When you look at all weight-loss programs, you can see a couple of common points. They all encourage eating a ton of vegetables. The other common point is emphasizing the importance of protein intake. They seem to recommend eating enough protein with every meal. In today’s article, you will learn why these two points are important and why you should consider following them.
Eating vegetables is a key factor in pretty much all healthy diets. Vegetables are one of the most nutrient-dense food options we have. The more nutrient-dense our plate is, the more likely we are going to feel satiated. Also, when we eat a nutrient-dense diet, we probably will have sufficient amount of certain micronutrients which can help us function like a well-oiled machine. So, what is nutrient density? There are a few ways to define this term. The way I like to think about nutrient density is total number of micronutrients per calories. Micronutrients that should be considered are vitamins, important minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, polyphenols, carotenoids and other compounds that are beneficial to us. Almost all reactions in our bodies require at least one micronutrient to be used. Some micronutrients used more than others. For example, Vitamin-D controls the expression of more than a thousand genes. This means that it influences more than 1000 physiological functions. Another example is magnesium, which is used in more than 300 enzymatic reactions. Zinc can help infertile men; calcium is important for bone health; carotenoids can be converted into Vitamin-A in the body; Vitamin-C is an anti-oxidant etc. We need enough micronutrients for properly functioning cells and organs. Vegetables such as spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, peppers, carrots, arugula contain a ton of micronutrients and they are low in calories, which makes them nutrient-dense. Also, because they are low in calories, they are not calorie-dense. Calorie density can be considered as total calories per volume. Eating low calorie-dense foods can help you with feeling satiated. There are stretch sensors around your stomach which signals the brain when the sensors think you had enough food. Therefore, vegetables, being high in volume and low in calories, are great options when losing weight.
Having adequate amount of protein with each meal is also key when it comes to diets. There are a few reasons why weight-loss programs emphasize the importance of protein. Amino acids are the building block of protein and they are responsible for repairing and rebuilding of muscle tissue. There is a reaction called Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). MPS is where rebuilding of muscle tissue occurs. And there are certain amino acids that need to be available for it to start. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot make all amino acids it needs by itself. There are certain amino acids that we need to get from our diets called essential amino acids. These are Private Tim Hall. At this point, you probably think one of two things (unless you are a biochemistry geek). Either my English is terrible, or I screwed up writing this. Private Tim Hall (Pvt. Tim Hall) is short for Phenylalanine, Valine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Isoleucine, Methionine, Histidine, Arginine, Leucine and Lysine. When all these amino acids are present, muscle recovery and repair can start. What is more is that we feel satiated. So, eating enough protein with each meal can help us recover, keep muscle tissue from being catabolized and help us feel satiated. Also, digesting protein costs us more energy than digesting carbs or fat. What this means is that we burn more calories to get what we need from protein than what we burn for carbs or fat. This means that if we consume more protein than we should have, we will store less. Now consuming too much protein can cause kidney problems and some other stuff. But, getting to that point is very difficult if you don’t chug down protein shake one after another. Eating about 20-30 grams of protein with each meal is enough. I think the total protein intake per day should be 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. When you want to lose weight, and cut calories, you can increase this number to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight to feel more satiated and waste as little muscle as you can. But when MPS is considered, 0.8 seems to be the number to shoot for. Sources of protein is less talked about; however, it is very important when it comes to healthy weight loss and/or lifestyle. Eating grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, free-range chicken and eggs, and wild-caught fish will help you balance omega-6-to-omega-3 intake ratio. I eat fish such as sardines, salmon, tuna (all wild-caught) about 3-5 times a week which are good sources of EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids that are linked to better cognitive performance, better recovery and less inflammation. I eat 3 free-range eggs pretty much every day with breakfast which supply choline and better profile of micronutrients compared to regular eggs. I eat bacon and other processed meat only during weekend breakfasts. I don’t have anything against bacon and/or sausage. I think they are delicious, and I know how people eat them and still be healthy and lose weight. Because they are processed, I just eat them 2 times a week.
All in all, vegetables and protein are important. The other stuff such as starches and fat intake can be considered as fillers for the rest of the calories you consume. One important thing to consider with carbs and fat are the amounts per meal. If you are having a high-carb meal, keep fat intake minimum (this doesn’t mean zero); if you are having a high-fat meal, keep carb intake low. Eat a variety of vegetables, have different colors which will have different micronutrients. For example, have red/yellow/green Swiss chard; eat a purple cauliflower every now and then; mix up yellow/orange/red/green peppers. Eat enough protein with each meal to minimize muscle wasting and maximize satiety.