Saturday, May 22, 2004

The Doc on Diet: Okay, for some reason I'm really ticked off about the whole idea of the Atkins diet right now. Sure, everybody, go ahead and have some beef jerky, which is low fat and low carb, but is super saturated with sodium (about 5 times as much per oz as the same weight in potato chips) and has no other nutrients, but for heavens sake, don't touch apples or oranges, which have less than 100 calories and more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than any number of prepackaged "Atkins Approved" meals.

Which is really the problem. I agree with Alton Brown's latest couple of rants about HFCS and hydrogenated oils.

The entire problem with our diet is processed foods. The more that food has become a "convenience item" for us as a culture, the more they've packed a whole bunch of calories into a very little space.

Nature doesn't allot calories this way. It builds fibers into its sugars, and the fruits are actually already made in a way that's perfectly digestible and good. Vegetables have practically no calories at all--they're just minerals and water and fiber, with barely any starches and sugars. Even the most starch laden of vegetables, the potato, is perfectly fine and won't spike your insulin levels as long as you're pairing it with some meat, like chicken, and some vegetables, like broccoli.

So now, I present to you, in all of it's beautiful glory, the Doc Magik guide to eating healthy. I will not make nearly the money off of this Dr. Atkins did off his travesty, but that does not mean it can't work for you.

Drink water. Drink it all the time. Drink it during meals, drink it before meals, and drink it after meals. Don't drink less than about sixteen glasses a day. If you're not drinking that much, you may want to work up to it gradually, but get there.

Why? Water is the basis of your body's function. Such a high percentage of our body is water that the body is in constant need of hydration. Studies have shown wonderful things about water: The vast majority of headaches can be cured with water, most feelings people mistake for hunger are actually signs of dehydration, two cups of ice water can be as effective as a cup of coffee to get you going in the morning, and if you drink ice water, it can increase your metabolism for up to 30 minutes afterwards, even if you're inert, as the body heats the water up to 98.6 degrees. Also, if you have a problem retaining water, drinking more water will actually help your body overcome that.

Don't drink anything else. Not coffee, not soda, not even fruit juice. Not even Gatorade.

Why? We all know the sodium in soda is bad for you, and can dehydrate you. You may not know that even the phosphates in soda (even diet soda) can coat your fat cells, meaning your body has to burn them off before it can burn off the fat. As for juices and regular sodas, liquid calories are one of the most notorious culprits when it comes to weight loss. Studies were done where they gave test subjects 100 extra calories of jelly beans, and another group of test subjects 100 extra calories of juice. They found that while the people who'd eaten the jelly beans slightly modified their diet for the rest of the day to compensate for the extra calories, the people who drank the juice didn't make any changes at all. And since they're packed with High Fructose Corn Syrup, they're really, really loaded with calories.

But what about Gatorade? Isn't that healthy?

Sure, it's healthy, but it's not a diet drink. It's packed with calories. It's packed with calories on purpose. It's made to help athletes who are running out of sugars in their blood stream to get sugar back into their blood stream. If you aren't actually running or jogging or playing football--in other words, if your blood sugar isn't actually down--you'll just spike your blood sugar with it, and your body will be forced to store the excess as fat to compensate. In other words, if you've got "it" in you, you better get "it" out of you, before "it" stays in you, around your middle.

So print it in hundred feet high letters and fly it behind a zepplin--Gatorade isn't a diet drink.

Have dairy every day. Women should have yogurt every day. If you have to break the last rule, do it with milk. Yes, I am aware that milk is one of the highest allergens on the planet. It's still the only exception I'll make for liquid calories.

Why? Milk has it's own food group for a reason. It's got a lot of the protein of the meat group, but also a lot of the nutrients of the vegetable group. Studies show that calcium also has a fiber-like effect on digestion--the more you consume, the slower calories are absorbed, and the fewer calories are converted to fat.

What about yogurt? The live and active cultures in yogurt are good for anybody (look for Acidopholous and Bifidus) but especially for women. A lot of female problems can be avoided by the daily consumption of yogurt.

Never miss a meal. Make sure you're getting three squares a day.

Why? I know a lot of people whose diet basically consists of "I'm skipping lunch this week, because I have a dress I want to fit into."

The problem with these diets is two-fold. First, when you miss meals, you eat too much at the next meal to compensate. This is also done with crash diets--after a week of denying all cravings, a gorging generally results.

But the problem is even more insidious. When our body goes too long without eating, it starts to metabolize in such a way as to allow for more fat storage, so it can get by during those times. Ironically, in order to keep ourselves slim, we do need to be eating all the time.

Instead of trying to make sure you're not getting something, make sure you are getting everything. What does that mean? Well, it means that instead of trying to eliminate carbs or fats or protein from your diet, based on whatever this year's fad diet is, instead you should make sure you have some of each at every meal, along with some fiber.

Why? Just because something is bad for you if you eat it in excess doesn't mean it isn't necessary to function. Think about salt. Lots of salt can cause dehydration, it can aggravate asthma, and can affect blood pressure. But without it, you'd also die. That's why, even though they go to all that trouble to bring pure water for sailors, they still bring salt tablets. Because the crew needs the sodium, just not so much.

Your body needs carbs. Carbs are its primary energy source. Protein is necessary for muscle development. Fat and oils also give energy, and, in moderation, can actually help your blood pressure and cholesterol. Fiber slows digestion and helps your body absorb nutrients at a reasonable rate.

So you need them all. However, not all nutrients are created equal. Therefore . . .

Try to get these nutrients from as natural a source as possible. This is a fancy way of saying avoid processed foods. The closer they are to the way mother nature made them, the quicker you should be to snatch them up.

Why? Most of the "processes" to which our food is subjected eliminate nutrients and fiber. Two of the biggest staples of the American diet, white bread and pasta, are made of wheat flour that's been refined to a point where they're nearly instantly digestible by the body. They're calorie bombs, and they go off fast.

The energy from that explosion then has to go somewhere. Your body as two choices--either burn it then, or store it for later use. If you're active, you can burn it then and there, but if you're not, or if you've eaten more than you can burn, all of that energy instead goes straight to your middle.

You can think of fiber as a timer on that explosive process. Since the fiber slows the rate at which grains are absorbed into the body, you have more time to burn the calories off naturally, rather than having to store them.

So some carbs are better than others. However, other things also slow this process. For instance, if you ate that white bread with other things--say there was a good piece of meat in there, or you also had an apple or some other fiber rich food--all of those things also slow down the digestion of the white bread similarly to the way the fiber would in wheat bread.

So I'm not saying carbs are out--I'm not saying any food is "out." I'm just saying when given choices, go for the one that's the most natural.

Reconsider portion size. Just because we're eating all the time doesn't mean that we're going to be eating a lot. Your serving of protein should be something like a chicken breast or a fish fillet or a lean cut of meat that's the size of the palm of your hand. Ditto the carbs. A potato or a scoop of brown rice or an apple that's the size of your fist.

As for vegetables--well, I say go as big as you want on the vegetables. Be careful of dressings on salads, but as for vegetables themselves--you can eat them until the end of forever and you won't get any bigger (This is another of my gripes with Atkins. Broccoli has kind of a high Glycemic Index, but I promise you, left hand on the bible, without ever having met you, broccoli did not, nor will it ever, make you overweight). The only exception to this is potatoes, which count more as a carb.

Eat fruits and vegetables. Rather than focusing on what you can't eat, again, focus on things you should eat. Fruits and vegetables are these things.

Why? Aside from the fiber, and the vitamins, and the minerals (Aren't those enough?) there's the antioxidants. And the fun thing about antioxidants is, you can tell what antioxidant is in the fruit or vegetable by what color it is. The richer the color, the more of the antioxidant it contains (Hence a strawberry or red pepper have more vitamin C than an orange). So if you want to get a bunch of different antioxidants, eat a bunch of different colored fruits and vegetables.

Be careful at restaurants. Yeah, it says, grilled chicken salad, but what are they going to bring you? On my way back through Nevada the other day, I grabbed a "Shrimp and Avocado Salad" that was roughly the size--I kid you not--of the salad bowl my mom used to feed the family of eight with when I was growing up.

And portions aren't the only problem. Restaurants prepare meat different than you do--I was reading about how Chinese Restaurants make stir-fry. They start of going for the fattest cuts, because they make for the most tender meat, then they coat them in corn starch to tenderize them, and then they cook them in tons of oil, which again, does little for the flavor, but makes the meat seem juicier and moister. Naturally, all of this means more calories than if you had carefully selected lean cuts and cooked them yourself at home.

Snack between meals. Fruit, yogurt, even a candy bar once in a while. Have something to tide you over and keep your blood sugar up from one meal to the next.

Enjoy eating. Remember the old song, "Love the One You're With"? Well, love the things you eat. Really enjoy it. Don't think of it as a diet--think of it as eating good.

If there's a food you don't like, don't eat it just because it's good for you. Yeah, pears are good for you, but I won't touch them to save my life. Maybe for you it's brussel spouts or cauliflower. If you're allergic to fish, don't eat them just to get the omega-3's--you can get omega-3's from nuts or from venison or buffalo. There's plenty of delicious foods that are good for you to choose from.

Have the slice of pie here or there, or the candy bar here or there. In fact, you can probably have a "bad" food every day and still be fine. The key is what the key's always been--moderation.

However, as was pointed out this week to me by an astute observer, moderation never made anybody a millionaire, so we're not too fond of preaching it in this country. So I'm sure they'll keep pushing "Eat as much as you want and still lose weight!" and "Secret no-work weight loss guide!"s down our throats until we all explode or have heart failure.

In the meantime, this permalink will be here, if you ever need it.

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