posted on August 21, 2011 21:13
With the weather cooling off and my most recent columns being a bit heated, I want to turn our attention to the friendly, calm promotion of general health and well-being.
Diet fads are as diverse as they are ineffective. But maintaining a healthy weight, thus reducing the risk of illnesses physical as well as mental, assumedly boils down to one very simple premise: calories in versus calories out.
No doubt most of you are familiar with the concept of a calorie, but so that we are all on the same page here, it is a unit of measurement; specifically, it is the amount of energy (heat) that is needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. (Technical side note: when “calories” are mentioned in regards to food and on nutritional information labels, what is actually being referred to is kilocalories or 1000 calories)
Calories have only two routes they can take upon your consumption of them. They may be burned for immediate fuel, used in anything from vigorous physical activities to the much underappreciated beating of your heart, or they may be stored for potential – and in our society improbable – future use…what most of us refer to as fat.
Obviously there is more to consider when ingesting food than how many calories are involved. There are vitamins and enzymes and amino acids and flavonoids and types of fat, just to name a few. There are the bi-products of these and others on both the physical and emotion planes.
If you don’t believe that what you eat and drink impacts your mood, your cognitive abilities, even your sex life, then you are doing yourself a tremendous disservice.
And so on and so forth.
Disclaimer: If you desire further detail in the aforementioned realm of nutrition and dietetics, please seek out the guidance of a columnist not equally interested in the interviewing of porn stars. But for a basic understanding of some key factors at play in the game of weight loss and maintenance, please read on, tubby.
Do you remember back in fourth grade when the teacher tricked you with the question about a ton of feathers or a ton of bricks being heavier? Food is governed by a different set of rules. A gram of protein, which is required by the body for growth and the repair of all cells and, ideally retrieved through meat, fish, shellfish, poultry and dairy foods, is good for about 3 calories.
A gram of fat, while delicious and texturally pleasing to the mouth but not nearly as functional in modern nutrition, triples protein by translating to 9 calories that the body must either burn right away or store in an area that likely needs no additional occupancy.
Every gram of carbohydrates, that pariah of a nutrient that actually serves as our body’s chief source of energy, contains about 4 calories. Carbohydrates also help to regulate the digestion and use of protein and fat. Somewhat important stuff.
All of these food sources are necessary. None of them should be viewed as anything but necessary. But weeding through all of the bullshit out there in order to implement a practical nutritional solution that does not make life completely miserable is a challenge.
This brings us to the Glycemic Index, a fancy name for the yardstick that quantifies a food’s effect on blood sugar, specifically, food’s release of glucose, which triggers the body to produce the hormone insulin. In layman’s terms, insulin regulates the metabolism of food and determines whether it will be used for immediate energy or converted to fat.
The Glycemic Index is not perfect. Some food rankings low on the GI, such as that of a pound cake, which can rank similarly to a carrot, do not account for other relevant factors and overall nutrition deficiencies. However, in fairness, if you need a spreadsheet and a pie chart to tell you that mass consumption of pound cake is not a strong nutritional play, please feel free to sprinkle a little of cyanide on top…also low on the Glycemic Index. Because you are an idiot, and there is no hope for you.
For the rest of us, I suggest this “sweet index” be used as a tool in transforming our diets. Being conscious of the number of calories that you consume and expend is still the most sensible way to ensure a healthy diet that corresponds with your individual lifestyle, but enjoying foods with their blood sugar impact in mind, and eating them at the right times is a huge step in the direction of accomplishing good health.
Some tips to consider…
High-Glycemic (GI > 70) - These foods are not necessarily “bad” for you. They are absorbed quickly and are ideal during and after intense training or activities. However as a rule, especially for those of you hoping to shed pounds, these foods will usually prove counterproductive to your goals. (ex: many fruit juices, sports drinks, raisins, watermelon, mashed potatoes, white rice, chips, sugary cereals, jelly beans and other crap)
Moderate-Glycemic (55 < GI <70) - These are best used prior to activities requiring a lot of energy and are great foods for weight management, not to be confused with weight loss. (ex: oranges, pasta, whole-grain breads, popcorn, apricots, brown rice, shredded wheat)
Low-Glycemic (GI < 55) - Slowly absorbed foods that are low on the GI ranking are great for weight management as well, but also helpful in maintaining blood sugar levels. Foods falling into this category are almost always ideal for getting lean and staying exceptionally healthy. (ex: most vegetables, especially leafy green ones, apples, lentils, yogurt, and oatmeal before you put a bunch of delicious, sugary shit in and/or on top it)
Several comprehensive lists can be found online, one of which being at southbeach-diet-plan.com. Another great site is, appropriately titled, glycemicindex.com. There you can search for the GI details on foods. Rankings vary, as does the metabolism of the individual to an extent, but the pattern of which foods fall where on the index is important to zero in on.
It’s not rocket science. Generally speaking, the lower the GI the better the food is for you and any weight loss/management goals that you have. And you are simply not going to hurt yourself focusing on a diet of lean protein, fresh vegetables and whole grains, and just being considerate of the stuff that you put into your mouth can be life changing in and of itself.
A dietitian friend of mine once had me log in a journal two weeks worth of food and drinks. Every item, every morsel and every sip was to be listed. Two days deep I realized that I was embarrassed at what I had down and started over. And I considered myself a pretty healthy guy at that point.
Bottom line, it is never too late to start over...except when it’s too late to start over.
Give this some thought and do some research of your own. The fact that you have arrived at this column is evidence that you have access to information. And if you have made it this far in said column you either give a shit about your health, or you were holding out hope that there would be an image of a porn star at the bottom of the page.
In any case, you now have no excuse for remaining uninformed and not taking action.
J. Adams is a freelance writer and certified personal trainer who was once a complete and utter health & fitness disaster, but who is doing alright these days. Follow him on Twitter via @Intangiball or drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org