If you read my last column, you know that even though calories count, don’t count calories. Doing so becomes a distraction and leads us to believe the quality of calories doesn’t matter. Nothing could be farther from the truth — 100 calories of avocado and 100 calories of pretzels are not created equal. They have drastically different effects on our metabolism and our health — one encourages fat storage and weight gain and promotes chronic disease, while the other supports fat burning and weight loss and helps prevent illness.
Yes, a calorie is a calorie. It’s a unit of measure; no different than a gallon of a gas is a gallon of gas. However, the type of gas you put in the gas tank can determine, for the most part, how well your car’s engine runs and how long it lasts. Similarly, the quality of the calories you eat can affect how good you feel and how well and long you live.
Sensational headlines and health zealots capitalizing on Americans’ desperate need to rein in their expanding girths and extend their lives have us believing the solution to the obesity epidemic and the recipe for eternal life is eschewing one particular nutrient or overindulging in another. Thirty years ago, fat was the villain; today it’s carbs. Protein of all types has made a comeback and according to the NY Times, “Butter is Back.” (For the record, no it’s not!)
Juice and soup cleanses are all the rage and, if you believe what you hear on TV or read on the internet, coconut oil speeds up the metabolism, jellyfish protein keeps the mind sharp, and green coffee bean extract shrinks the waistline. Really? If only it were this simple. Save your time and money – there is no fad diet, miracle pill, or magic bullet for weight loss or long life.
Actually, quite the contrary, countless studies clearly illustrate that we can maintain a healthy weight and cut chronic disease and premature deaths by 80% if we abide by the simple and inexpensive guidelines below. If you’re serious about your health, I encourage you to continue reading, assess your diet and make the necessary changes to ensure you spend your “golden years” enjoying good health not figuring out how to survive poor health.
There is no perfect diet. Stop searching for one. Rather there is a basket of foods from which we should be choosing – tweaking our choices based on age, gender, genetics, health concerns and goals, food preferences, and intolerances. There are cultures all around the world that are healthier than ours that eat vastly different from one another. Some enjoy large amounts of fat while others survive predominately on healthy carbs. In fact, the extensive quantity of diverse and unbiased scientific research tells us that there are only two common principles that healthy diets share:
If you’re vegan and abide by these “pillars of heath” your diet will be higher in carbs. If you prefer an equally healthy Mediterranean-style eating pattern, your meals will include lean animal protein and more fat. While plant-based foods remain the cornerstone of all healthy dietary patterns, the key is eating them in whole forms.* The spectrum of plant food is large and encompasses everything from heart-healthy wheat berries, beans, and nuts to sugar, pasta, and rice crackers. A 200-calorie portion of any one of these foods may be high in fat, carbs, or protein but that’s not what’s significant.
The more processed a food, regardless of its calorie content, the faster it will spike your blood sugar and elicit a large insulin response. Excessive insulin encourages fat storage, prohibits fat burning and increases hunger, often leading to weight gain. It also promotes inflammation, which can lead to chronic and age-related diseases that afflict women over 50 such as heart disease, type II diabetes, cancers, arthritis, dementia, and eye diseases to name a few. (To learn which foods fight inflammation, click here.)
Calories from processed foods are void of nutrients and often loaded with chemicals and preservatives that are damaging to our health. As we age, we need more vitamins and minerals and until we provide our bodies with the appropriate amounts, they will continually ask us for food. (Always hungry? Try eating more nutrient-dense foods.) Given the amount of refined foods Americans eat, as a country, we are overfed and undernourished. Still, think those fat-free pretzels are an innocuous snack? And, please don’t be fooled into believing the faux yogurt covering helps.
On the other hand, whole, real unprocessed foods, whether high in fat, protein or carbohydrates have a gentle effect, if one at all, on our blood sugar and insulin levels. They fill us up, keep us satisfied, prevent us from overeating and provide our bodies with the nutrients and antioxidants we need to thrive and remain disease-free following menopause.
So instead of focusing on how many calories you eat, concentrate on the metabolic effect the food you choose has on your body. Don’t count calories, go for quality!
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice.