Reviewed by Gordon Blackburn, PhD, Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program, and Melissa Stevens Ohlson, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition Program Coordinator, Section of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation
Everyone knows there is no magic cure for losing weight. But how can you sift through all the conflicting messages regarding a healthy diet? Should it be low-carb, no-carb, low-fat or no-fat?
Here is a summary of some key common-sense nutritional facts that will help you sort through the clutter:
- Weight will come off as long as the average caloric intake from food is less than the calories expended through activity. The optimal and healthiest way to lose weight is a modest, sustainable reduction in overall calories, coupled with a moderate increase in physical activity.
- No single food is inherently bad or inherently good. But too much of any or all foods will ultimately lead to health problems.
- Too much fat of any kind is bad, whether it is saturated or polyunsaturated.
- Trans fat, found in many kinds of margarine and fast foods, not only increases levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the bloodstream, but it also decreases levels of ‘good’ cholesterol. If a food label includes the words "hydrogenated,” “partially hydrogenated,” “stick margarine” or “vegetable shortening,” it is a source of trans fat and should be avoided.
- Too much carbohydrate is bad, whether it is refined or complex. Diets high in carbohydrates — especially simple carbohydrates — and extremely low in fat may stimulate appetite, leading to weight gain. Refined starches such as white bread, white rice and white pasta, as well as sugars should be greatly reduced or eliminated from the diet.
- There is no magic “pyramid” of food intake if caloric intake remains excessive.
So what should you eat?
A diet with a modest amount of fat, focusing on polyunsaturated and monounsaturated sources, coupled with a modest amount of carbohydrates (focusing on complex carbohydrates) and plenty of fruits and vegetables is desirable.
- Choose moderate portions of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats include nuts, seeds, olive and canola oils, avocados, olives, peanut butter, and more.
- Place an emphasis on complex carbohydrates instead of refined carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains such as whole-grain cereals containing 5 or more grams of dietary fiber and less than 8 grams of sugar per serving; legumes such as split peas, lentils and dried beans; whole-grain or oat-based breads, crackers, pasta and other whole wheat/grain based flour products; brown or wild rice; barley; buckwheat; and more.
- Choose 5-A-Day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of disease-preventing antioxidant phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, are naturally low in saturated fat and void of dietary cholesterol. Aim for a combined five servings of fruits and vegetables (at minimum) each day.
- Portions matter, especially when it comes to calories. Managing the portion size of any food will help you control your caloric intake. In the end, portion control is KEY to successful weight loss. Don’t “Supersize” — “Optimize!”
To help you monitor your portions at one meal, here is a basic idea of how your plate should be divided: 1/4 protein (palm of your hand), 1/4 complex carbohydrate (fist size), and 1/2 vegetables.