Weight Loss Program, Part 2: Create Your Healthy Eating Plan

Read the following pages/chapters in your text, Dieting For Dummies this week: Chapter 4, pages 35-44

Chapters 9-10, pages 99-132
Chapters 22-23, pages 255-262


In Part Two, you're going to learn about the major nutrients that make up the foods we eat. You'll learn how these nutrients fit into a well-balanced diet and how each one serves vital functions in the body. You'll also learn how to determine your own personal calorie and nutrient needs, analyze your current diet, and create a meal plan that will help you to lose weight and enhance your health.

Topic outline for Part Two:

Nutrition 101 - Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein

The body receives 6 major nutrients from the foods we eat: carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. You might have differing requirements for each of these nutrients, but they serve vital functions within your body, and you must obtain them from your diet. Try to achieve a healthy balance of each of these nutrients when you begin a weight loss program. Optimally, your goal is not just to lose weight, but also to lose weight healthily! Understanding the vital roles these nutrients play and how to include them in your diet serves your weight loss quest and your long-term health greatly.

Carbohydrates, protein, and fat in the diet provide calories, while vitamins, minerals, and water (which are just as important) do not. We generally measure carbohydrates, protein, and fats in terms of "grams." Food labels will usually list how many grams of protein, carbohydrate, or fat the product contains. A gram is simply a unit of measurement. Think about medications or supplements you might take. They are often labeled with terms such as milligrams or grams. If you were to lay one gram of carbohydrate, one gram of protein, and one gram of fat side by side, they would all weigh the same. However, they would not have the same number of calories. Fat provides more than twice the calories on a gram-for-gram basis compared to carbohydrate and protein. The only sources of calories in your diet come from carbohydrate, protein, fat, or alcohol. Nothing else supplies calories to your body. Here's how they measure up:

  • Fat - 9 calories per gram
  • Alcohol - 7 calories per gram
  • Protein - 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrate - 4 calories per gram

Now, let's take a more in-depth look at the functions, sources, types and recommended amounts of carbohydrates, fat and protein in our diets:

Carbohydrates function: your body's fuel

Your body uses carbohydrates as fuel to function. The carbohydrates you get in your food eventually turn into glucose in your blood stream. Glucose is the primary source of energy for everything you do. Whether it's thinking, lifting your finger, or running a marathon, your body uses glucose in your bloodstream to help fuel the activity.

Sources of carbohydrates

Most carbohydrates come from plant-based sources. Typical sources of carbohydrates include breads, grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans and peas). Some animal foods, such as milk and other dairy products, also contain a significant amount of carbohydrate.

Types of carbohydrates:

1.  Simple carbohydrates

These consist of single or double units of sugar. You can find them in fruits, vegetables, milk, and table sugar. You digest simple carbohydrates rapidly and they all eventually become glucose in your bloodstream. Simple carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram.

2.   Complex carbohydrates

These are multiple chains of sugar units - sometimes referred to as starches. Because they have more bonds and more chains for the body to break down, you digest and absorb complex carbohydrates more slowly than simple carbohydrates. Thus, they might help you feel full longer.

Complex carbohydrates include grains, rice, corn, breads, cereals, pasta, potatoes, dried beans and peas, and fiber. All complex carbohydrates, except fiber (which has no calories because you don't absorb it) provide 4 calories per gram. Glucose is also the end product of complex carbohydrate digestion.

How to include carbohydrates in your diet

Most health professionals agree that approximately 50 to 60 percent of the calories in your diet should come from carbohydrates. You can easily get this amount of carbohydrate in your diet because most foods are significant carbohydrate sources. However, all carbohydrates are not equal in their nutritional value. Be selective about the types of carbohydrates you to include in your diet.

The carbohydrate containing foods that are good for your body and provide abundant sources of other good nutrients are:

  • fruits
  • vegetables and starchy vegetables
  • high-fiber whole grains (such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole-grain cereals and other products made with whole grain flours versus refined or "white" flour)
  • legumes
  • low-fat and non-fat milk

While all balanced diets can certainly include treats, you should avoid taking in significant amounts of calories from the following carbohydrate-based food sources because they provide very few other good nutrients:

  • table sugar
  • desserts
  • sweets
  • sodas
  • white bread
  • processed sugary cereals
  • white rice
  • pasta (from refined flours)

The function of fats

While fat has become a dirty word in obesity-laden countries, most people don't realize that fat is a critical component of our diets that we could not survive without. Among other things, fat is required for the following bodily functions:

  • absorbtion of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K
  • synthesis of vital hormones in our bodies
  • healthy skin
  • forming protective barriers and insulation around our vital organs

Fat sources

Fats come from animal and plant-based sources. Some significant sources of fat in our diet include: oils, butter, margarine, cream, gravies, sauces, dressings, meats, cheeses, nuts, and even coconut, olives and avocados.

Fat types

All fats provide 9 calories per gram, which means you should eat them in moderation because significant amounts of calories can mean a significant amount of weight gain over time. However, the effects that each fat type can have on your health varies drastically. Therefore, it's better to eat some types of fat more often than others. Let's explore the different types:

1.   Monounsaturated fats

Sources of monounsaturated fat include: olive oil, canola oil, nuts, olives, and avocados. They are the healthiest types of fats because some studies show they may be helpful in lowering blood cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol levels are linked with an increased risk for having a heart attack. Some studies have also linked diets high in monounsaturated fats with a lower incidence of breast cancer and improvements in immune function.

2.   Polyunsaturated fats

Sources of polyunsaturated fats include: vegetable oil, corn oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. Our bodies cannot produce two polyunsaturated fats called linoleic acid and linolenic acid - both are required for many vital functions, and must be obtained from our diet. However, most people run a very slim chance of developing a fatty acid deficiency because many of the foods we eat contain these fatty acids.

3.   Saturated fats

Because an overwhelming amount of studies link a high saturated fat diet with high blood cholesterol levels and heart disease, keep foods high in saturated fat to a minimum in your diet. Other than coconut, almost all sources of saturated fat come from animal-based products. Limit your use of foods like: butter, lard, fatty animal meats, bacon, sausage, cream, gravies, and high-fat dairy products. You should also limit coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil. These are saturated fats found in many baked goods – check your ingredient labels carefully. You can easily identify a saturated fat because it usually stays solid at room temperature.

How to include fats in your diet

Just as we saw with carbohydrates, some sources of fat are better to include in your diet than others. Strive to include more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources of fat. Keep saturated fats to a minimum.

Because fat takes a longer time to digest than protein or carbohydrates, it keeps you feeling full longer and provides a good feeling of satisfaction. Many people who follow extremely low-fat diets to lose weight often find that they have more food cravings and a lack of fullness after eating a meal. This can often lead to binges or overeating to feel satisfied. Fat might provide a lot of calories, but it also promotes satiety, so don't go too low on your fat intake.

You should eat less than or equal to 30% of your daily calories from fat and most of that should be from unsaturated sources. For instance, if you eat about 1800 calories a day to lose weight gradually, you should get about 500 or less of those calories from fat (30% or less). This translates into about 55 grams of fat or less a day since fat has 9 calories per gram. You don't have to be so exact about these numbers. Just be sure that you're keeping total fat intake moderate and that it's coming from mostly unsaturated sources.

The function of protein

Protein is vital to life. If your body runs short on glucose (from carbohydrate), it can use protein or fat to produce glucose. Similarly, if your body runs short on fatty acids (from fats) it can use protein or carbohydrates to make fatty acids. However, neither fat nor carbohydrate can make protein. Carbohydrates and fats consist of only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Protein contains these elements too, but it also contains the super element, nitrogen. It is nitrogen that builds bonds in our tissues, makes our muscles grow (if we work them), boosts our immunity, and helps to regulate many of the body's hormones. Protein, therefore, is vital because of the nitrogen it contains, and it must come from our diet.

Sources of protein

Protein is in animal and plant foods. Rich sources of protein include:

  • meats
  • fishmeats
  • seafoodmeats
  • milkmeats
  • cheesemeats
  • yogurtmeats
  • eggsmeats
  • tofu and soy productsmeats
  • legumesmeats
  • nuts and seeds

Types of proteins

Proteins consist of multiple building blocks called amino acids. There are 20 types of amino acids. The body can produce 11 of these amino acids on its own. These are called non-essential amino acids. However, our bodies cannot produce the other nine, called essential amino acids. We must get them from our food. Thus, we refer to foods as complete or incomplete proteins, depending on their essential amino acid content:

1.   Complete proteins

These foods contain all the 9 essential amino acids. Animal proteins, like meats, seafood, cheese and dairy, are complete proteins. Another source of complete protein, which is from plants, are soy proteins.

2.   Incomplete proteins

These foods contain some essential amino acids, but not all nine of them together. Incomplete proteins are mostly plant-based foods such as beans, nuts, and starches. Many of these foods in combination will provide all the 9 essential amino acids. So long as your diet is richly varied in plant protein sources, there is no concern about an amino acid deficiency in a vegetarian diet.

How to include protein in your diet

In the past few years, there has emerged a prevalent, but false belief that we don't eat enough protein. This is especially not true in countries where food is prevalent and obesity is a problem. We get more than our fair share of nutrients, especially protein. The body requires a very modest amount of protein to perform its functions properly, and eating excessive amounts of protein can cause our body to lose calcium and can even overstress the kidneys.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. To find your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. For example, 154 pounds is 70 kilograms. Multiply your weight in kilograms times .8 to get the number of grams of protein you need each day (for a 70 kilogram person this would be 56 grams of protein). You don't need more than the RDA for protein unless you are pregnant, a very serious athlete, a frequent strength trainer, or if you have certain chronic medical conditions (e.g. cancer, AIDS, infectious diseases).

You can easily get the RDA for protein each day, and protein deficiencies are extremely rare in the modern world. But, like fats and carbohydrates, some protein sources are better than others. Include more plant-based proteins in your diet and limit high fat sources of protein like red meats and high-fat cheeses.

**** Keep in mind that your body can turn any food eaten in excess of the calories you need each day into fat. It's a common misconception that eating lots of protein will not lead to a body fat problem. If you need 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight, and you eat 2500 calories in a day, then your body converts those 500 extra calories to fat, and stores them as fat. It does not matter if the source of the calories is 100% protein, fat, or carbohydrate. Calories, not the source of them, are what matters when it comes to taking off weight.

More Components of a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Vitamins and minerals

There are 13 vitamins and 22 minerals that are essential for good health. You need vitamins and minerals in small amounts to perform essential biochemical functions. Because they are required only in small amounts, vitamins and minerals are known as micronutrients. But make no mistake about it, they're every bit as import as the nutrients we discussed earlier. Your body can't make vitamins and minerals so they must come from food or supplements.

Lack of a vitamin or a mineral for a prolonged period of time will cause a specific disease or condition. For example, vitamin C deficiency causes a disease called scurvy. Vitamin and mineral deficiency diseases are rare in most modernized countries. However, some studies suggest that an optimal intake of a vitamin or mineral is not necessarily just the amount needed to prevent its deficiency disease. If our diets are poor in nutrient rich foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, we might not get the amounts of vitamins and minerals that make our bodies perform optimally, or keep us as healthy as we could be. It is unlikely, however, that our diets are so poor that we will suffer from a vitamin or mineral deficiency disease.

You should strive to get all your nutrients from your food since food provides a more balanced source of vitamins and minerals than a supplemental pill. You might consider taking a supplemental pill, however, if you generally do not eat according to the following guide: (See Food Pyramid information in your text, pages 113-132) for more information and serving sizes)

  • Have 6 grain servings each day
  • Have 3 vegetable servings each day
  • Have 2 fruit servings each day
  • Have 2 dairy servings each day
  • Have 2 meat/protein servings each day

You usually don't need to choose a supplement that exceeds 100% of the USRDA for vitamins and minerals. You also don't need to purchase expensive brand names over generic supplements, as more expensive brands do not necessarily guarantee better quality.

Water in your diet

You could survive for months without many of the nutrients we've discussed, but if you run short on water for more than a few days, death is imminent. We recommend at least eight glasses a day. And no, your coffee, tea, and sodas don't count - the caffeine and carbonation in these products can actually dehydrate you. To be sure you hydrate properly, your urine should be clear-colored to a very light yellow. If your urine is dark yellow or amber, then you are likely dehydrated, and need to drink more water. Water is an essential nutrient that's hard to get too much of, so "just do it!"

Fiber in your diet

While fiber is not a nutrient or a necessary component for vital body functions, it can do a lot to keep you healthy. A low-fat, high-fiber diet protects against heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. It is also helpful in promoting regularity. Another benefit of fiber is that it passes through your GI tract very slowly, which can promote longer feelings of fullness. The recommended intake of fiber for adults is 20-35 grams daily, but most diets fall short on this recommendation. You can find some good sources of high fiber foods and the number of grams they contain in Appendix B of your book, pages 295-343.

Phytochemicals in your diet

Phyto-what? You are probably unfamiliar with this term, but phytochemicals are literally the most exciting thing to surface in nutrition research in many years. Phytochemicals are defined simply as chemicals found in plants. They occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. Researchers have isolated literally thousands of different types of these substances. For example, tomatoes contain over 10,000 different kinds of phytochemicals. What's so great about that? Phytochemicals show promise in helping to prevent everything from cataracts to cancer, and hosts of other chronic illnesses. In short, vitamins and minerals are what you need to live, but phytochemicals are what you need to live healthily! So, include plenty of phytochemical-packed fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diets each day!

Balancing it all out: some strategies to follow on a healthy weight loss diet

1.   Eat at least 6 servings of breads and grains (preferably whole-grain) each day

(see Food Pyramid info. in text for serving sizes)

Why? Whole grains are a great source of fiber, energy, and B vitamins, and phytochemicals.

2.   Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day

(see Food Pyramid info. in text for serving sizes).
Why? Vegetables provide vitamins, such as vitamin A and vitamin C, and folate, and minerals, such as iron and magnesium. They are naturally low in fat and also provide fiber. Fruit provides important amounts of vitamins A and C and potassium. Fruit is also low in fat and sodium. They are both packed with disease fighting phytochemicals.

3.   Have at least 2 servings of protein sources (preferably low-fat) each day

(see Food Pyramid info. in text for serving sizes).
Why? Meat, poultry, and fish supply protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc. The other foods in this group – soy products, dry beans, eggs, and nuts - are similar to meats in providing protein and many vitamins and minerals.

4.   Have at least 2 dairy servings (preferably low-fat or non-fat) each day

(see Food Pyramid info. in text for serving sizes).
Why? Dairy products provide protein and several vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are excellent sources of calcium.

5.   Limit consumption of saturated fats

Why? Saturated fats are not only calorie-laden, but they have been strongly linked to high cholesterol levels and increased heart disease risk.

6.   Limit consumption of sweets, baked goods, processed foods, and processed flours

Why? While it is perfectly fine and encouraged to have treats in your diet, consider these foods just that - treats - and not a significant part of your daily diet. These foods provide a lot of calories, but not a whole lot of nutrients that are good for your body.

7.   Add more high fiber foods to your diet

Strive for 20-35 grams a day, but do it gradually.

Why? Fiber helps keep you full, promotes regularity, and has been linked with a lower incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Most high fiber foods also contain other nutrients which are good for your body.

8.   Drink at least 8 glasses of water each day

Why? To stay well-hydrated and to keep your body and all its major systems performing at their best.

Next: Activities and Exercises For Part Three

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