There's a number of factors that the health and fitness industry has misled us to thinking is the correct grounds for making nutritional choices. As a result people are calorically consuming beyond their needs and gaining weight or not losing weight when fat loss is the intention. The reason for this is misguidance, misinterpretation and misunderstanding of a lot of the foundational factors of nutrition and what constitutes a 'good choice'.
Our Equalution client Kym, down 8kgs with a complete change in body composition. This was achieved through a flexible diet approach allowing her to enjoy her favourite foods such as burgers, chocolate and icecream, among lean meats and vegetables.
Quality and Quantity
Eating well for health and fat loss is a two-part system in that quality and quantity go hand in hand, but the art of weight loss will always boil down to calories in vs calories out REGARDLESS (have a read of the Twinkie study). Two choices may not compare in nutrient density but no matter how healthy one seems over the other, your body will recognise and won't ignore its caloric value. This is important as if you want to lose weight you need to calorically be consuming less energy than expenditure. While some foods are more nutrient-dense than others in that they contain more micronutrients THEY ALL HAVE CALORIES. If you're trying to lose weight it's necessary to be conscious of caloric intake given it's possible to overeat
What is healthy?
In today's day and age the term 'healthy' has been pulled, twisted, clouded and misconstrued to result in utter confusion when the question of 'what is healthy' is asked. There really is no definitive answer. Healthy for everyone means something different. A different weight, a different variety of food, a different mentality towards food and a different goal. So it's very much in our opinion about a range of factors that just aren't simply whether a food is lean meat, fruit or vegetable.
Have you been fooled?
So what do you think of when you think 'eating healthy'? Do you think - salads for lunch, a piece of fruit a day, fruit and nut mix for a snack, packing superfoods into your meals, choosing dark chocolate over milk, cutting gluten? Well, listen up because you may be fooled.
Disclaimer: No food is neither good nor bad, it's not how your body recognises it and your diet should also be regarded in a whole context rather than a good meal vs bad meal basis - after all fat loss and fat gain will be the result of calories in vs calories out periodically. So while none of the below foods are bad just don't consume on the basis that you're being the epitome of health and a fat loss burning machine with little regard for its caloric value.
Dark chocolate vs. milk chocolate variations
It seemed as though a few health benefits were discovered in dark chocolate and all of a sudden it became excusable to eat copious amounts daily. Be wary that despite the stigma of dark chocolate being 'beneficial' it is just as a calorie-dense as it's milk variation and therefore portion control is a must. On that note, if you're using chocolate to attain health benefits there are far wiser choices to be extracting dense nutrients.
Paleo does NOT mean healthy. In fact, all it means is no carbs - and between protein and fat there is still enough energy to put you in a calorie surplus not eating carbs than if you were to have a balanced diet incorporating carbs. Check out our article on the pros and cons of paleo here.
Low carb vs. regular
Again, as mentioned above, cutting carbs does not accelerate fat loss, if anything perhaps WEIGHT loss given it will induce muscle and water drops however physically this isn't favourable for body composition or sustainable long term. Just because something has claimed to be low carb doesn't automatically deem it diet-friendly and more times than not it will be higher in calories given the makeup of carbs in fat content.
Anything low in a macronutrient will usually have vilification in another macronutrient. Low-fat variations particularly in dairy usually will mean fewer calories, which is great if you're trying to lose weight. Don't rest your whole decision though on a food choice that claims to be low fat without acknowledging its calorie intake, as sometimes this won't make a difference.
From ‘natural’ sugars such as those found in fruit and raw maple syrup and ‘processed’ sugars such as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, both kinds have been demonised and misunderstood when it comes to fat loss. All forms of carbohydrate we eat (as sugar is just a carb - what differs is the rate of digestion) are either metabolised into glucose or are left undigested, serving as dietary fiber.
Our body can’t distinguish between the natural sugar found in fruit, honey or milk, and the processed sugar found in a Snickers bar. They’re all digested in the same way: they’re broken down into monosaccharides, which are then turned into glucose, which is then shipped off to the brain, muscles, and organs for use(1). That’s not to say the nutrient density of the two is the same, but to conclude in the context of the overall diet one is neither good nor bad but recognised equally from a carbohydrate perspective.
There’s little research to suggests that sugar is the catalyst of fat gain, rather the problem is the caloric density of a lot of high sugar foods that don’t seem filling (likely due to low fibre) making overconsumption likely. Many studies have compared groups eating a diet with the same macronutrient composition (same ratio of protein, fats and carbs) with only differing carb sources. The groups eating lots of sugar lost the equivalent body fat without losing more muscle mass as opposed to the groups consuming little or no sugar(2)(3).
In studies where complex carbs like whole-wheat bread were replaced with sugar but the total caloric intake was kept constant, no body composition changes took place(4). So as long as you track your macros, having sugar in your diet is in itself not bad for your physique. And it gets even better.
Dairy-free vs. dairy
Dairy is NOT bad, but does get a bad rap. There is so little and no conclusive scientific evidence that even slightly supports that it should be cut from your diet if trying to lose weight. In fact, science says the opposite dubbing dairy as having a magnitude of benefits. A lot of fat loss success that can be attributed to cutting dairy again comes from making an overall calorie reduction as dairy products, particularly full-fat variations, can be high in fat (1g of fat equates to 9 calories) which makes sense as to why if you were to cut it entirely you’d be reducing your daily intake. Studies equate dairy to greater lean tissue retention, bone and teeth benefits linked to calcium intake and molecular regulation in consumption of dairy(5)(6)(7).
Similar to dairy, gluten is also highly misconstrued and demonised in the health and fitness industry. Not to mention gluten-free foods are highly monetised through marketing promises and again aside from a clinically diagnosed intolerance such as celiacs disease there is little scientific support on cutting gluten as promising. A lot of the time the calorie intake in these products are far higher than their gluten variation. In a recent study ‘ self-identified gluten intolerant’ individuals were tested and cycled through high-gluten, low-gluten, and no-gluten (placebo) diets, without knowing which diet plan they were on. In the end, all of the treatment diets - even the placebo diet - caused pain, bloating, nausea, and gas to a similar degree. It didn’t matter if the diet contained gluten as there was no specific response to it(8).
This was again tested and upheld in a later study subjecting self-proclaimed gluten-intolerant individuals to similar diets with the same findings(9). The so-called ‘non-celiac gluten sensitivity’ group remains undefined and largely ambiguous because of the minimal scientific evidence also showing a distinct correlation between a mind over matter concept. This identified non-celiac gluten sensitivity entity has become a quandary, as patients are powerfully influenced by alternative practitioners, Internet websites and mass media who all proclaim the benefits of avoiding gluten- and wheat-containing foods(10). Those who have an identified intolerance to gluten (celiacs) will experience adverse effects such as skin rash, headaches, foggy minds joint (pain), anemia, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome.
However, what studies have pointed to is if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms subtracting gluten from your diet may not aid in your cause and instead just restrict your food choice and impact your quality of life and relationship with food. Don’t cut something out of your diet based on self-diagnosis or assumption after lots of Googling.
Brown vs. white
White vs brown variations have been a common switch that people embarking on a fat loss journey will make. However, while brown variations may often be more fibrous they aren't usually fewer calories. In fact, more often than not the brown variation is higher.
Just because a meal has a leafy green mix and is jam-packed with every superfood under the sun it doesn't mean it's optimal for your health or overall diet. Usually due to the caloric density of some salads, what it will mean is that attention to the remainder of your day will need to be paid in order to prevent over-consuming calories every though the meal itself may have not seemed all that dense or filling.
Oils and 'healthy fats'
Oils and 'healthy' fats often get overused when dieting in pursuit of reaping 'all the health benefits'. While some fats are rich in omega 3, portion control is a must due to how high in calories a very small portion is. Don't go to town on volume thinking it's bringing you good health with little regard for the calorie intake.
Fruit and nut mix
A common snack when 'fat loss' is the goal, why? Because the diet industry has you thinking it’s 'good for you'. Fruit and nut mix is extremely calorie dense and makes it easy to overeat given it's not all that filling. Portion control is a must.
Raw vegan treat spin-offs
Some people select the food they eat based on a perception of healthy or unhealthy with little regard for caloric value. A good example of this is the newfound craze of 'clean', raw, often vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free 'treats' - that are usually a spin-off of our favourite sweets. The basis of a lot of these treats that claim to be 'free from' particular ingredients is that the replacement has come from a fat source that is significantly higher in calories than the original.
When making alternatives and changes to your diet for fat loss be wary of the caloric content of the alternative food given that it is easy to be fooled by marketing promises and free from claims. Acknowledge calories, they matter and should be regarded in a context of what you've eaten in the day so far and what you plan to eat in order to be conscious while losing weight. Whatever your preference don't be confused by ingredients and 'free from' claims, you may think you're doing your body wonders but your body might not agree.
2. Weight loss in overweight subjects following low-sucrose or sucrose-containing diets. West JA, de Looy AE. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Aug;25(8):1122-8.
3. Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss. Surwit RS, Feinglos MN, McCaskill CC, Clay SL, Babyak MA, Brownlow BS, Plaisted CS, Lin PH. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Apr;65(4):908-15.
4. Extended use of foods modified in fat and sugar content: nutritional implications in a free-living female population. Gatenby SJ, Aaron JI, Jack VA, Mela DJ. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Jun;65(6):1867-73.
5. Zemel MB. The role of dairy foods in weight management. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005;24:S537–46
6. Zemel MB. Mechanisms of dairy modulation of adiposity. J Nutr. 2003;133:S252–6