I confess, I’m a Math fan. I “crunch” numbers, I’m always in search of models and indicators.
I won’t trust any theory until I see some validated data and results. Show me the numbers.
But when it comes to the food on my table and its relations to my body, I feel sometimes dizzy. There are too many parameters and incredible complicated chemistry processes, mind blowing. Not even scientists know everything, still researching.
And yet, a few indicators are quite enough in real life to help you build your weekly menu. Maybe it won’t be “the one”, the perfect healthy menu for you but in time, you can adjust it. Just keep an open mind to the latest discoveries.
We need energy to move, breathe, think and so on and we take this energy from our food. If we eat more than we need, we’ll eventually get fat.
Why some people can eat more than others without problems, who knows?
Maybe the bacteria in their guts or their genes or some mysterious process in their body help them.
Energy in our food is measured in calories (actually it’s Kilocalories, kCal but we say just calories). This nice calorie calculator will tell you how many calories you need to maintain your actual weight or to get rid of some of your weight.
Very useful only … it’s not working, not just like that.
I’m using the calorie indicator, the one for maintaining my actual weight. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible, not to influence “in my favor” this indicator.
From my experience, my body will adjust in a few months to any lower calorie number and I could still put on. Unfortunately, my body won’ t adjust to higher calories intake, that’s for sure.
Keep in mind that it’s genetics, exercising, the quality of your life, the quality of the calories you eat and a lot more variables that matters too.
It will be hell in the beginning to adjust your menu to the calorie indicator. It’s so boring to measure portion size and count calories in your portions. Plus, you’ll be shocked to see how little you should be eating.
A piece of meat the size of your palm, a handful of pasta and a bowl of salad and that’s all folks for your dinner, sorry, no dessert.
I’m telling you just this because I’ve been there, I’ve seen that:
Don’t lose control over how much you are eating, no matter what. If you have weight problems, it’s a “MUST”.
I survived somehow with MyFitnessPal application.
Using their food journal, you’ll easily keep track of what you’re eating, calories will be automatically calculated and they have a large food database. Don’t rush and don’t despair, in time, you’ll learn your portions.
If you’re cooking at home, you’ll need a scale and maybe you’ll need to review your favorite recipes and calculate the calories. I found this site very useful to do this http://nutritiondata.self.com/diets
Also, it will help you greatly to choose one of the healthy diets and adjust it in time based on your results and preferences. A good start is the DASH diet.
If you eat a variety of foods, covering all food groups, lots of colors, foods less processed, organic as much as possible, nice Mediterranean recipes, you can be sure you’ll get the nutrients your body needs. No need to bother too much, at least in the beginning, with the nutrient numbers.
And then, there is your budget. Even if you cook at home, prices of the good food nowadays seem to be high. Or not?
Sometimes, it’s a matter of what recipes you choose and how much you need to buy for your healthy recipes. If you cook at home, it helps a lot to plan your weekly menus, you’ll reduce costs and wastes.
Buying from a farm market or buying in bulk, might make a difference.
Keep in mind that you don’t need “fancy” foods to get rid of excess pounds.
I like a lot this site, Budget Bytes. Most of the recipes are affordable (they include prices), healthy and tasty, just cut the sugars in non-dessert recipes and some of the salt.
By the way, I’ve noticed this. In many recipes posted on the net there is way too much salt, too many spices, a lot of sugar in any dish, be it dessert or not.
Better keep it simple, it’s cheaper and healthier. And tastier, if you ask me, too much salt and sugar cut the flavors.
The Glycemic Index
There’s one tricky and, in a way, infuriating indicator, The Glycemic Index, explained best here:
The glycemic index (or GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested, absorbed and metabolised and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar (glucose) levels. Low GI carbohydrates – the ones that produce smaller fluctuations in your blood glucose and insulin levels – is one of the secrets to long-term health, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also one of the keys to maintaining weight loss.
Keep this in mind: A sharp increase in glucose in the blood triggers the pancreas to release a lot more of the hormone insulin to remove any excess glucose. This could start reactions in the body that leave you feeling lethargic, hungry and craving more sugar.
Just for the record, HG is over 50 and LG is less than 35.
Actually, it’s the Glycemic Load that should be considered. Citing from wikipedia:
Glycemic load accounts for how much carbohydrate is in the food and how much each gram of carbohydrate in the food raises blood glucose levels. Glycemic load is based on the glycemic index (GI), and is calculated by multiplying the grams of available carbohydrate in the food times the food’s GI and then dividing by 100.
A glycemic load of over 20 is considered high, one under 10 is low.
The Sydney University database includes the GI and GL for a diversity of carbo rich foods.
Glycemic Load is not a precise indicator, it actually tells us how the organisms of some participants in a very limited test reacted to some foods rich in carbohydrates. It depends on the way the recipes are cooked, on the provenience of the ingredients, on what else one ate the day before, the week before and a lot of other parameters. There are many voices that say this GL is not worth the trouble.
And yet it works for a lot of people, including me!
There are high chances that a food considered generally as high glycemic will be indeed high glycemic for you too but not always. However some foods, considered medium or low Glycemic Load, might spike your sugar blood. If you get hungry too quickly after eating a rich but healthy meal, than analyse a bit its content. Try eating separately the components (in sufficient quantities to get the same number of calories and carbs, if possible). Chances are that you’ll find an “alien” food. It doesn’t mean that you should stop eating it, just eat less of it, not daily, not so often and don’t start a meal with it.
The way you prepare potential high glycemic index foods like potatoes, rice and pasta may lower significantly their glycemic index.
It’s an interesting chemical process called starch retrogradation.
Starch granules heated in excess water undergo an order‐disorder phase transition called gelatinization. On cooling, the starch chains (amylose and amylopectin) in the gelatinized paste associate, leading to the formation of a more ordered structure. The resulting resistant starch has similar physiologic effects as dietary fibre.
Translating this in a cooking method, boil your potatoes, in skin, in lots of water, on low heat. Peel them when ready under cold water, refrigerate them overnight. You can then safely eat them in a potato salad with vinegar, reheat them or fry them and eat them as a side dish or whatever.
One study found that cooling potatoes overnight after cooking tripled their resistant starch content.
As to pasta, cooking them “al dente” lowers their GI and I personally like pasta freshly cooked. Of course they would be even healthier the next day, reheated or not.
As for the white rice, I prefer to combine it with veggies and tomato sauce and eat it cold, the next day. It’s my Umami Pilaf, a super healthy recipe.
I did a simple test, with the aid of a glucometer. I ate, quickly, in less than 10 minutes, a combination of a banana and a handful of biscuits. I measured also my blood sugar with a glucometer every half an hour for 3 hours. I do like science and numbers, told you so.
I obtained a nice graph, with a beautiful blood sugar spike and a “low valley”, typical for high glycemic index. Not to mention that, less than 2 hours after my meal, I was hungry again, though my breakfast had been 340 kcal and I had not exercise.
Then I took a few more tests, eating first proteins and carbs last, then first starches and then protein and veggies, eating them combined, eating HG food differently cooked a.s.o. My glucometer is for sure a bit decalibrated, but it’s accurate enough to get the general idea. I took care to fast 12 hours before a test.
Here are my conclusions, so far. These might work for anyone too.
- Don’t eat too fast, this will speed things up, whatever you eat.
- Don’t start your breakfast or any other meal with a starches, fat & sugar combination, let’s say a doughnut, with or without coffee. This is one of the worst ideas for your menu. Start with some combination of proteins and veggies, like a Frittata or cheese, almonds and tomatoes.
- Generally, avoid high glycemic foods or combine them with low glycemic foods or eat smaller portions.
- Cooking methods do matter. One of my best healthy meal so far is the potato salad: potatoes boiled in skin, refrigerated overnight, cut in slices with onion slices, hard boiled eggs, sardines or marinated fish, pickled red peppers, vinegar, olive oil, olives. Yummi and no spikes, no low valleys. So filling, so nutrient rich!
The Satiety Index and the Energy Density of Foods
Some foods are more satiating than others, check this out.
However this Satiety Index is less helpful as you don’t have the numbers but for a limited list of foods. And fact, it’s not at all easy to know beforehand, what combination of foods will be more satiate than others.
There are two other more useful options when choosing foods that will fill you well..
Take notice that foods with low glycemic load do help you control hunger.
Try for a snack a bit of cheese with tomatoes, or a piece of low sugar fruit or a tablespoon of hummus with a celery stick.
Than there’s the energy density of the foods, defined as the number of calories (kCal) per gram of food. Very easy to calculate and a nice tool to control your calorie intake.
Research has shown that diets with a low energy density (less than 1.5) can help you feel fuller for longer without providing too many calories.
The Insulin Index
The Insulin Index of a food represents how much it elevates the concentration of insulin in the blood during the two-hour period after the food is ingested. It is similar to Glycemic Index only it represents a comparison of food portions with equal overall caloric content (250 kcal), while GI represents a comparison of portions with equal digestible carbohydrate content (typically 50 g).
Fact is, all foods stimulate the insulin secretion, including meats, eggs, yogurt, fish a.s.o., with some of them triggering maybe a disproportionate response. To my best knowledge, there’s no practical way to measure your Insulin Index, how you actually respond to every food or combination from the Insulin Index point of view.
However, there are some other useful tips to help you stay in control:
- Balance meals with some carbs, lean protein and plenty of salad or vegetables. Imagine your food on a plate, filled half with vegetables, a quarter with protein (lean meats, fish, cheeses, eggs, legumes) and a quarter with starches and make healthy choices.
- Choose higher fibre, less processed breads and cereals, such as dense grainy bread and traditional porridge oats.
- Snack, if you have to, on fruit and non-starchy vegetables.
- A portion of meat or fish should be the size of your palm.
- Eat slowly, give your brain enough time to decide if you’re still hungry. After you eat your portions, rest for 10 – 15 minutes before eating more.
- Don’t eat too much and too quickly at one meal or other.
All these said, don’t forget to exercise, enjoy your food and find time to relax.