Everyone knows that maintaining a proper diet is essential to successful weight loss programs. But to get the most out of a diet, it is important to understand the relationship between the foods one eats and the weight loss one seeks.
The basic recipe for weight loss is increasing the number of calories one burns, decreasing the number of calories taken in, or both.
Appreciating this basic fact might give rise the impression that the only relevant factor in one's diet is the amount of calories consumed. It is true that reducing caloric intake is important. But the relationship between weight loss and diet is a little more complex than that impression suggests. It also matters what one eats.
The Common Nutrients Contained in Food
There are three basic types of macronutrients in the foods we consume: fat, carbohydrates and protein. Each has an important role to play in weight loss and nutrition.
Fats come in many varieties, and play many important roles in the body. They received a bad rap for a while, but fats turn out to not be the villain they once were portrayed as.
There is nothing wrong with consuming foods that have some fat in them. In fact, certain healthy fats, such as as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, can actually help your body be more efficient at burning calories.
At the same time, not all fats are created equal. Trans fats have been found to have a range of negative health effects and should be avoided whenever possible. Saturated fats are not as harmful, but it is a good idea to limit intake of them as much as possible. It's important to read the labels on foods and check to see which kinds of fats they contain and in what quantities.
Carbohydrates are another macronutrient that have been undeservedly attacked over the years. Carbs are the body's primary source of energy, and there is nothing inherently wrong with consuming them.
However, as with fats, not all carbs are created equal. For example, the carbs in highly processed foods are broken down in the body very quickly. This results in spikes in blood sugar. When blood sugar levels are higher than needed, the body saves the extra for later use, turning the excess into body fat.
The carbs in whole foods with high fiber content (like fruits and vegetables), on the other hand, are broken down much more slowly. As a result, they don't cause blood sugar levels to spike and instead offer a steady stream of energy for the body to use over time. As a result, 400 calories of fruits will be less likely to lead to weight gain than 400 calories of sugary processed foods.
The final major macronutrient is protein. Protein is used by the body to build up many different kinds of structures at the cellular level. Protein is found in many animal products, such as meat and dairy, and also in certain plants, such as beans and legumes.
One of the important functions of protein in weight loss is its use in building up muscles after exercise. Basically, when people engage in cardio and resistance training, they make little tears in their muscles. After exercising, it is important to eat foods with protein to help rebuild the muscles and recover from the workout. This helps maintain one's muscle, which is a good thing, since muscles consume calories just by existing.
Protein also has another added benefit for weight loss. Like fiber, protein takes longer to digest in the body. As a result, eating foods with protein can help you feel fuller for longer. And if you are less hungry, you'll be less tempted to eat more, resulting in fewer calories taken in.
Important Facts to Remember
- Reducing calorie intake is important for weight loss, but it also matters what kinds of foods are eaten.
- Fats are not inherently bad, but stick to unsaturated fats when possible.
- Carbs are not inherently bad, but stick to whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Protein is essential for maintaining muscle, and helps keep you fuller for longer.
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