Want to guess the dirtiest word in the English language when it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy diet and weight? Is it “fried”? “Soda”? “Pepperoni”? “Carbs”? “Doughnuts”? Well, those words certainly describe foods that are guaranteed to contribute to all kinds of health woes, from diabetes and joint pain to excess weight. But we’re talking about this one: “calories.”
If you want to turn your health around, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, have more energy and nurture your gut biome (which will do everything from strengthen your immune system to even out your glucose levels), you need to stop focusing on calories and start focusing on quality.
Calories Out ...
Calorie counting alone can lead to serious undernutrition (”I can’t eat that quinoa or brown rice -- it’s got more than 200 calories in a cup!” and, “Avocados -- too fatty!”). It can make you eliminate the precise foods that feed your good-for-your-gut bacteria, and that’ll dial down your metabolism to survival mode. On top of that, you may rationalize that a slice of pepperoni pizza is OK if you skip dinner. If you’re eating like that, the only thing you’re setting yourself up for is rebound overeating and colossal disappointment! That’s why only about 20 percent of overweight folks who shed at least 10 percent of their body mass keep it off for a year.
... Quality In
A study published in the journal Cell clearly showed that finding the optimal weight-management plan is highly individual -- the researchers had participants eat exactly the same foods and found that one meal might lower one participant’s blood sugar level while raising another’s. Those researchers dream of creating a biome-specific diet plan for each individual. (Check out their research at http://personalnutrition.org.) But we say you can find what works for YOU and your biome by throwing out calorie counts and going all-in for quality.
The Big Picture: When we talk about nutritional quality, you first want to set the stage for an overall health-promoting environment.
1. Aim for 7-9 servings of fruits and veggies daily. And mix it up; go for diversity.
2. Focus on healthy fats, like mono- and polyunsaturated fats (olive, canola, walnut, grapeseed, safflower oils) and omega-3s (in walnuts, salmon and algae).
3. Eat only unprocessed whole grains.
4. Eliminate added sugars and syrups from your foods.
5. Eliminate all processed meats and most saturated fats. Stick with lean proteins (skinless poultry and fish).
6. Avoid hormone disruptors. These chemicals, such as BPA and BPS, as well as PFCs and PFASs, can scramble your metabolism, gut biome and weight-management systems. They show up on cash register receipts; in plastics (avoid numbers 3, 6 and 7 on the bottom of plastic containers); in containers that are lined to keep food moisture from leaking through (pizza boxes and take-out containers -- their replacement chemicals are not thought to be any better for you than the ones that were finally banned by the Food and Drug Administration); and in pesticides such as glyphosate (Roundup), which is used extensively on suburban lawns and GMO food crops.
Your Individual Take: Pay attention to how your body responds when you eat those 7-9 servings of produce, lean proteins and whole grains.
--Do you feel energized or tired after a meal that contains a cup of brown rice? Does a cup of quinoa trigger the same or different feelings?
--How about trying an all-veggie day? Are you clear-thinking or grumpy? Do you need more protein than you had?
--And that juicy watermelon? Does it spike your blood sugar (making you fatigued) or not?
Tune in to what turns your body on and what turns it off.
Your goal: To create an overall eating style that brings a wide range of healthy foods into your home and onto your plate. Then before you know it your weight will be healthier, you’ll think more clearly and your future will be brighter. Quality is what matters.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit www.sharecare.com.