My Most Important Nutrition Tip
If I had to narrow it down to just one, what would be my most important nutrition tip for clients? If I had to choose the most powerful piece of advice to improve your health and body composition, it would be to limit the amount of sugar you eat. Say what? Oh no, he’s going to start spouting off about the evils of too much sugar again. You’re darn right I am.
If we look at the nutrition section in Barnes and Noble, we can find a wide variety of diet books. There are titles such as The Earth Diet, The “I” Diet, The Starch Solution, The Conscious Cleanse, and The Hot Belly Diet, just to name a few. It can be extremely confusing when one book recommends an approach almost exactly the opposite of another book on the same shelf. It’s 2015 and by gauging what I see on the bookstore shelves, nutrition advice only seems to be getting more confusing.
I feel like the “so called” nutrition experts can be sorted into two groups. One being the “exercise and eat a reasonable amount of food” group, and the other being the “quality and type of food you eat matters more than the amount, oh and you still should make sure to exercise.” For sake of simplicity, let’s not get into debates about whether to eat meat or not to eat meat. Somewhat recently I blogged about the trends in nutrition and how there seems to be movement back towards group one from the recently popular group two camp. I feel that line of thinking could be a hazardous place for most people to return to. Why do I think this?
The majority of people in the world already consume too much sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 teaspoons per day, while the average adult american takes in upwards of 22 teaspoons per day. Which is roughly 88 grams of sugar a day and 130 pounds a year. As you can see. we love our sweet treats here in America. It’s not just the sweet treats. Sugar finds its way into many food products, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). There was a campaign a few years ago that marketed HFCS as a natural substance derived from corn. It’s natural, so how could it be bad right? Heavy fructose consumption can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Foie gras is a fatty liver of a duck or goose as a result of being force fed corn. Many processed foods contain HFCS.
So it’s pretty obvious that we want to avoid any heavy consumption of sugary treats and processed foods, but there may be one other type of food you aren’t factoring into your total sugar intake, and that is grains. In the book, “Strong Medicine” by Chris Hardy D.O. MPH and Marty Gallagher, they make the following key point in the nutrition section. “Note that bagels, bread, pasta, and other processed starchy foods are really just fiber and large collections of glucose.” The average serving of whole wheat bread rates a 71 on the glycemic index (glucose is 100) and has a glycemic load (an estimate of how much a food will raise blood sugar after eating it) of 9. For comparison, a serving of regular ice cream ranks 57 on the glycemic index and has a glycemic load of 6. Wait a second, ice cream is lower on the glycemic index and in the glycemic load than whole wheat bread? However, which one are people more concerned about limiting? Ice cream, that’s right. The glycemic numbers for foods can be found on the Harvard Health Publications website.
I challenge you to look at grains differently. Let’s not even get into the debate here on gluten intolerance and insensitivity, and save that for another time and place. I want to look at it from the standpoint of sugar. As the glycemic numbers above show, a serving of whole wheat bread can strongly affect our blood sugar. In many cases, people may recognize that they should limit consumption of sugary foods, but yet they don’t recognize that grains and other starchy foods can have a similar impact. Often times people who are avoiding desserts, are including bread at every meal and snack. This is the part where people will think I have lost my mind.
Think of grains and other starchy foods as treats, and not staples in the diet. I’ll either have some ice cream this weekend or maybe a couple of pieces of bread with my meal. With both sugary treats and grains/starchy foods, I’m not saying we have to give them up forever, just recognize what their heavy consumption can do us harm, and limit them. I think many people will see improvements in both their health and weight/body composition.
I am in the process of reading “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” by Gretchen Rubin. In one chapter of the book she mentions that some people do better with abstaining from things while others do better with using moderation. It just depends on the person. Of course, there will be people who use combinations of these strategies for success, abstaining from some things and moderating others. I find that with certain foods, it works best for me to abstain. Figure out what works best for you. Sometimes we think we are good at moderation but if we are not achieving our health and body goals, we may be underestimating our intake of these foods.
I think people are often concerned that their fiber intake will be too low if they are not consuming whole grains, but as we can see from this list from the Mayo Clinic, vegetables and fruits can provide plenty of fiber. If you eat a lot of grains, I recommend reducing your intake of them and upping your intake of fruits and vegetables, mostly vegetables. Here are a few more tips to reduce your intake of grains.
- Turn a sandwich or burger into a lettuce wrap. Butter lettuce and romaine works best for this, and help keep all the contents in place. I just look at it as an opportunity to get some more green vegetables in my diet.
- Any sandwich can be converted to a salad. The contents of a sandwich will make great toppings for a salad or you can make a burger bowl.
- When dining out where bread is the complementary appetizer, tell your server to skip it. Then you don’t have to exercise your willpower with it sitting in front of you.
- If you really want a sandwich with bread, serve it open face. At least you’ll be cutting the bread consumption in half.
There you have it, for better health and body composition, omit or limit/reduce your intake of sugary treats/snacks and grains/starchy foods. In one of my talks with a client who has had a very successful weight loss journey by reducing their carbohydrate intake and is also in the medical field, we came to the conclusion that there are two different nutrition strategies that will be helpful for those that suffer from health problems or being overweight. One is to reduce their intake of sugary treats. Two is to reduce their intake of grains and starchy foods. It becomes apparent which food strategy will be most powerful by looking at a person’s food journal. There is power in keeping a food journal.
I know it’s not cool to tell people that they should limit these things, but in all the experience I have had in working with clients over the last 11 years, all the reading I have done, and the different studies I have looked at, it’s a no brainer. So you can label me crazy, a charlatan, or whatever else for encouraging to put down that piece of bread and eat less treats, but my goal is to help people reach their body composition goals and better health, and this is my most important nutrition tip.