When it comes to losing weight, all that people seem to think about are calories. They will obsess over the numbers of calories that they consume, in the belief that reducing them will lead to weight loss. Now whilst this is true, neglecting food quality and focusing only on calorie intake is problematic.
You don’t need a nutritionist or expert health professional to tell you that a 100 calorie banana is more beneficial for your health than a 100 calorie cookie. However, when looking in more depth at structuring a diet for fat loss, we need to look at each of the three macronutrients, and their place in your nutrition program.
One of the most controversial of these 3 macronutrients is carbohydrate. There is a lot of evidence showing that decreasing carbohydrate consumption and increasing protein and/or unsaturated fat consumption may increase insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, both of which will benefit your fat loss efforts. However, cutting out carbohydrates altogether – as many diets advocate – is not a good idea.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, help to maintain proper cognitive function, and are crucial for optimal athletic performance, particularly in endurance sports. When it comes to improving body composition however, carbohydrate choice is key. Sugary sources of carbohydrate like chocolate and biscuits provide little nutritional value. They cause a rapid rise of the hormone insulin and may leave you feeling hungry, tired, and craving more sugar.
If improved body composition is your aim, these kinds of foods should be avoided. Better choices of carbohydrate include whole grains like brown rice, bulgar wheat, oats and quinoa, amongst others. These grains are high in fiber, which helps to improve satiety and may help to reduce daily calorie intake.
The role that protein plays in improving body composition is vital. It helps to repair muscle tissue, which is damaged during exercise, and increases thermogenesis (amongst a number of other vital functions).
Sources of dietary protein are known either as complete, or incomplete, depending on whether they contain each of the 9 essential amino acids. Complete sources of protein include animal based foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
An incomplete protein is one that is low in essential amino acids. Two or more of these incomplete sources of protein can be combined in one meal to boost the amino acid profile of that meal. Combining legumes and grains – like hummus and bread, and rice and beans – will produce a complete protein.
Finally, we get to fat, which has recently become a hotly debated topic. Various studies have established a correlation between fat intake and heart disease, as well as stroke risk. However, that doesn’t mean that you should eliminate all fat from your diet –you just need to pay close attention to the kind of dietary fat that you are consuming.
Monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids are considered good fats. In fact, Omega-3 fats appear to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. On the other hand, diets rich in saturated fat and trans fat, both of which are labeled as ‘bad fats’, raise blood cholesterol concentration and contribute to the clogging of arteries. Clogged arteries will block oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart and brain. So when it comes to dietary fat, remember that quality counts.
Structuring Your Diet
The exact structure of the diet that you follow will be influenced by a number of different factors, including your current weight, your lifestyle, and your goals. But regardless of what you want to achieve, it is important to recognize that calories are only part of a bigger picture.
Consuming 2000 calories a day from only carbohydrate will yield very different body composition results compared to a diet that is properly structured and contains each of the three macronutrients in ratios specific to you. Calories do play an important role in a diet, but for proper health and improved body composition, focus on food quality and a well-balanced and structured diet.
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