Recent estimates that a whopping 40 per cent of us will be obese within the next generation have led to renewed calls from the dietetic establishment for us to cut back on calories. Standard slimming theory dictates that the only way to lose weight is simply to consume fewer calories than the body burns as fuel. However, a common consequence of the dietary restriction this usually involves is hunger – something that tends to gnaw away at the resolve and make the chances of long-term success quite slim. Also, the emphasis calorie-reduction puts on the quantity, rather than the quality, of the diet can lead some to eat a glut of heavily processed and chemically manipulated foods that, although light on calories, leave a lot to be desired from a nutritional perspective too.
Personally, I have never swallowed the calorie principle, and am inclined to encourage individuals wanting to lose weight to put their focus more on what they eat, rather than how much. Such an approach may not only reduce the risk of individuals falling foul of an overactive appetite, and may have other advantages too. In theory at least, it may pay to base the diet around the foods that have been in the human diet the longest, as these are foods the body is best adapted to burning as fuel. With this in mind, I usually advise would-be slimmers to have their fill of meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables and nuts, but to cut back on more contemporary carbohydrate-rich foods (such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta) that are traditionally touted for their weight-reducing potential.
While this approach goes against the grain of conventional thinking, it is supported by evidence in the scientific literature: research shows that eating carbs stimulates the body to metabolise carbohydrate, but at the same time may cause the body’s fat-burning potential to stall. In contrast, there is evidence that eating foods naturally high in fat, such as nuts, may actually help to boost the metabolism. In one study, feeding individuals with peanuts for 19 weeks led to an average 11 per cent increase in their base metabolic rate.
Further support for the metabolic advantage of more ancient foods comes from actual weight loss research. In one study published this month, the effects of two diets containing the same number of calories were tested over a 24-week period. In both diets, half of the calories came in the form of an identical meal replacement drink. In half of the test subjects, the remaining 50 per cent of the calories they consumed came in the form of carbs. In the other diet, the calorie count was made up with almonds. Despite consuming the same number of calories, the almond-eating group lost 50 per cent more weight (an additional 16 lbs) than their carb-consuming counterparts.
This study, although timely, is actually one of several pieces of research which show that lower carb diets are generally more effective for shedding pounds than restricting fat. And despite scare stories to the contrary, the science also shows that containing carbs is tends to work better than foregoing fat for quelling levels of unhealthy blood fats such as cholesterol and triglyceride in the bloodstream. A growing body of research shows that, where healthy weight loss is the goal, it’s not just calories that count.