Take a Quiz- Which Do You Think is Healthier?
- Eggs OR Egg whites?
- Butter OR Margarine?
- Pretzels OR an avocado?
- Grass fed beef burger OR vegetarian meatless soy burger?
- Oatmeal OR a veggie omelet?
- 100 Calorie Snack Pack OR an Apple with Almond butter?
My Answers Have Changed Over Time!
If you had asked me a few years ago and again today, I would have given you completely different answers. Over the years I have done quite a bit of research into nutrition, and as I have learned more my opinions have evolved. Here are my answers today. Keep reading to learn what changed my opinion, and how this has improved my life. I've seen the same improvements in the lives of my patients.
- Eggs- There are beneficial nutrients in the egg yolk, that you would miss out on if you just eat the egg white.
- Butter- Butter has a few very simple ingredients while margarine is highly processed and is full of damaged and denatured fatty acids including trans-fats that are harmful to our bodies.
- Avocado- I have learned how important it is to eat healthy fats and avocado is a great source. Pretzels on the other hand have long ingredient lists and almost no nutrients.
- Grass Fed Beef- Meat from a good healthy source is a great source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Processed meatless products, on the other hand, consist of a long list of highly processed ingredients. Soy itself makes people produce more estrogen that can throw off their hormone balance.
- Omelet- Eggs and veggies offer more beneficial nutrients than oats! They are also a good balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrate while oatmeal is pretty much purely carbohydrates.
- Apple with Almond Butter- While this might have more calories than the snack pack, it offers more nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and less artificial processed ingredients.
What is the difference? I care about eating good nutrients, and no longer worry about how many calories I eat.
Conventional Wisdom - What I Used to Think
About 8-9 years ago, I kept track of every single bite that I ate. I measured foods and counted every last calorie. I knew how many calories I was supposed to eat for my weight and activity level. I thought that if I burned more calories than I consumed, then I should lose those dreaded 10 pounds. I knew that the caloric value of a pound was 3500 calories, so if I kept a 500 calorie deficit every day, I should lose 1 pound/week. There were two problems.
- It was tedious and hard to track.
- More important, it did not work as expected! Even when the equation was tipped toward losing weight, the weight did not come off!
I could never understand why the simple calories in / calories out equation did not give me the results I expected. I also avoided fat (because it has lots of calories), and thought that eating too much fat would make me gain even more weight.
A Revelation - What I Learned
About 4 years ago, I went to a nutrition seminar series that TOTALLY changed my way of thinking. I learned that our bodies are MUCH more complex than a simple calories in / calories out equation to be balanced. The body is an amazing and complex system and food is used for much more than energy. What we eat causes HORMONAL CHANGES that impact whether we are in storage mode, or fat burning mode. Eating the right foods allows our bodies to function at its best and heal itself as needed. Eating the wrong foods causes other inflammatory reactions in the gut that can wreak havoc on our whole bodies. These inflammatory reactions cause everything from acid reflux to acne to heart disease and diabetes.
For example, let's look at how the body processes carbohydrates. Eating processed carbohydrates (breads, pastas, pretzels, tortillas, cookies, cake, crackers, chips, granola bars, etc.) spikes blood sugar. The body attempts to reduce it's blood sugar back to normal by releasing a hormone called insulin. This triggers the body to store the extra glucose (sugar) in fat cells. Since I ate these carbohydrates at every meal- and even as snacks between meals, I was constantly spiking my blood sugar, releasing insulin, and storing the extra glucose in my fat stores. While I thought I was eating a good low calorie diet, what I was really doing was starving my body of key nutrients (due to my lack of vegetable eating), and staying in fat storage mode. No wonder I had a hard time losing weight- I was eating too many carbohydrates to get my body into fat burning mode and use my body's fat stores as fuel.
What I eat now (and you should too!):
REAL FOOD! Foods that humans have been eating for thousands and thousands of years. Foods that our bodies have grown accustomed to processing. Nothing that was made in a factory (yes that means bread and pasta- even the whole grain kind). Nothing that has big long ingredient names you can’t pronounce. Nothing that was genetically modified (we’ll talk more about this a different day, but it’s way more common than you might think!)
- Vegetables- I eat as many as I want and am hungry for! No need to count anything. Ideally, they come from a local farmer and are in season. I try for at least 6 servings, 2 at each meal, sometimes more!
- Meat- Best from HEALTHY animals that got to eat their natural diets and walk (or swim) around while they were alive. I have some everyday- it is important for getting certain vitamins like B12. I try to get my meat by the whole animal and even eat the organ meat (containing so many good nutrients) and use the bones to make broth!
- Fruits- I eat 1-2 servings/day. I look for locally grown in season fruit when possible.
- Healthy fats- Like coconut oil, Real Butter (from healthy grass fed cows), animal fats, avocados, some nuts. Fats are a vitally important energy source. There are some fatty acids (like Omega 3s) that our bodies can’t make, so we HAVE to eat them. Eating fat does not make you fat!
Foods that I used to consider healthy that I avoid now: Fat free yogurt, skim milk, granola bars, pretzels, whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread, oatmeal, and processed soy/vegetarian substitutes.
The great thing about REAL FOODS is that there isn't a group of scientists trying to make the perfect combination of fat, sugar, salt and chemicals to make them addictive (the very reason it is hard to eat just one potato chip or oreo!). Mother nature doesn't use cheaper ingredients to improve the bottom line, or add chemicals to lengthen the shelf life. Real food is what it is. Eat as many vegetables as you want. If you eat more, you get more nutrients. You will stop because the natural fiber will make you feel full.
How These Changes Have Improved My Life:
During my senior year of college, when I was most serious about calorie counting, my weight was 172. My current weight is 160. The extra 10 pounds I was so worried about melted right off, and stayed off, when I gave my body better, "real food" ingredients to work with!
Acne and Allergies Cleared Up
Before I also mentioned that eating processed foods leads to inflammation in our bodies. I suffered from seasonal allergies and acne as long as I can remember. I had no idea that both conditions were inflammatory in nature. Since I changed my diet. I have seen huge improvements in my skin and my seasonal allergies. I wish I would have known years ago that eating these whole unprocessed foods would help my skin to become clearer and reduce my seasonal allergy symptoms.
Obviously, in our fast paced society it can be hard to avoid all processed "food", The first step to becoming healthier is to understand what is healthy and why. As you learn more, you think about how food (or food like products) affects your body. It is not the CALORIES that are important, it is the Nutrients.
Shoot me an email or chat with me on my facebook page to let me know how you did on the quiz, and if you learned anything from reading my story!
Dr. Jamie Thomure