Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

Managing Weight – Part 3

I want to recommend some specific strategies regarding weight loss, but first I’d like to recommend a really good 2012 documentary on the food industry that I believe anyone interested in a healthy diet should see – Hungry for Change

Be prepared to do some filtering of some of the “conspiracy theory” thinking that is included in this film – I don’t share the opinion that businesses in the food industry are either as smart or as intent on making people unhealthy as some of the people who contribute to this film might, but the basic ideas presented are accurate and should help you make more informed and intelligent food choices with regard to processed foods. Like any other “fanatic” (and some of the contributors clearly fall into that category) people can get a bit monomaniacal and narrow in their thinking, so feel free to knock off a few of the rough edges in this film. The important point is that fresh food is way, Way, WAY healthier for you than processed food, and by preparing your own food you can make your own food choices. Even when using packaged foods, the information in this documentary (and elsewhere – there is really nothing new here) is helpful in making choices in packaged foods.

So, the first “rule” I’m going to suggest here is that you try to avoid processed/packaged food as much as possible. In “Food Rules” the book that I recommended in my first post on this subject, Michael Pollan suggests avoiding any food with more than 5 ingredients on the label. While this shouldn’t be a literal rule, the point is to look at the label on any packaged food whether it’s a canned vegetable, a condiment or a frozen entree, and look at how much of it is made up of various non-food ingredients. These non-food ingredients enhance shelf life, improve flavor, enhance texture or “mouth feel” as it’s often described. Keep in mind that these are included as the processing that the actual food goes through causes the food to change in flavor, color, texture and nutritive value. Note too the food ingredients that are included such as sugars and vitamins. Again, these are added to compensate for the damage done to the food to make it a convenient microwaveable food-like product.

Think too about how much is processed out of many of the basic food elements that are used. Compare the nutritional value for instance of a slice of highly-processed Wonder Bread made from highly-refined flour, and a slice of coarse whole-wheat or multi-grain bread. Breakfast cereals too provide a good example. Compare something highly processed (despite the “whole grain” claims) of an unsweetened cereal like Cheerios and Post Shredded Wheat & Bran. If you’ve ever tried the Atkins diet, you’re probably familiar with a food’s glycemic index. This is a measure of how much “work” the body needs to do to digest the food we eat and thus how long it takes for the food intake to result in an upswing in our blood-sugar levels. Highly processed or refined foods (like white rice) have a relatively high glycemic index, causing a sharp spike followed by a trough in blood-sugar level. This blood sugar spike-and-drop causes us to get very hungry a short time after eating, and making it difficult to control our eating.

Try this – measure out 80 grams of Cheerios (about 1 1/2 servings), 5 grams of sugar and 8 ounces of skim milk and have that at 8:00 AM for breakfast, and take note of how you feel at noon. The next day repeat the experiment, but substitute 80 grams of quick oats cooked per the package directions, or 80 grams of Shredded Wheat & Bran for the Cheerios, and again take note of how you feel at noon. I’m not recommending one breakfast over the other, but the point is that you’re going to be much hungrier at noon after eating the highly processed Cheerios than you will after the much less processed oatmeal or shredded wheat, despite the fact that your caloric intake is about the same on both meals. You can repeat this any number of ways – calculate 250 calories worth of white bread toast & jam, and 250 calories worth of fresh fruit, and have both with 8 ounces of skim milk.

Here’s another way to look at food choices. Eat a single-serving bag of any popular snack food like potato or corn chips, and note two things – the calorie content, and how long it takes to consume it. Later or the next day, repeat the experiment but instead consume 100 grams of fresh grapes (or blueberries or strawberries or fresh sliced peaches). You’ll find that you will take just as long or longer to consume the fruit, and you will have consumed somewhere around half the calories.