Doctor’s Tip: The secret to losing weight is eating satiating, low-calorie-density food
“Eat food,* not too much, mainly plants,” (*refers to unprocessed, “real” food). Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and other books.
Americans of all ages are getting heavier every year, resulting in an epidemic of chronic health problems, and a financial drain on individuals and on our health care system. According to Dr. Michael Greger in his 2020 book, “How Not to Diet,” American children would need to eat about 250 fewer calories each day to return to the average weight of children in the 1970s. Adults would have to cut back by 500 calories a day.
The average American adult currently eats about three pounds of food a day. The typical adult stomach can expand to hold around 4 cups (1 quart) of food. Following are the number of stomachfuls required for 2,000 calories of various foods: chopped broccoli 16 stomachfuls; watermelon balls 11; apple slices 9; sweet potato cubes 3, oatmeal 3; chickpeas 2; eggs 1 1/2; tuna 1; chicken 1; cashews 3/4 cup; cheese 1/2; M and M’s 1/2; cookies 1/2; butter or oil 1/5th. As you can see, some foods are much more calorie-dense than others.
If you want to lose weight, you don’t have to count calories, but rather you simply need to choose food with the most nutrients per calorie, and avoid foods that are calorie-dense.
Unprocessed plant foods are the foods that are least calorie-dense. All plant and animal foods have the three macronutrients (large nutrients, that you can see): protein, fat and carbs. Micronutrients, such as antioxidants, are critical for optimal health — vegetables including legumes, fruit and whole grains, are loaded with them, whereas animal products have few to none. Many vegetables and fruit are over 90% water, and legumes and most whole grains are over 60% water. So these foods have a high nutrient per calorie ratio. Nuts and seeds are also loaded with micronutrients, but in addition have a lot of calories, and should therefore be eaten in moderation (a tablespoonful of ground flaxseed a day, a handful of nuts a day, limited nut butter, and a few unsalted pumpkin and sunflower seeds sprinkled on your salad).
The bottom line is that people who eat plant foods tend to attain and maintain ideal body weight. The exceptions to all plant foods being healthy are coconut and palm products, both of which have high levels of unhealthy, saturated fat; and avocados, which contain healthy fat but a lot of it, so lots of calories (stick to a quarter or less of an avocado a day). All animal products have a high calorie per nutrients ratio — the opposite of what you want for weight loss —as do oils including olive oil.
Following are some additional tips to decrease your calorie intake if you need to lose weight: 1) Preload each meal with one or two cups of cold water, which partially fills your stomach. 2) Slowly eat a cup or two of low calorie (e.g. vegetable) soup before each meal, which causes satiety with little calorie intake — or a salad with oil- and sugar-free dressing. 3) As mentioned in a previous column, chew your food and eat each meal slowly — over at least 20 minutes. 4) Avoid addictive food, containing salt, sugar, oil or processed grains, all of which result in unwanted calories.
The food you eat must be tasty if you are going to stick with this. Many cultures have developed tasty plant-based foods including Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and East Indian. There are many plant-based cookbooks including “Forks Over Knives Cookbook,” “How Not to Die Cookbook,” and “How Not to Diet Cookbook.” A good website is theminimalistbaker.com.
Locally, trained chef Shelly Wythe (comeonecomeraw.com, 1-817-279-2630) delivers healthy, cost effective, home-cooked meals to your door. Laura Van Deusen (970-424-2175) in Rifle is certified by the Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine to teach plant-based cooking techniques.
Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally though lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations — call 970-379-5718.
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“The single greatest predictor of a healthy gut microbiome is the diversity of plants in one’s diet,” Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, MSCI, in “Fiber Fueled.”