iron, Manganese).
If we take Jelly instead of chocolate, we’ll see a different picture, far worse. 1000 cal = 376 g of Jelly. With this we get:
- 273 g of carbohydrates (!), 190 g (!!) of which are sugar (Daily intake should not exceed 60 g per 2000 kcal. The WHO currently recommends 25 g!!!)
There are virtually no protein and fat in jelly, but the same goes for micronutrients. The highest marks are 7.4% RDI for vitamin B5 and 24% for Manganese.
Now, to eat 1000 calories from broccoli, you will need to eat 2858 g! Yes, that is almost 3 kg of broccoli! 1 head of broccoli is usually about 500 g. For 1000 calories from broccoli we get:
- 205 g of carbohydrates: 39 g of sugar and 91 g of fibre;
- 11 g fat (about 18% or roughly 1/5 of your daily intake);
- whooping 68 g of protein (who said there was no protein in rabbit food?)
What about micronutrients? No multivitamin supplements can compare! They range from 100s % to 1000s %. For example:
- B1 – 120%
- B2 – 206%
- Folic acid (B9) – 771%
- Vitamin A – 884%
- Vitamin C – 3091%
- Vitamin K – 5037%
The same goes for minerals, some levels are as high as 277% for manganese and 239% for potassium.
1112 g of sweet potato = 1000 kcal. We get:
- 230 g of carbohydrates: 72 g of sugar and 36 g of fibre;
- 1.5 g fat
- 22 g protein
- Folic acid (B9) – 16%
- B6 – 159%
- Vitamin C – 363%
- Vitamin A – 4274%
- Calcium – 42% (Milk is not the only source, and not even the best)
- Iron – 42% (Also not only in meats!)
- Potassium – 150%
- Manganese – 276%
If we turn these numbers into the widely used ‘per 100 g’ values, then in 100 g of sweet potato you will find:
- 90 kcal
- 20 g carbohydrates: 3.3 g fibre and 6.5 g sugar
- 0.15 g fat
- 2 g protein
In 100 g of broccoli you’ll find:
- 35 kcal
- 7 g carbohydrates: 3.3 g fibre and 1.4 g sugar
- 0.41 g fat
- 2.4 g protein
In 100 g of jelly:
- 226 kcal
- 70 g carbohydrates: 1 g fibre and 51 g sugar
- 0.02 g fat
- 0.15 g protein
In 100 g of dark chocolate:
- 598 kcal
- 46 g carbohydrates: 10 g fibre and 24 g sugar
- 42 g fat, 24 g of which is saturated
- 7.5 g protein
But these are only macronutrients. Remember all those micronutrients or the lack of? Now answer the question:
Which of these foods are nutrient-dense and which are calorie-dense?
The number of calories in food depends greatly on its content of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. 1 g of Protein or 1 g of Carbohydrate = 4 calories; 1 g of fat = 9 calories. Naturally, the food rich in fats has more calories. Any oil that is 100% fat will contain 900 calories per 100 g. The purest sugar (glucose) or purest protein will have 400 calories per 100 g, if such products ever exist. If they do, they’re no good anyway.
So, to understand better the composition of the food, you should learn reading labels on the packaging – they provide with all the information needed about the nutritional value of the product.
If this information is not available or if you’re eating out, try breaking the foods down to their constituents by their taste/texture. Is it light and watery or heavy and dense? Starchy? Sweet or fatty and greasy?
- Greasy foods will always be heavier in calories.
- Sweet foods can also be quite dense in calories and even devoid of nutrients, as in case of pastries and sweets. The latter products are also often high in fat, especially trans fats and saturated fats.
- Watery vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, radishes, etc.) are the lowest in calories, and their main component, besides water, is fibre. Fibre is extremely important here, because it allows you to fill up without too many sugars and calories.
- Vegetables that are starchy (root vegetables) will likely have a little more calories – they are higher in sugar content, but are still high in fibre and are a well of micronutrients.
- Fruits are much higher in sugars, but water and fibre form a good part of a fruit, so they should be a necessary part of a healthy diet, in moderate amounts.
- Dried fruit does not contain water, that is why it is considered to have more calories the fresh fruit – per 100 g. They are a source of fibre and micronutrients, nonetheless, and are harmless in small amounts and should be eaten regularly, especially for their extremely high antioxidant content.
- Products high in protein will be moderately high in calories, because they are usually low in water, but you should watch out for fat from protein sources, both natural and added.
To make your protein leaner, you should always trim all visible fat from the meat. Also try choosing leaner cuts of meat. This applies to poultry, too. While chicken or turkey breast is a lean cut, thighs and legs are not. Whatever cut you choose, make sure you take the skin off.
The only fat in protein that you shouldn’t avoid is from fish. Oily fish is a source of Omega-3 fatty acids, that are crucial for many things in your body, including the heart, jooints and hormones.
And to finish off, I’d like to go back to the start and remind about the balanced diet. For a sustainable weight loss you shouldn’t count calories, but pay close attention to the composition of your diet. Remember that your plate should consist of 50% non-starchy vegetables, and the rest 50% should go to more or less equal parts of whole grains and root vegetables and lean sources of protein with a small serving of good fat. This combination will ensure that you eat all the micro and macronutrients required for health and weight loss.