In our modern world, where ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity are rampant, medical professionals often prescribe one common remedy: shedding a significant portion of one’s body weight.
The goal, of course, is to bring elevated blood markers, such as cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, back to a healthy state. But how many of us truly understand how to lose weight in a healthy manner? And more importantly, how many of us are questioning what truly is the optimal diet for weight loss?
Many individuals fall prey to the notion that the key to weight loss is simply consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity. But our bodies are not like calculators, counting each calorie that we consume. Instead, we possess stretch receptors and nutrient sensors in the gut that signal to the brain when our gut is filled with nutrient-rich foods and fibers signaling satiation. Thus, we cannot overeat unrefined and minimally processed foods. Whereas the opposite is true in the case of ultra-processed foods.
Have you ever found yourself at a fast food restaurant, chugging down a large soda, devouring a plate of fries, and still feeling ravenous after a pizza or burger? That happens because fast foods are high-energy foods loaded with sugar, but they are also poor in nutrition and do little to satisfy hunger. Thus, they leave you wanting more.
The food industry has slyly ensnared us in a trap of sugar addiction, sneaking it into packaged and restaurant foods without us even realizing it. Fructose (the sweet molecule in sugar) interferes with the brain’s ability to process the hormone Leptin which signals satiety, leaving us feeling unsatisfied even after a large portion. Furthermore, fructose has no impact on the hunger hormone Ghrelin, leaving us craving more even after consuming sugary drinks.
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Does keeping track of calorie intake help in weight loss?
Some might suggest keeping a track of your calorie intake using health and wellness apps and sensors. However, while these electronic gadgets are technically advanced and sound they are of little benefit other than motivation. If you reduce your Calorie intake guided by these apps but eat the same ultra-processed food, you may be able to lose some weight but only in the short term. In short, calorie counting alone is not the solution.
Moreover, when we restrict our calorie intake- our body’s basal metabolic rate slows down, leaving us feeling sluggish and miserable. But this approach to weight loss is not only unsustainable in the long term, but it can also ruin our metabolism and slow it down.
Science has proven that our body functions in response to the hormonal signals triggered by the nutrients we consume. Depriving ourselves of food leads to a slower metabolism and overall weakness, And once we return to a normal diet, the weight we worked so hard to lose comes back with a vengeance.
Does a low-carb diet help reduce weight?
The idea of low-carb diets imported from the West has become a fad among Indians who wish to lose weight. With variations such as Paleo, Keto, and Carnivore, this diet promises weight loss by restricting carbohydrate intake and manipulating the ratio of fats and proteins. The theory behind it is that the reduction in insulin response prompts the body to burn fat, preventing the accumulation of excess fat in the liver, muscles, and other organs. While the low-carb diet may offer short-term benefits, it is not a sustainable option, particularly for the Indian population.
Throughout history, civilizations around the world have thrived on starchy foods such as traditional rice & millets in Asia, bread in the Middle East, and corn and potatoes in the Americas.
It is unfortunate that the scientific community in the Western world has adopted a carbophobe view, obsessing over proteins and promoting the low-carb diet as the sole solution to the problem. One major issue with this approach is the impact of factory farming on the animals we consume.
Factory-farmed animals are given growth hormones and inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids to accelerate their development. In the bargain, the animals become weak, fragile, and more susceptible to infections. To combat this, they are loaded with antibiotics, which can impact our gut health and create antibiotic resistance in our bodies. In fact, 70% of all antibiotics produced in the world go into the livestock industry.
Furthermore, cows are given bovine growth hormone injections for a continuous supply of milk, which is loaded with artificial hormones and can have negative effects on our biology. In contrast, grass-fed, pasture-raised animals may be a healthier option for meat consumption, whereas grain-fed animals from factory farms with growth hormones and antibiotics can have adverse effects on our health.
Does going Vegan help in weight loss?
Some people switch to a Vegan diet in order to lose weight. That is, along with non-vegetarian food, they also avoid dairy products. However, a vegan diet has an inherent risk of protein malnutrition in the post-green revolution era because we have also lost the habit of consuming enough pulses in our diet. Before the green revolution, we usually grew hundreds of multi-crops in rotations which included a combination of grains, oil seeds & pulses. After the green revolution, we switched to mono-crops of rice, wheat, soybeans, and corn worldwide in hybrid forms, mostly GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).
Thus, Vegan diets are mostly dependent on staple foods like rice and wheat, which are usually GMOs and commercially available in hybrids. The fibers are also removed to increase the shelf-life of the crop. Polishing the grains robs the crop of all micronutrients and healthy fat. The only thing that practically remains is the endosperm which is full of carbs. When consumed, it increases the glycemic load and insulin response producing hyperinsulinemia. Persistently high insulin levels over a long period cause metabolic dysfunctions and unfavorable mitogenic effects.
Milk may not be ideally suited for many of us after the first few years of infancy. Some of us develop lactose intolerance and experience bloating, ingestion, and allergy after consuming milk. However, fermented products like buttermilk are beneficial for the body. Ghee (A2 desi variety) and butter also help in maintaining good health, although the A1 variety of ghee can cause inflammation, leaky gut and triggers autoimmune disorders including Type-1 Diabetes in children. Vitamin B12 deficiency is on the higher side in vegans, although it is prevalent in both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Does a fruit diet help in losing weight?
Like crops, fruits have also been hybridized over the last 100 years to produce high sugars and taste like honey. The original taste of the wild variety of fruits is ‘tart.’ Fruits are usually loaded with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and a little sugar.
Fructose (the sweet molecule) has an evolutionary purpose. Before the onset of hybridization, fruits were available only during the end of summer for a few months. This was followed by Autumn and Winter when fruits weren’t readily available. So, our biology senses that if the body is loaded with fructose, then a period of starvation must be forthcoming. It responds with leptin resistance in the brain that causes animals to overfeed themselves in preparation for the period of starvation. This phenomenon is still prevalent in hibernating animals. But for us humans, the availability and consumption of fruits right around the year might actually be promoting weight gain.
How should we lose weight then?
Restrictive diets can have an adverse effect on the body. What we should target is the elimination of ultra processed foods including sugars, refined flours, polished grain and refined oils. To put it simply, fake foods (ultra processed foods) are high insulin diets – high in sugar and low in fibers. While real food is low insulin food – low in sugar and high in fiber. It protects the liver and feeds the gut microbiome.
Instead of looking at the extreme ends of the spectrum like low carbs and low fat diets, we should have a scientific perspective towards our diet and look at the glycemic load, insulin response, incretin response, nutrient density and macronutrient ratio of the foods we eat.
More importantly we need to understand the requirements of our body and accordingly design our unique diet. A rule of thumb is that we need to consume foods rich in proteins and healthy fats when the digestive fire is high during the morning and noon time. Carbs should be in the form of complex carbs and consumed in moderation during lunch and dinner along with the proteins and healthy fats.
Moreover, it would be advisable to move from chemical farming to organically produced foods. Our soil resources are depleted of micronutrients because we are waging a war against soil microbes and insects which are part of the ecosystem. In the process, we have contaminated our food supply with insecticides, pesticides, weedicides and herbicides. Toxic food has a negative impact on our gut health and mitochondria, which eventually cause metabolic dysfunctions.
It is said, “Good food is medicine. Bad food needs medicine.”
We should know the art of eating right and enjoy the best of complex carbs, good fats, protein, vegetarian or non-vegetarian with a balance and at the right time. Because ultimately, weight loss is about making sustainable, healthy choices and finding a balance that works for you.
Fad diets will come and go. But what you need is to follow a simple principle. Ask yourself whether you are getting the right nutrition through macro and micro nutrients that suit your current condition. Listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Take the best of all diets and create a unique diet of nutrient-dense food to suit your body’s requirements. And you can enjoy your food without any guilt. That is our nutrition philosophy at Wellfinity.
Note: It is also important to engage in regular physical activity and consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for guidance.
Lastly, it is important to understand that weight loss is not simply about calorie restriction. Eating fewer calories may lead to initial weight loss, but it is not a sustainable or healthy approach. Our bodies need a variety of nutrient-dense foods in order to function properly. Restricting certain food groups or consuming only fruits can lead to nutrient deficiencies and leave you feeling tired and irritable.