By Dr. Kathleen Regan, ND
Are you considering a new diet for 2018? You may want to reconsider. A lot of diets restrict nutrients, which are essential for bodily function or increase nutrients that are unhealthy in high amounts over long periods of time. Health is found in balance, not restriction (although balance can sometimes feel like restriction!) The perfect place to start is with the macronutrients: Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates. Learning how to balance macronutrients will get you on the path to feeling better in 2018!
Most diets these days are recommending high amounts of protein. So there is little danger of protein restriction in our current pop culture nutrition. The main benefits of protein include:
- Builds & repairs tissues like muscles, skin, hair
- Builds enzymes and hormones like insulin, thyroid, hemoglobin
- As a dietary macronutrient (meaning we need a lot of it), protein has a balancing effect on blood sugar blunting cravings and ‘hangry’ episodes
The downside of protein is that it is not an efficient fuel source for energy. When you consume more protein and less carbohydrate your body will start to use its own fat as fuel. This is why high protein/low carbohydrate cause weight loss as the body burns more fat. However, as the body is breaking down the protein excess is produces an abundance of acids. Too much acid in the body leads to inflammation (think mental fog, sore achy joints and muscles, burning urination or even gout!) and causes the body to release minerals from the bones like calcium and magnesium to counteract the acid. In the long run this leaching of minerals can affect bone health and other reserves of minerals such as the hair, skin and nails. One of the first signs of protein excess can actually be hair loss! Are you on a ketogenic diet and experiencing hair loss? Try balancing your macronutrients.
Not getting enough protein is also a problem. This can lead to low energy, food cravings, weight gain, depressed mood, poor focus, poor wound healing as well as poor muscle growth and hair loss. Isn’t it interesting that both an excess and deficiency of protein can cause hair loss? The body is fascinating. This is why it is important to track your nutrients to see if you are consuming enough.
How much is enough protein? Depending on your body weight between 55-80g of protein or 30-35% of your daily calories should come from protein sources such as meat, fish, eggs, or beans. The easiest way to track intake is to use a fitness or food tracking app that counts macronutrients. You can adjust your intake according.
TIP: Remember, not all protein is the same. Some proteins, like red meat, are pro-inflammatory. Although animal proteins are high per serving in protein, too much can lead to inflammatory symptoms. Try a balanced mix of animal and vegetable proteins for balance. Ask you naturopathic doctor for a reliable protein chart to understand which foods are highest in protein.
Carbohydrates are made up of linked sugars and provide the main source of fuel for physical activity, brain function and organ function. In addition, carbohydrate based foods contain fiber and other food stuff that are important for digestion and your daily bowel movements. The more efficient you are eliminating, the better you are absorbing.
It is important to understand that carbohydrates come in many forms and can be healthy or unhealthy depending on the type of food, the sugar level of that food (aka., glycemic index) and the quantity of consumption. Carbs include fruit, vegetables, beans, grains, pastas, breads and simple sugars. Carbohydrates sourced from fruits, vegetables and beans are an important source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and hydration. Carbohydrates sources from whole grains contain important vitamins, minerals and fibers. Unfortunately, many grains have been stripped of these nutrients leading to ‘empty calories’ or carbohydrates with all the sugar chains but none of the important nutrients. Over consumption of processed carbohydrates such as white rice, pasta, and white bread as well as simple sugars found in junk food have led to an oversupply of sugar and an under supply of nutrients that have greatly contributed to the major diseases of our time.
When the body has had enough sugar it converts it to fat which it stores around the liver and abdomen. The liver then stops breaking things down properly and this ultimately affects cholesterol, insulin and other hormones. To cut down on sugar and refined carbohydrates is one of the best things you can do to prevent disease! However, completely eliminating or strictly minimizing carbohydrates can lead to low energy, poor concentration and poor exercise performance as well as important vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The list of symptoms from a carbohydrate deficiency is long because of the number of nutrients such foods supply. It is important to know that about 50% of your dietary intake should come from whole food carbohydrates:
- 8-10 servings per day fruits and vegetables (2-3 of those from fruit)
- 3-4 servings per day of whole grains (1 serving = 1 slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked rice or hot cereal)
- 3-4 servings per week of beans (or more if you are substituting for meat protein) with 1 serving being about ¾ cup.
If you are restricting these important foods from your diet then you are likely to run into deficiency symptoms. If you are consuming excess (particularly empty calorie carbohydrates) than you are likely to run into issues with weight gain, fluid retention, cravings and low energy. Again, notice how a deficiency and excess can sometimes produce the same symptoms!
Fats have long been a hot topic around weight gain. Many people are still afraid to consume fats however reaching for low fat products may not be best for your health. Fats serve important functions:
- Provide a source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K
- Promote brain and nervous system develop (major structural components of brain cells and nervous system tissue)
- Thermoregulation (body warmth)
- Hormone production
- Reduce inflammation
- Promote healthy blood clotting
- Provide an alternative source of energy
As you can see – fats are a big player in human health and we need them! Fats can be divided into to broad categories of saturated and unsaturated fats. The much-maligned saturated fats (meats, dairy, eggs, coconut oil, palm oil) should make up no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake while unsaturated fats (nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, refined fish oils) can make up the other 20%. And although it is true that saturated fats in excess can contribute to inflammation and chronic disease – not having any in your diet is harmful as well.
Life is about balance! Diet should be about balance!
Diets are often about feeling better, lighter and loosing weight. Although specific diets can help to produce these health goals more rapidly, they often aren’t sustainable or healthy over the long run. It is important to remember that feeling unhealthy, heavier or overweight often comes from an imbalance in the basic macronutrients, which throws off hormones and important blood sugar regulating chemicals. Consuming a diet balanced in macronutrients, dense in whole foods, without added sugars or empty calorie carbohydrates and within your caloric needs is the best way to ensure long term health. As a naturopathic doctor in practice for over 8 years, I cannot stress how many patients come in needing basic macronutrient corrections. These simple dietary changes can often be easy, sustainable and with noticeable benefits.
The 5 Tips for New Years Wellness
- Consume a diet of balanced macronutrients (Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates)
- Consume a diet rich in whole foods (Stick to the outside isles around the grocery store and stay out of the inside isles!)
- Avoid added sugars or empty calorie carbohydrates
- Monitor your caloric intake (if weight loss is your goal). Although calories are not the end all and the be all – having too many, even on a healthy diet, will lead to weight gain
- To achieve these goals, think about consulting your naturopathic doctor. A little help can go a long way when you need an overall assessment of your diet. In the meantime, try a fitness or nutrition app like myfitnesspal.com to get you started