Top 10 Flat Belly Foods

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Your abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen. A good training program develops the muscles in your midsection and the right diet helps banish bloating so you can see your abs. Here are the 10 flat belly foods you should add to your diet for a better looking (and better feeling) mid-section):Greek yogurt for belly fat

Greek Yogurt with Live and Active Cultures

Look for Greek yogurt with “live cultures (aka good bacteria)” or the “Live & Active Cultures” seal. The cultures are good bacteria that take up valuable real estate in your gut, helping your body digest food and decreasing gas and bloating. The amount of healthy, versus harmful, bacteria influences body weight and how much weight you can lose while following a lower calorie diet. Plus, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found people who get their calcium from yogurt, as opposed to other foods, may lose more weight in their belly. Even more evidence to support yogurt consumption comes from a study showing dieters who ate five servings of dairy, such as Greek yogurt, daily lost more weight and abdominal fat than those who ate just three servings every day. A more recent review of the research found higher dairy intake was associated with lower risk of obesity in the midsection and yogurt seems to help keep weight in check.

2 Nuts

Though nuts are relatively high in calories for a small amount of food,  people don’t gain weight when they add nuts to their previously nut-free diet. A study in over 13,000 adults revealed nut eaters, those who ate at least ¼ ounce of nuts or peanuts (technically a legume) per day had smaller waists than adults who didn’t eat nuts. Additionally, tree nuts and peanuts contain a considerable amount of monounsaturated fat. Dieters who eat more foods containing monounsaturated fats may lose more belly fat than those who eat the same number of calories per day with less monounsaturated fat.

3 Asparagus

When examining dietary patterns, weight and waist circumference in close to eighty thousand people over a 10-year period, researchers found those who ate more vegetables every day had both a lower BMI and smaller waistline compared to adults who ate few vegetables. Asparagus contains prebiotic fiber, a type of fiber that is food for the good bacteria in your gut. Plus, asparagus is a natural mild diuretic making it the perfect food before hitting the beach or wearing a more formfitting outfit.

4 Avocados

Avocados contain a good amount of monounsaturated fat, not to mention nineteen vitamins and minerals. But, their monounsaturated fat is the ticket to a smaller waistline. In one study scientists gave obese adults with type 2 diabetes diets rich in saturated fat, monounsaturated fat or  carbohydrates. Those on the high carbohydrate diet ended up with fat redistributed to their stomachs while the monounsaturated fat rich diet prevented fat redistribution to the belly area. Plus, a look at dietary intake data from close to 18,000 adults found body weight, BMI and waist size were all significantly lower in avocado consumers versus those who didn’t include avocados in their diet.

5 Popcorn

Popcorn is a whole grain and when you pop it yourself on the stovetop (or in a brown paper bag in the microwave, just add good old fashioned popcorn kernels in a brown paper bag and fold the top) and top it with a little spray butter or spices for flavor, you’ll end up with a snack that takes a long time to eat and fills you up on relatively few calories. In addition, several studies show people who eat about three servings of whole grains per day weight less and have a smaller waistline compared to those who don’t.

6 Cold Pea Salad

Peas are naturally rich in resistant starch, a type of fiber that isn’t completely broken down or absorbed during digestion. Cooking and cooling peas to make a pea salad will significantly increase the amount of resistant starch they content. Rodent studies show resistant starch helps reduce stomach fat and increase hormones that tell the brain it’s time to stop eating.

7 Eggs

Choose eggs over cereal in the morning and you’ll tame hunger pangs for hours after breakfast, decreasing the likelihood of overeating later in the day. Make a meal containing at least 25 – 30 total grams of protein (the protein is in the white of the egg so this equates to 4 – 5 egg whites though you can choose any combination of whole eggs and egg whites as long as you consume at least 4 -5 of the whites) so you can cash in on the satiety-enhancing benefits of eggs. Added bonus: following a high protein diet for a short period of time can lead to significant reductions in belly fat.

8 Green Tea

The combination of caffeine and antioxidants in green tea may lead to small to moderate reductions in body fat and waist size. However, you need to consume quite a bit of it so get creative and cook with green tea by brewing it and using it to cook rice (it’s particularly good with jasmine rice), make stews, soups or stocks. You can also poach fruit green tea or use dried green tea leaves as part of a rub for meats, tofu or fish.

9 Barley

Barley is a cereal grain with a nutty taste and consistency that is a cross between pasta and rice. In a double-blinded trial (both the men and the researchers didn’t know which food they were getting), Japanese men were given rice or a mixture of rice with pearl barley. The group receiving the pearl barley and rice mixture lost a significant amount of visceral fat, the kind that covers your organs like a thick winter blanket and increases risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. Compared to the rice only group, the group who ate pearl barley decreased their waist size.

10 Blueberries

Blueberries are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which will not only help keep you full but also help keep your waistline in check. Plus they are a natural source of prebiotic fiber – the kind that the good bacteria in your gut munch on.

A flat belly is one of the most recognized signs of a fit body. Blast away abdominal fat with high-intensity cardio and build the underlying muscle by regularly switching up your training program. Also, incorporate a 30-minute abs classes to your routine. At least one study found you can spot reduce if you exercise the same muscle group for at least 30 minutes at a time. Keep in mind abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen. Add the top 10 flat belly foods to your diet while cutting down on sugar alcohols (sorbitol, maltitol, and mannitol are the worst for causing gas and bloating), fizzy drinks and chewing gum (all of these can increase bloating at least temporarily) and you may fall in love with skinny jeans.

 

References
Clifton PM, Bastiaans K, Keogh JB. High protein diets decrease total and abdominal fat and improve CVD risk profile in overweight and obese men and women with elevated triacylglycerol. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2009;19(8):548-54.

O’Neil CE1, Keast DR, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Nut consumption is associated with decreased health risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in U.S. adults: NHANES 1999-2004. J Am Coll Nutr 2011;30(6):502-10.

Kahn HS, Tatham LM, Rodriguez C, et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults’ 10-year change in the body mass index and likelihood of gain at waist. Am J Public Health 1997;87:747-54.

Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, Cheng J, Duncan AE et al. Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice. Science 2013;341:6150.

Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Mahowald MA, Magrini V et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature 2006;444:1027-1031.

Vidrine K, Ye J, Martin RJ, McCutcheon KL et al. Resistant starch from high amylose maize (HAM-RS2) and dietary butyrate reduce abdominal fat by a different apparent mechanism. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2014;22(2):344-8.

Bisanz JE, Reid G. Unraveling how probiotic yogurt works. Sci Transl Med 2011;3:106.

Dhurandhar NV, Geurts L, Atkinson RL et al. Harnessing the beneficial properties of adipogenic microbes for improving human health. Obesity Reviews 2013;19:721-735.

Delzenne NM, Neyrinck AM, Bäckhed F, Cani PD. Targeting gut microbiota in obesity: effects of prebiotics and probiotics. Nat Rev Endocrinol 2011;7(11):639-46.

Furet JP, Kong LC, Tap J et al. Differential adaptation of human gut microbiota to bariatric surgery-induced weight loss: links with metabolic and low-grade inflammation markers. Diabetes 2010;59:3049-3057.

Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature 2006;444: 1022–1023.

Santacruz A, Marcos A, Warnberg J et al. Interplay Between Weight Loss and Gut Microbiota Composition in Overweight Adolescents. Obesity 2009;17:1906–1915.

Harland JI, Garton LE. Whole-grain intake as a marker of healthy body weight and adiposity. Public Health Nutr 2008;11(6):554-63.

Yadav BS, Sharma A, Yadav RB. Studies on effect of multiple heating/cooling cycles on the resistant starch formation in cereals, legumes and tubers. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2009;60 Suppl 4:258-72.

Keenan MJ, Zhou J, McCutcheon KL et al. Effects of resistant starch, a non-digestible fermentable fiber, on reducing body fat. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2006;14(9):1523-34.

Nagao T, Komine Y, Soga S et al. Ingestion of a tea rich in catechins leads to a reduction in body fat and malondialdehyde-modified LDL in men. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81(1):122-9.

Paniagua JA, Gallego de la Sacristana A, Romero I et al. Monounsaturated fat-rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects. Diabetes Care 2007;30(7):1717-23.

Fulgoni VL 3rd, Dreher M, Davenport AJ. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutr J 2013;12:1.

Shimizu C, Kihara M, Aoe S et al. Effect of high beta-glucan barley on serum cholesterol concentrations and visceral fat area in Japanese men–a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 2008;63(1):21-5.

Du H, van der A DL, Boshuizen HC et al. Dietary fiber and subsequent changes in body weight and waist circumference in European men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91(2):329-36.

Peters EM, Anderson R, Nieman DC, et al. Vitamin C supplementation attenuates the increases in circulating cortisol, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory polypeptides following ultramarathon running. Int J Sports Med 2001;22(7):537-43.

 

Is Saturated Fat Good for You?

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Though largely driven by misinterpretation of the science and cherry-picked population studies, the “Butter is Back” movement comes with very persuasive sound bites followed by arrogant punctuation marks. No wonder so many people hopped on board the bandwagon while looking back, pointing fingers and shouting “health professionals have been misleading us for decades!” Yet the flawed reasoning behind the pro-saturated fat movement comes with a hefty price tag – you could be making food choices that, over time, will increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

  • Why is there so much confusion about saturated fat?;
  • The science behind saturated fats, cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart & blood vessels) and type 2 diabetes;
  • Best food choices for heart health.

Why is there so Much Confusion about Saturated Fat?

There are a few reasons for the confusion about saturated fat (fat that is solid at room temperature such as butter, shortening, coconut oil and the fat on meat) and misinterpretation of the science. First off, some people group all saturated fatty acids (saturated fatty acids make up saturated fat) together as a team. However, there are several types of saturated fatty acids. Some raise LDL cholesterol (the kind that contributes to clogged arteries and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease) as well as HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol, the kind that removes bad cholesterol; SN: drugs that increase HDL do not lower risk of heart disease so there is some considerable debate regarding the role of HDL), others don’t raise LDL cholesterol and some we aren’t quite sure about. Secondly, using population-based studies alone to draw conclusions about saturated fat intake and heart disease is misguided.  These studies are not designed to determine cause and effect (that’s the job of well-designed clinical trials) plus, there are inherent issues with the methods used in many of these studies.  Nutrition research is not easy, especially in humans living their life (those not in a metabolic ward where all factors are controlled and measured including diet and physical activity).

Lastly, some research studies (and the media) take the results way out of context. So, here’s the lowdown based on sound science:

The Science Behind Saturated Fat, Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

  • There is no dietary requirement for saturated fat. Your body can make all of the saturated fatty acids it needs.
  • Foods high in saturated fat typically increase total, HDL and LDL cholesterol. However, the impact dietary saturated fat has on increasing LDL-cholesterol (the kind that contributes to clogged arteries and an inflammatory cascade in arteries) may depend on the amount of polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs) in your diet (as well as the type of saturated fatty acids consumed).
  • In general, replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat (and monounsaturated fat though there is less evidence for monounsaturated fat) reduces LDL and total cholesterol, both risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • saturated fat and cholesterolOverweight, obesity and insulin resistance may reduce the beneficial effects (lowered LDL cholesterol) generally noticed from a reduction in saturated fat intake. *If obese or overweight, losing excess body fat (regardless of the type of diet used to lose the weight) has powerful effects on lowering risk for cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and type II diabetes.
  • Food contains a complex mixture of compounds that may affect cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk (it is not just the fat). The food “matrix” matters.
  • Many factors impact how a food affects cholesterol and blood lipids (fats) including fats eaten at the same time, overall diet, and carbohydrate intake (and type of carbohydrates consumed – high fiber vs. foods high in added sugar with few other nutrients).
  • There are individual, genetic differences in response to saturated fat intake – your cholesterol might shoot up after eating a diet containing a diet high in the type of saturated fatty acids that raise LDL cholesterol and I might be able to get away with this diet without a problem (blame your genetics or consider it an opportunity to open your taste buds to foods containing less saturated fat; particularly the kind that is artery clogging).
  • Certain saturated fatty acids, or a diet high in saturated fat, may increase risk for type 2 diabetes.

Best Choices for Heart Health

If you are overweight, focus on losing excess body fat. Even small amounts of fat loss will improve health and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you have high total and LDL cholesterol, swap foods high in saturated fat for foods high in polyunsaturated fat (liquid oils, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados). Minimize your intake of foods high in added sugars and refined, white flour, carbohydrates. Instead, choose higher fiber carbohydrates as often as possible.

Don’t get sucked into the media headlines written by journalists who could sell ice to an eskimo. Butter isn’t back (for good health anyway). The bulk of your fat intake should still come from foods that are higher in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. However, food is a complex matrix of compounds and therefore, some foods higher in saturated fat may have little to no impact on cholesterol and therefore fit into your diet while contributing to your vitamin and mineral needs and providing plant-based compounds important for good health.

References

Tholstrup T, Hoy CE, Andersen LN, Christensen RD, Sandstrom B. Does fat in milk, butter and cheese affect blood lipids and cholesterol differently? J Am Coll Nutr 2004;23:169–76.

Nestel P. Effects of Dairy Fats within Different Foods on Plasma Lipids. J Am Coll Clin Nutr 2008, 27(6): 735S–740S.

Hodson L, Skeaff CM, Chisholm WA. The effect of replacing dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat on plasma lipids in free-living young adults. Eur J Clin Nutr 2001; 55(10):908-15

Soerensen KV et al. Effect of dairy calcium from cheese and milk on fecal fat excretion, blood lipids, and appetite in young men. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99(5):984-91.

 

Sourdough – Safe for Gluten Sensitivity?

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There’s something special about sourdough bread. Made through a slow process that begins with simple ingredients, warm water and flour, yeast and bacteria feast on the flour’s carbohydrate, producing carbon dioxide gas and bubbles that expand the dough. Each batch may tastes a little different depending on the flour and water used as well as the environment the starter is made in. My favorite sourdough bread, the kind that is made over the course of several days, has an alluring pungent, slightly sour taste. This long fermentation process leads to more complex flavors while also creating bread that is easier for those with gluten sensitivity to digest. I shared the science behind sourdough in this segment on Fox TV:

What is Gluten?

Gluten’s stretchy fibers give dough it’s rubberband-like elasticity allowing it to stretch when pizza dough is tossed in the air like a frisbee. Gluten-rich dough traps air and water during the baking process so bread rises with delicate ease, producing light and fluffy baked goods. Without wheat (and therefore gluten, which is produced when wheat flour is mixed with water), gluten free items require a blend of flours, starches and additives yet they still can’t replicate the texture of gluten-containing baked goods.

In people with celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease, repeated exposure to gluten damages villi, fingerlike projections in the small intestine that help us absorb nutrients from food. Over time, a decrease in nutrient absorption can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, miscarriages and other complications. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center website lists over 300 symptoms associated with celiac disease though anemia is the most common symptom in adults. The only available treatment is a strict gluten free diet – which helps reverse intestinal damage over time. Gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune disease but instead a vague medical condition without a uniform definition or diagnostic test at this time. People with gluten sensitivity report various symptoms triggered by the ingestion of gluten-containing foods including abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation or diarrhea. Though gluten sensitivity is real, someone who thinks they have sensitivity may actually be reacting to something other than gluten (another protein or the starches – see below under Is it the Gluten?)

Sourdough bread

The Science behind Sourdough

Standard yeast leads to a fast fermentation process. This ramps up production speed and it is also foolproof so companies can produce batches of bread at warp speed. Sourdough bread is made slowly, over time, letting the yeast work it’s magic to deliver an array of flavors as well as bread that is easier to digest. In one study, sourdough bread made with selected sourdough lactobacilli and long-time fermentation resulted in bread with gluten levels of 12 parts per million (ppm), which qualifies for gluten-free (anything below to 20 ppm is gluten free). A long fermentation process allows bacteria and yeast adequate time to feed on proteins and starches breaking them down into more digestible parts. Yet sourdough also boasts a lower glycemic index than many other types of bread (including white bread) and therefore it doesn’t lead to a quick spike in blood sugar levels.

In 2011, a small study conducted in Italy tried giving volunteers with celiac disease a small amount of specially prepared sourdough bread. The bread was fermented until the gluten was broken down to more easily digestible parts. The subjects in the study reacted well to the sourdough, with no changes in intestinal villi and no detectable antibodies typically found when a celiac disease patient eats a gluten containing food. According to the study authors, the bread “was not toxic to patients with celiac disease.”

In another study, conducted over 60 days, baked goods made from hydrolyzed wheat flour, manufactured with sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases, was not toxic to patients with celiac disease. Though these studies are groundbreaking, it is far too soon for celiac disease patients to try this at home. For sourdough bread to be an option for those with celiac disease, a uniform production process would need to be established to ensure the end product is gluten-free.

For those with Gluten Sensitivity, Is it Really the Gluten?

Some people may experience bloating and flatulence in response to FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrates that are not well absorbed in the small intestine and are present in bread along with a number of other foods (other grains, some vegetables and fruits). In some people the problem may be FODMAPs, not gluten. The long fermentation process reduces FODMAPs.

How to Make Sourdough at Home

Sourdough starter begins with flour and water that sits for several days while being fed intermittently with both flour and water allowing bacteria (lactobacilli) and yeast to grow and multiply creating live cultures. These microorganisms are what makes the dough ferment similar to the way milk ferments to become yogurt. Check out these recipes to make your own sourdough bread: Healthy Aperture, the Perfect Loaf.

If you run into problems making sourdough check out this page for troubleshooting.

 

 

Can You Lose Fat and Gain Muscle at the Same Time?

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Eat fewer calories than you burn each day and you’ll lose weight. There’s one major issue with this time-tested approach: you’ll probably strip away more than just body fat. Weight loss, especially fast weight loss, achieved after crash dieting or drastically slashing calorie intake, leads to a decrease in muscle mass and subsequent drop in metabolism. A slower metabolism means your body needs even fewer calories to maintain your new weight (weight loss alone = fewer calories needed to carry around a smaller body, add muscle loss and your calorie needs drop even more). In addition, with less muscle you won’t be able to push yourself as hard during workouts (and therefore burn as many calories). This can put you on the fast track to yo-yo dieting, weight loss and regain. There’s a much better approach and a recently published study highlights how you can lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time.

crash dieting leads to muscle loss

In this article I’ll cover:

  1. How dieting can slow your metabolism;
  2. The latest evidence on losing fat and building muscle at the same time;
  3. Why researchers didn’t use a low carbohydrate diet;
  4. How you can keep the weight off.

How Dieting Slows Your Metabolism

When you eat fewer calories than you need each day, your body is forced to pull from its backup supply, body fat and muscle, to maintain your energy (calorie) needs. Some people lose a substantial amount of muscle when dieting, 30% or more, of their initial muscle mass. In addition to a decrease in muscle mass and slower metabolism, lower calorie diets decrease the intracellular signaling necessary for the synthesis of new proteins in muscle. Plus, muscle tissue may be less sensitive to protein when you’re dieting. In other words, it’s really tough to build muscle when dieting to lose weight. Based on these physiological changes, there’s an age-old theory suggesting it’s impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. However, scientists from McMaster University in Canada found it is not only possible but also, doable even when losing a substantial amount of body fat in a relatively short period of time.

Building Muscle While Losing Body Fat

In the McMaster University study, young overweight recreationally active men (prior to the study they exercised 1-2 times per week) were placed on an intense four-week diet and exercise program. Their diet contained 40% fewer calories each day than needed for weight maintenance. All meals were prepared and provided to participants during the study. The men were randomly selected for one of two diet groups:

  Higher Protein Group

 

Lower Protein (Control Group)

 

Total daily calorie intake 15 calories per pound of lean body mass 15 calories per pound of lean body mass
Macronutrients 35% protein, 50% carbohydrate and 15% fat 15% protein, 50% carbohydrates, 35% fat
Total daily protein intake 1.09 grams of protein per lb. body weight (2.4 grams of protein per kg) 0.55 grams of protein per lb. bodyweight (1.2 grams of protein per kg) – 2x the RDA (0.8 g/kg) for protein

 

Per meal protein intake 0.22 grams of protein per lb. of body weight

 

0.10 grams of protein per lb. of body weight

 

Dairy shakes 3- 4 / day including one after exercise (depending on body weight; higher protein, lower carbohydrate shakes compared to the Lower Protein Group)

 

3- 4 / day including one after exercise (depending on body weight; lower protein, higher carbohydrate shakes compared to the Higher Protein Group)

 

Training Program
Supervised workouts consisted of full-body resistance circuit training twice per week and high intensity interval training six days per week. In addition to their structured exercise program, all participants were instructed to get at least 10,000 steps per day as monitored by a pedometer worn on their hip.

Resistance Training Circuit
2 times per week
3 sets of 10 reps at 80% 1 RM with the last set of each exercise to failure
No rest between sets
1-minute rest between each circuit

Sprint Interval Training
1 time per week
Four to eight 30-second bouts on a stationary bike (participants started with four sets and progressed to eight sets)
4 minutes rest between bouts

Modified High Intensity Interval Training
1 time per week
10 bouts of all-out sprint for one minute at 90% VO2max
1-minute rest intervals at 50% VO2max

Time Trial
1 time per week as fast as possible until approximately 250 calories were burned

Plyometric bodyweight circuit
30-second rest between exercises

Results
Both the lower protein and higher protein groups lost weight with no significant difference between groups. Men in the higher protein group gained 2.64 lbs. of muscle and lost 10.56 lbs. of body fat while men in the control group gained little muscle (0.22 lbs.) and lost 7.7 lbs. of fat. Both groups improved all but one measure of strength in addition to aerobic and anaerobic capacity. There were no differences between groups in strength, power, aerobic fitness or performance at the end of the study.

In this study, a higher protein, reduced calorie diet combined with a high intensity circuit-training program including interval training and sprints helped participants build muscle. In addition to their total protein intake, participants in the higher protein group also consumed more protein per meal (approximately 49 grams per meal) than those in the lower protein group (approximately 22 grams per meal).

Why Didn’t They Cut Carbohydrates?

Low carbohydrate diets are not only popular, but they may lead to greater weight loss (in overweight and obese individuals), initially, than higher carbohydrate, low fat diets (some of this is water weight). However, when giving up carbohydrates you also sacrifice something else, intense training. Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel used during high-intensity exercise because your body can readily access and utilize them for energy. Fat is a slow source of energy and therefore, your body cannot access and use fat quickly enough to sustain high intensity training. In this study, both groups of participants consumed 50% of their calorie intake from carbohydrate. If the study authors cut carbohydrates, the participants wouldn’t make it through their high intensity training program that was specifically designed to take off fat and increase muscle mass.

Keeping the Weight Off

Consider a program like the one used in this study a short-term jumpstart. It isn’t sustainable over a long period of time. The transition to a longer-term approach after weight loss should include a gradual increase in calorie intake while maintaining a higher protein diet (at least 0.55 grams of protein per lb. of body weight to maintain muscle while considerably more, along the lines of 1.09 – 1.41 grams of protein per lb. of body weight may be necessary to continue building muscle during periods of reduced calorie intake). This gradual increase in calorie intake is important because substantial weight loss results in a slower metabolism even if you maintain or build muscle during your jumpstart weight loss program. It isn’t entirely clear why this happens and the drop is greater than scientists can predict based on a decrease in muscle mass. Even if you build some muscle, this won’t rev fire up your metabolism to make up for a drastic decrease in body weight.

One pound of muscle burns a measly 5.9 calories per day at rest while a pound of fat burns 2 calories per day at rest.

Greater weight lost while dieting means an even greater drop in metabolism – something dieters must account for so they can maintain their new weight.

In addition to slowly increasing calorie intake and consuming a higher protein diet, each meal should contain at least 25 – 30 grams of protein. We don’t know the exact amount of protein per meal needed to maximally stimulate muscle building.

Your exercise regimen should continue to include resistance training and you’d be wise to continually vary your training program. Be sure to move each day as well. Research shows many people naturally adjust to greater amounts of aerobic exercise by decreasing their activities of daily living. They exercise intensely at the gym and then sit the rest of the day. Circumvent this by using one of the many devices that counts steps each day. Also, consider doing more work around your house including cleaning, mowing your lawn, gardening, and washing your car. Get moving and stay moving all day long.

If you want to get rid of your love handles while building a six-pack at the same time, combine an effective resistance training and high intensity interval-training program with a reduced calorie, higher protein diet. Your diet and exercise program does not need to be as rigorous as the one in this study. Instead, you can adjust the McMaster University approach to fit your lifestyle, though your results may take more time. Once you reach your goal weight, slowly transition your training program and diet to an approach you can live with.

References
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Johannsen DL, Knuth ND, Huizenga R, Rood JC, Ravussin E, Hall KD. Metabolic Slowing with Massive Weight Loss despite Preservation of Fat-Free Mass. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012; 97(7): 2489–2496.

Ravussin E, Bogardus C. Review Relationship of genetics, age, and physical fitness to daily energy expenditure and fuel utilization. Am J Clin Nutr 1989; 49(5 Suppl):968-75.

Phillips SM. A Brief Review of Higher Dietary Protein Diets in Weight Loss: A Focus on Athletes. Sports Med 2014; 44(Suppl 2): 149–153.

Longland T, Oikawa SY, Mitchell CJ, Devries MC, Phillips S. Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2016;103:738-46.

Heydari M, Freund J, Boutcher SH. The effect of high-intensity intermittent exercise on body composition of overweight young males. J Obes 2012;2012:480467.

Areta JL, Burke LM, Camera DM, West DW, Crawshay S, Moore DR,Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG. Reduced resting skeletal muscle protein synthesis is rescued by resistance exercise and protein ingestion following short-term energy deficit. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2014;306:E989–97.

Pasiakos SM, Vislocky LM, Carbone JW, Altieri N, Konopelski K, Freake HC, Anderson JM, Ferrando AA, Wolfe RR, Rodriguez NR. Acute energy deprivation affects skeletal muscle protein synthesis and associated intracellular signaling proteins in physically active adults. J Nutr 2010;140:745–51.

Hector AJ, Marcotte GR, Churchward-Venne TA, Murphy CH, Breen, von AM, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Whey protein supplementation preserves postprandial myofibrillar protein synthesis during short-term energy restriction in overweight and obese adults. J Nutr 2015;145:246–52.

Murphy CH, Churchward-Venne TA, Mitchell CJ, Kolar NM, KassisA, Karagounis LG, Burke LM, Hawley JA, Phillips SM. Hypoenergetic diet-induced reductions in myofibrillar protein synthesis are restored with resistance training and balanced daily protein ingestion in older men. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2015;308:E734–43.

Chaston TB, Dixon JB, O’Brien PE. Changes in fat-free mass during significant weight loss: a systematic review. Int J Obes (Lond) 2007; 31(5):743-50.

Garthe I, Raastad T, Refsnes PE, Koivisto A, Sundgot-Borgen J. Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2011; 21(2):97-104.

Churchward-Venne TA, Murphy CH, Longland TM, Phillips SM. Role of protein and amino acids in promoting lean mass accretion with resistance exercise and attenuating lean mass loss during energy deficit in humans. Amino Acids 2013; 45(2):231-40.

Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR. A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2014; 24(2):127-38.

Which Fat is Best for Heart Health?

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Butter

If you are more confused than ever about dietary fats, you’re not alone. Can a high fat diet help you lose body fat? Which fat is best for heart health – butter, coconut oil or vegetable oil?

What is Cholesterol & Why is it Essential?
Cholesterol is an essential component of all cell membranes and a precursor to hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (needed for the digestion of fat). It is so important that your body regulates cholesterol balance to ensure your cells receive a continuous supply of cholesterol.

How does High LDL Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease?

Though cholesterol is critical for life, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, is considered a risk factor for heart disease because excess LDL can lead to an increase in plaque buildup in your arteries. Think of this process like a garden hose with gunk stuck in it. The gunk interferes with water flowing through the hose. If too much debris gets in there, no water will flow through.  Likewise, plaque in your arteries will decrease the amount of blood that moves through your arteries at one time and a complete blockage could lead to a heart attack or stroke.  Now, this is a simplistic view, especially considering LDL isn’t just one particle but instead, several that contain different amounts of cholesterol. Some research suggests that smaller, more dense LDL particles are more artery clogging. However, in addition to particle size, total number of LDL particles and oxidation of LDL contribute to the disease process.

As LDL particles travel through the bloodstream, excess LDL particles can stick to artery walls (particularly walls that are damaged due to smoking, high blood pressure and other insults). Trapped LDL becomes oxidized and sets off an inflammatory cascade resulting in the development of plaque (gunk) stuck to arteries – atherosclerosis.

Coronary Artery Disease

How Can I Lower my LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol.

Years ago we were told to stay away from shrimp, eggs and other high cholesterol foods. Yet this advice wasn’t based on sound science – cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol levels. So there is no need to take these nutrient-rich foods out of your diet. Shrimp is loaded with protein, and is a good source of iron plus it contains just 80 calories per serving. Eggs are also packed with nutrition – the whites are an excellent source of protein and the yellow color you see in the yolk is from antioxidants – plant compounds that protect plants from disease and protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals, compounds that are essential but can cause damage as well.

Coconut Oil, Butter and Other Solid Fats are Not the Best Options

Man-made trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fat you can eat. However, they should, finally, be making their way out of our food supply over the next few years. High levels of *saturated fat, the kind that is solid at room temperature like butter, increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol but not a target of therapy – doctors don’t focus on HDL levels because increasing HDL does not lower heart disease risk) and LDL cholesterol in the blood. In controlled diet experiments where saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat rich vegetable oils, risk of heart disease is reduced. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil, also lowers LDL but not to the extent that polyunsaturated fat does.

Coconut oil is popular and calorie for calorie it might be better for weight management than other fats. However, coconut oil raises our total, good and bad cholesterol levels. And therefore, it is not the best option for heart health.

Excess Carbohydrate Intake can Increase LDL

Overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods can also increase VLDL cholesterol (very low density lipoprotein). Foods with added sugars, in particular, are potent stimulators of VLDL production when the energy (calories) aren’t needed right away for energy or increasing glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in your liver and muscle).

Best Fats for Your Heart

Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and liquid oils are your bets for heart health. Oils with more polyunsaturated fat have a greater impact on LDL cholesterol than those rich in monounsaturated fat. Make sure you are choosing the right oil for the right cooking application. Many oils can’t stand high heat and they break down, damaging the structure (and function) of the oil.

Fatty Acids in Oils

Conclusion

Many factors contribute to high blood cholesterol levels, including genetics, overweight/obesity, inactivity, smoking, diabetes and age, making cholesterol management a multifactorial issue. Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol but, as I’ll say over and over, we are all different and, people vary in their response to dietary saturated fat due to intrinsic differences in fat metabolism as well as other factors including obesity, insulin resistance and high triglycerides.

Replace fats that raise cholesterol with liquid oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. Consider your overall diet as well. Eat a plant-based diet including vegetables (non-starchy veggies as well as beans, lentils and peas), fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains (oats, barley etc.). Consume fatty fish ( salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines etc.) at least two times per week. Limit your intake of foods with added sugars and refined starches as well as your alcohol consumption. 

* There are differences in specific saturated fatty acids and their effects on blood cholesterol. Therefore, some foods high in saturated fat do not raise LDL cholesterol. Also, oils have a different array of vitamins (primarily vitamin E) and plant-based compounds that may be beneficial for heart health.

Fatty acids composition of oils taken from the USDA Nutrient Database.

In Search of the Perfect Diet

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Nutrition pathway to changes

I am running into more and more nutrition purists. People who think their approach to eating is absolutely perfect, free from all harmful substances, and better than any other approach to nutrition. The purist sits across from me, preaching about GMOs, pesticides, carbohydrates, gluten, processed foods and salt, talking at warp speed only to take a breather so they can sip on their organic greens drink (mixed into pH balanced water of course). Meanwhile, deep from within their soul I feel their longing for acceptance, as if they are in a confessional, looking for me to forgive their past nutrition sins – a life full of bread, dairy and fast food grilled chicken – and commend them on becoming a disciple of nutrition purity. Their eyes search, looking away as they ramble and catching mine again as they look for an expression from me. Anything. Even a simple head nod would provide the validation they are looking for.

I’m always happy when people move from less than healthy diets to more healthy diets. The problem with nutrition purists is they believe there is ONE diet for everyone. ONE pattern of eating and everything else is wrong. They aren’t looking for advice or information from me but instead want me to acknowledge they are doing everything right. Forget science because this person is drinking the Kool-Aid (err, powered dehydrated veggies) from internet blogs written by some self-proclaimed nutrition expert who relies on sensationalism and scare tactics. Their mind is closed to learning anything that doesn’t fit within the doctrine of this self-proclaimed nutrition expert (quack). So I sit there with a blank look on my face though in the back of my mind I am wondering things like “if only this 20-something year old fit male knew the research on this subject was conducted in obese postmenopausal women.”

Saying there is one diet that fits all is akin to giving everyone the same workout program. If you’re a strength coach or personal trainer, would you put everyone on the exact same program? Would you give an 82 year-old grandma who has never worked out the same program as a 43 year-old marathoner? No. So why on earth would you give everyone the exact same nutrition guidelines and supplements? Please, throw away those silly one-pagers with nutrition “rules” you aimlessly hand out to everyone that walks through your door.

My job is to move a person from where they are to better so they meet their goals. Everyone has a different starting place, set of beliefs, goals, health history, medications they are on, food likes and dislikes, cooking skills, budget, training program and more. Nutrition is like a road map – there are many routes you can take, some are quicker that others, some have roadblocks, traffic or require a vehicle that can jump a few curbs or possibly even a bike to make it through narrow spaces. Going to a seasoned nutrition profession is like hitting Google Maps and figuring out the best route for you. The alternative is aimlessly driving in a foreign city without street signs (ciao Pescia Italy! I have fond memories of driving in circles, next time I’ll bring a GPS and my Italian will be much better too, I promise).

So, before you drop your jaw and blast me after hearing I told a client he could eat fast food once a week, stop to consider this person’s starting place: fast food everyday. And some clients aren’t willing to give up certain foods or drinks so make substitutions, so I meet them where they are. If I try and switch a junk food eater who binges on alcohol to an all-organic diet without cheeseburgers and fries, chances are they will fail and give up.

Nutrition is a complex science. There isn’t ONE approach that works for everyone or one that every single person is willing to follow. So, if you are that person who is bound to a single nutrition doctrine, please open your ears a little and be willing to consider there are many factors that should be considered before a person goes on a diet or makes drastic dietary changes. And please, read a few research studies or textbooks prior to preaching to others because chances are 90% of what you reading isn’t backed by science or common (biochemistry) sense.

Do Carbohydrates Make You Fat?

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When I was in college I would often eat 3-4 bagels per day (free from the cafeteria and portable), along with cream of wheat in the morning, fruit and/or starchy veggies at lunch, heaping quantities of brown rice at dinner, and a bowl (or two) of Raisin Bran with milk after dinner. I wasn’t on an all carbohydrate diet, I ate all of this in addition to regular meals . As a cross country runner, I was just plain hungry. Despite my high carb diet, my body fat via underwater weighing (the benefit of being an exercise physiology student) was very low, as in elite distance runner low. So when I hear people suggest carbohydrates are a surefire path to obesity for everyone, I shake my head and think “no, clearly they are not.”

Carbohydrates have taken a hit in recent years because 1) they taste good and are therefore easy to overeat (Which one tastes better: a jumbo size blueberry muffin or grilled chicken breast?) and 2) carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin from our pancreas, a hormone that increases carbohydrate (in the form of sugar) uptake by muscle and fat cells while also suppressing the breakdown of fat tissue. Sounds like a double whammy right? It definitely can be if you chronically overeat. But, if you only eat the amount of calories you need each day or less than you need over time, you’ll maintain or even lose weight (in the absence of Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance). And that is why the weight loss research shows that over time higher carbohydrate diets result in similar weight loss as low carbohydrate diets in healthy individuals. However, there are two big caveats to this “total calories” approach to weight loss:

1) If you don’t eat enough protein each day (and I recommend a minimum of 30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner) – 0.55 – 0.91 grams per pound of body weight per day, you will lose a good bit of muscle during weight loss.

2) If you have insulin resistance, PCOS or Type 2 diabetes, a lower carbohydrate diet combined with exercise is the most effective way to take off weight (work with your MD to adjust any glucose lowering medications or insulin you are on based on your change in diet and/or drop in weight).

If you want to read more on this topic including the design of an exciting upcoming study, check out this thorough overview I wrote for FitnessRx.

In the meantime, remember there is no one perfect diet for all people. Are there times I ask my clients to cut down on their intake of carbs (particularly the junk food carbs)? Yes, absolutely. But, I take their overall diet, goals and what they will realistically do into account. And you should too. Because adherence, the ability to stick with a diet program, is the biggest factor that will predict weight loss success. So don’t jump on your neighbor’s diet detox 2 shakes-per-day bandwagon or let yourself be dragged to Weight Watchers meetings while kicking and screaming.  Instead, take into account your current food intake (what do you like to eat?), lifestyle, cooking skills, medical history, diet history and physical activity and come up with a plan that works for you.

Eat Carbs at Night, Lose Weight?

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For years I’ve paid zero attention to those silly little rules saying you can’t eat after 7 pm or cut out all carbohydrates at night. Now, granted, I think those rules serve a purpose, cutting people off from the chip bag during prime snacking time for instance. But, 7 pm isn’t the witching hour after which time every bite of carbohydrate you consume is automatically deposited to your belly. And, according to a recently published study, eating carbs at night may actually help you lose weight.

In this study 78 police officers with a BMI that puts them in the obese category (> 30 – not good for being able to quickly respond on duty) were put on a low calorie diet with carbs mostly in the evening  (20% protein, 30–35% fat, 45–50% carbohydrates, 1,300–1,500 kcal) or a control diet that only varied by providing carbohydrate throughout the day (20% protein, 30–35% fat, 45–50% carbohydrates, 1,300–1,500 kcal) for 6 months. The group consuming carbs at night lost more weight, decreased their abdominal width and body fat more than those on the control diet. They also saw greater improvements in their blood lipids, fasting blood sugar and hunger levels (less hungry).

What made the difference and how could carbohydrate at night help you lose weight? The experimental diet was based off of hormonal changes observed in people who fast during the day through the Muslim holy period of Ramadan (they can eat before the sun comes up and after the sun sets). This type of diet decreases insulin secretion during the day and increases it in the evening leading to higher levels of the “satiety” hormone leptin first thing in the morning. More leptin in the morning may mean you feel pretty satisfied and eat less throughout the day. For more about leptin, click here.

What’s the take home message here? If you aren’t getting the weight loss results you are looking for, consider varying your diet. Try to cut carbs during the day and consume them at night. If what you are doing isn’t working, it’s time to try something new!

PS – for the latest and greatest information on nutrition and sports nutrition, catch my articles in the magazine FitnessRx for Women.