The U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has measured American’s caloric consumption and height and weight for over 50 years. A paper to be published in the journal Nutrition features the first comprehensive analysis of this data—it measured how macronutrient consumption patterns and weight and body mass index (BMI) of American adults have evolved since the 1960s.
In general, Americans have been following the nutrition advice issued for the last 40 years by the American Heart Association and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In other words, the infamous Food Pyramid that mandates less fat and more carbs. Here’s what the analysis showed:
• Fat consumption decreased from 45% to 34% between 1965 and 2011
• Carb consumption increased from 39% to 51% over this same period
• There is a big connection between this decrease in fat consumption and increase in carb consumption and the rise in obesity
• The percentage of overweight adults has increased from 42% to 66% since 1971
The conclusion? By following the nationally mandated dietary guidelines, eating more carbs and less fat has led to expanding waistlines and an obesity problem. This once again supports the research that shows that revising our dietary guidelines in the favor of increasing our intake of healthy fats and emphasizing carbs in the form of vegetables, low glycemic fruits, and controlled portions of complex grains may be the solution to our growing obesity problem. In other words, the basic fundamentals of Atkins continue to be proven as a viable way to help you lose weight and improve your health.
The online journal Open Heart just published a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) available to the U.S. and U.K. regulatory committees when they were creating the guidelines for dietary fat intake in 1977 and 1983. And this analysis showed that there was no evidence to support the dietary fat guidelines that were put in place.
The Dietary Guidelines have wide ranging impact on US policies and programs, and can have serious environmental, political, business and socioeconomic consequences. At their core, these guidelines influence our national conversation about what we eat -- and why. However, what’s rarely discussed is the science on which the dietary guidelines decisions are supposed to be based.
These dietary fat guidelines recommended that we cut the fat to about 30% of our total daily calories, and reduce saturated fat, from red meat and dairy products like milk, egg and cheese, down to no more than 10% of total calories. Yet neither of these recommendations were ever tested or proven. The result? We started avoiding fat, all right—in favor of carbohydrates, which are broken down into sugars and triglycerides and cause more harm than the fat that comes from red meat and diary products. Consuming package after package of cookies because they were labeled “low-fat” was clearly not the solution.
The guidelines, intended to make Americans healthier, have done anything but. Adult obesity rates have doubled since 1980 when the guidelines were first released, and they’re set to increase another 50% by 2030. Meanwhile, childhood obesity and diabetes diagnoses have tripled.
The dietary guidelines are clearly not working towards their goal of improving public health and maintaining a healthy weight. The definition of insanity is often said to be doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. While there is some evidence to support a link between dietary fat consumption and heart disease, so many other factors need to be taken into account. Dietary fat consumption has little to do with cholesterol levels as compared to the cholesterol circulating in our bodies that is produced by the liver. Even the American Heart Association has softened its stance on dietary fat consumption, and now focuses on the types of fat you should consume and the quality of your diet as a whole.
While researchers have not determined the optimal percentage of fat consumption, if you’re doing Atkins, study after study has shown that when we restrict or limit carbs (especially the simple carbs loaded with sugar) we are able to consume higher levels of fats because they are being burned for fuel. In other words, you are on the right track if you’re consuming a diet rich in dairy, red meat, poultry, fish, healthy fats, fresh vegetables, and; in later Phases, (or if you’re doing Atkins 40™); fruits, legumes, starchy vegetables and whole grains.
You probably don’t think of Atkins as a high-antioxidant diet, but by the time you finish reading this blog, you probably will. First, before getting to know antioxidants, lets learn about free radicals. We need oxygen to live, but byproducts resulting from the body’s oxidizing processes, called free radicals, can damage our cells, causing aging, tissue damage and inflammation. They’re also implicated in many disease states. These dangerous agents are called free radicals because they are molecules with an unpaired electron looking to bond with another electron in your body. Free radicals in your cells are the result of stress (both emotional and physical), pesticides and other chemicals in the environment, including cigarette smoke and burnt foods. Even if you’re fortunate enough not to be exposed to some or all of the above, aerobic exercise and the normal metabolic processes of your body also produce free radicals. That’s where antioxidants, which can neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals, come in. Antioxidants also protect against a variety of disease states and generally delay the effects of aging.
The Queen of Antioxidants
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory at Tufts University rank blueberries as Numero Uno in antioxidant activity, in comparison to 40 other common fresh fruits and vegetables. Next up are strawberries, kale and spinach.
A Multitude of Others
Like vitamins and minerals, antioxidants are health-protective micronutrients found in foods. There’s no shortage of antioxidants to battle the evil forces of free radicals, although we still don’t understand whether we need all of them for optimal health. Here is a just a short list of antioxidants you have probably already heard of:
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin E
• N-Acetyl cysteine
• Alpha-lipoic acid
• Co-enzyme Q10
Rather than take all these items individually, you’re better off taking a daily multivitamin/mineral that includes a good mix of antioxidants. But supplements are never a substitute for whole foods. Many of these protective agents are found in common foods. As you’ll soon see, many foods turn up repeatedly as sources for different antioxidants, evidence that getting them in food, where they are in balance with other antioxidants, is advisable.
In fact, almost all these food sources of antioxidants are among the basic foods of the Atkins Diet. Your best antioxidant-rich strategy? Make sure you’re consuming at least 12 to 15 grams of Net Carbs in the form of foundation vegetables on Atkins 20 and Atkins 40. We’ll show you where to find the best (and worst) sources of antioxidants, so you can maintain your low-carb lifestyle:
Find it in cabbage, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, mango, kiwi and papaya. Avoid OJ and other citrus juices, which are high in sugar and therefore high in carbs.
There are several chemical forms of vitamin E, and the two main types are alpha-tycopherol and gamma-tycopherol. The former is found in nuts, seeds, vegetables and vegetable oils, although the most concentrated source is wheat-germ oil. Canola oil is a good source of the latter type of vitamin E. Avoid corn and other vegetable oils as they are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which we all get more than enough of compared to omega-3s.
These plant pigments include quercetin and lutein, which are both important for eye health. Good vegetable sources include red onions, green cabbage, spinach, kale, onions and garlic. Fruit sources include cherries, white grapefruit, apples, pears, grapes and cranberries.
These, too, are vegetable and fruit pigments in vegetables. Although beta-carotene is the best known, it is only one of about 600 different carotenoids. Certain carotenoids are found in orange vegetables, including pumpkins, which are acceptable in Phase 1, during Atkins 20. In later phases of the diet (or if you’re doing Atkins 40), sweet potatoes, carrots and winter squash are also excellent sources. Fortunately, some dark green veggies are also carotenoid contenders: think of bitter greens such as kale, spinach, chard, watercress, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, dandelion greens and beet greens. Your body absorbs and utilizes carotenoids better when served with fat, so add a pat of butter to cooked greens or toss dark salad greens with olive oil. Some orange fruits will also supply you with carotenoids, although, with the exception of cantaloupe, most are Atkins acceptable only in later phases (or Atkins 40): apricots, mangos and guava. Other carotenoids are found in yellow-pigmented vegetables.
Selenium is thought to delay or prevent the onset of cancer and also has potent anti-aging benefits. Brazil nuts have the highest level of selenium (don’t overdo consumption), but other nuts, including walnuts and peanuts, are excellent sources, as well. Other foods that provide this antioxidant are animal products: beef, chicken, seafood, eggs and cheese. Additionally, for those at later phases of Atkins, soybeans and other legumes and wheat, rice, corn, wheat and oats are sources.
Unlike most other antioxidants, you will not find glutathione in foods. Your body makes it from another substance found in most vegetables and fruits: glutathione peroxidase. The following Atkins-friendly foods help your body make more glutathione: avocado, asparagus, broccoli, garlic, spinach
and tomatoes. The spice turmeric, which is a source of curcumin, also helps boost your body’s production.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
In addition to its own antioxidant properties—it is particularly important for retinal health—NAC increases the production of glutathione. Anyone following Atkins is almost certainly consuming plenty of this antioxidant because the best sources include poultry, yogurt, egg yolks, red peppers, garlic, onions, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Oats and wheat germ are also excellent sources.
The best food sources of taurine are cold-water fish such as salmon and cod, which are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which themselves act as antioxidants. Taurine is also found in eggs, other seafood and milk. Vegans need to take care to get sufficient taurine.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
In addition to its role as an antioxidant, ALA helps convert blood glucose into energy. It has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in type-2 diabetics. Alpha-lipoic acid can be found in broccoli, collard greens, chard and spinach, all of which also contain other antioxidants.
Co-enzyme Q10 (Co10)
Essential to heart health, this antioxidant is primarily found in fish (sardines and mackerel particularly); beef, lamb and pork; and eggs. Although spinach and broccoli supply some CoQ10, it is significantly less than fish and meat. Peanuts, wheat germ and whole grains provide still less.
Fortunately, on Atkins, you’ll naturally get plenty of health-protective antioxidants, while enjoying whole foods.
Contrary to popular belief, the year’s biggest pigskin game doesn’t necessarily mean your only low-carb option is a bowl of pork rinds. I have some excellent low-carb game day tips that will ensure that even if your team doesn’t win, your waistline does!
If you’re hosting, you’re in control. Pick dishes that you can make ahead, that are self-serve and require minimal utensils—think finger foods, anything that can be speared with a toothpick or easily held with one hand on a paper plate.
You can order many of these options in advance and pick them up at your local grocery store on game day, or they make great options for your guests to bring:
• Cheese and meat platters
• Veggie trays
• Antipasto trays (olives, peppers, marinated artichokes hearts and mushrooms, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes)
• Relish trays
• Shrimp cocktail
You can whip up the following low-carb Super Bowl recipes from scratch. They, along with many other delicious low-carb recipes, are found in our Recipes section:
• Avocado Salsa
• Zucchini Crisps
• King Crab Dip
• Deviled Eggs
• Savory Popcorn and Nut Mix
• Mushrooms Stuffed with Sausage and Mozzarella
• Crockpot Reuben Dip
• Baked Brie with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Pine Nuts
• Baked Meatballs
• Super Chili Bowl
Roll-ups are delicious low-carb party finger food, and the options are endless:
• Pick a protein (ham, turkey, roast beef or smoked salmon)
• Pick a cheese (Muenster, Swiss, cheddar, Gouda or more)
• Pick a spread (mayo, aioli, cream cheese or guacamole)
• Pick a veggie (wrap it all up with a lettuce or romaine leaf, or add a stalk of asparagus or slices of jicama)
• Layer the meat, cheese, spread and veggie, roll it up and spear with a toothpick.
Tip: If you have a crock-pot or two, you can cook the meatballs and chili in advance.
Tip: For your guests who aren’t living a low-carb lifestyle, you can offer a Meatball Slider option. Simmer a batch of Baked Meatballs in spaghetti sauce and serve with slider buns and slices of mozzarella cheese.
If you’re headed to a party, you still have plenty of options:
• Review your game-day strategy. If there is one food you simply can’t resist, allow yourself one very small serving, and leave it at that. If you know even that one small serving will open the floodgates to a carb free-for-all, resolve to stick with low-carb options.
• Load up before the game. Have a filling low-carb snack or meal before you head to the party. You can try an Atkins bar, shake or frozen meal. This way you won’t be starving, and it makes it easier to resist temptation.
• Play the offense. Offer to bring a veggie tray or meat and cheese tray, and/or prepare one or two of the tasty low-carb Super Bowl-friendly recipes listed previously. Knowing you will have a few low-carb choices that you love makes it much easier to enjoy the action without guilt or hunger.
On the Sidelines
Are you watching the big game at a bar or restaurant? Review the menu in advance so you can scope out some potential low-carb options. Some other tips:
• Avoid sauces. Order a dish prepared without sugar or starches. And watch out for gravy.
• Watch out for dishes that have the terms “breaded”, “battered”, “crispy”, and, of course, “deep fried”. Look for terms like “roasted”, “grilled”, “pan-fried” or “poached.”
• Downsize your portions. Share a dish with a friend or take half home.
• Change up your sides. Request a side salad or extra steamed veggies instead of rice or potatoes.
• Avoid the bun. You can still savor a juicy hamburger; just ask for it without the bun.
• When in doubt, you can’t on wrong with a large salad topped with salmon, chicken or another source of protein.
Have you ever started a diet, only to quit in frustration because you were ravenous, lethargic, irritable and craving every possible type of food imaginable?
Or, as you started to lose a lot of weight, all of the sudden you hit a plateau, and it felt like your body was stubbornly holding onto every possible pound (and ounce)? In response, you tried to cut calories and food intake even more, to no avail.
In these situations, you may feel like you are starving (and not losing weight), but, in fact, this “starvation mode” is your body’s natural response to long-term calorie restriction—your brain thinks you are starving, so your body starts to conserve energy by reducing the amount of calories you are burning.
In the far past, when you didn’t always know where your next meal would come from, this natural physiological response was necessary to ensure your survival. Your body became super-efficient at holding onto every calorie it could. Even when you were active (as in hunting to kill your dinner), you burned fewer calories. In this supersized day and age, where you can get an artery-clogging, trans-fat-laden fast food meal for less than $5 at any time of the day or night, the threat of starvation is non-existent, but your body is still trying to selfishly hold on to those calories.
Your body burns calories in four ways:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): The amount of calories your body uses to maintain vital functions, such as breathing, heart rate and brain function.
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): The amount of calories you burn while digesting a meal (this is usually about 10% of caloric intake).
- Thermic Effect of Exercise (TEE): The amount of calories your body burns during physical activity, such as exercise.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): The amount of calories you burn while fidgeting, changing positions while sitting, etc. This is usually subconscious.
As you can see, there are several way your body burns calories, and all of these go down when you restrict calories for an extended period of time, i.e. your body’s perceived “starvation mode”. In addition, when you lose weight, you may lose muscle. Muscle is metabolically active, which means it burns calories, all the time, even when you’re at rest. The more muscles you have, the more calories you burn.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel—even while you are cutting calories and revamping your eating habits. Here are two ways you can continue to lose weight slowly and steadily, without feeling like you’re “starving”:
- Lift weights: Research has shown that when you do resistance exercise (lifting weights or body weight exercises) while on a diet, you may maintain your metabolic weight, muscle mass and strength levels. Just doing cardio (or no exercise at all) while dieting tends to result in lost muscle mass and a reduction in metabolic rate.
- Eat protein: Pumping up your protein intake can help reduce your appetite, boost your metabolism, preserve muscle, cut cravings and late-night snacking, while consuming fewer calories (and not feeling like you’re starving yourself). This is one of the reasons Atkins is so successful—you are asked to consume adequate protein (and healthy fats), which helps keep you full and satisfied, even if you are consuming fewer calories than you were when your diet consisted of simple carbohydrates. In addition, when your protein intake is adequate, you are also preserving that valuable metabolically active muscle mass.
So, while your body’s “starvation mode” is real, now that you understand how (and why) it works, you can see that there are some options that will help control it.