Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Simple Starter Diet Changes--Food Choices

A while back, I posted my Simple Starter Diet. I pointed out that it was an eat-anything-you-want diet that would work for anyone who had significant weight to lose.

However, you may want to fine-tune it some.

Think of the diet as a framework--you're then free to make certain changes to it to best suit your needs. You just have to make sure you stay within the basic guidelines. I'll try to outline these guidelines for modifying the diet over the next few weeks.

The first modification you could make would be in your food choices. After all, even though I could lose weight eating nothing but twelve fudgesicles a day, that type of diet wouldn't give me any energy, and it certainly wouldn't leave me feeling very good.

So what food choices can you make that would maximize your nutrition and give you the most energy?

Look for whole foods--in other words, foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. An apple, for example, is a "whole food." Even if the apple is cut up, it's still in the same state nature made it in, so it's considered a "whole food."

The opposite of whole foods are "processed foods." These are foods that have been dramatically altered from their natural state. Think of a Twinkie. You can't go pluck a Twinkie off a tree, or scoop that white stuff out from anywhere.

One of the main differences between processed and unprocessed foods is calorie content. An apple has lots of water and fiber and minerals that fill you up without adding to your calorie intake. Since the ingredients in a Twinkie have been processed, so all the fiber and most of the nutrients have been removed.

A Twinkie has about 150 calories. If you cut yourself a slice of apple that weighed the same as that Twinkie--43 grams--you would only have about half a small apple, and it would only have 28 calories. In other words, you could eat 5 times the weight in food if you chose apples rather than Twinkies before you'd reach 150 calories.

Of course, if you go with vegetables, well, medium sized carrots have around 25 calories each, as does a cup of broccoli, as does a medium sized cucumber. There's 30 calories per cup of asparagus. Man--we're still not even up to the calories of the Twinkie. You'd have to eat a whole head of lettuce to make up the difference.

Now I realize that vegetables aren't everyone's cup of tea, but the principle should be clear now. The closer to its natural state a food is, the less calories it will have, and the more of it you can eat.

For this reason, I stick to whole-wheat bread and pitas. I even buy whole-wheat tortillas.

The wholer the food, the more fiber and nutrition it will contain.

Also, because there's more "stuff" in the food for your body to digest, it slows the rate at which your body absorbs the calories. This gives your body time to use those calories rather than store them. Think of it like a "time-release" system for distributing your calories over the day as you need them.

Otherwise, your body digests the food quickly and, since you aren't using it as quickly as you're digesting it, your body is forced to store the rest as fat. By slowing that absorption rate, you're decreasing the chances of it ever reaching your hips.

Now, some words of warning:

Be careful. Some foods can be deceiving. For example, homemade salsa is usually really low calorie and nutritious, because it's made from whole vegetables and fruits. However, many store bought brands add sugars and preservatives that can up the calorie count and lower the nutritional value.

And I know lots of us like to let our veggies soak in some kind of dressing or oil, but these often more than offset the calories we saved by eating the veggies. For example, the Wendy's Spring Mix Salad has only 180 calories, but the recommended dressing--the house vinaigrette--has 190 calories. The Mandarin Chicken salad has 170 calories, but if you add the "crispy noodles" and the dressing, you're adding 250 calories (On the simple starter diet, those would constitute a meal by themselves).

So just because something says "Salad," doesn't mean it's healthy. The Chicken Club Salad at Jack In The Box has 825 calories. That's more than their Bacon Bacon Cheeseburger (780 calories).

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