What a wonderful time of the year! November begins the holiday season for many of us. Family and friends, parties and gatherings each bring us joy, recall happy holiday memories, and create new ones. Many of us enter this season with plans to maintain or improve our health with attention to diet and exercise. Unfortunately, much information regarding each which we accept as truth has no firm basis in fact and leads us astray from our goal of general health improvement. This month, let’s explore some common health and weight beliefs and see which are valid as well as debunk some of the pervasive theories frequently cited yet without basis in fact:
- The green coffee bean extract and the acai berry are useful for weight loss, increased energy enhanced sexual performance, improved digestion, skin rejuvenation, heart health and more.
- Eating late at night will cause weight gain.
- Avoid drinking coffee when trying to lose weight.
- Inflammation is central to the development of cardiovascular disease.
- “Eating healthy” is the most important step in a weight loss diet.
- When trying to lose weight, weight lifting is not a good idea as it will make you “bulk up” and gain weight.
- Eating red meat can be a sensible part of a weight loss plan.
- Dairy products are fattening and unhealthy and should be avoided particularly when trying to lose weight.
- Nuts are loaded with fat but they can be a valuable part of a weight loss diet.
- Skipping meals can negatively impact weight loss.
- False – Green coffee bean extract and acai berries are the subject of massive marketing campaigns. Not too long ago, I saw a car on Hwy 105 with a decal on the window stating “Ask me about Acai berries.” (I have never figured out how to safely ask questions of another driver at 55 mph so I let it slide!) Much of the campaign for this Central and South American fruit includes fantastic claims with regard to weight loss, enhanced sexual performance, improved digestion and a myriad of other benefits. The same is true for coffee bean extract. Unfortunately, little research has been done and dietary supplements aren’t scrutinized to the same degree as prescription drugs. Don’t worry another “Miracle” fruit or vegetable will soon be discovered and become the subject of a marketing blitz!
- False-There is one caveat that I must include however. If eating late at night results in additional calories above the daily need, weight gain will result. Generally, our bodies process all food we eat in the same way regardless of the time of day we consume them. If calories in equal calories burned weight gain will not occur no matter the time of day we ingest them! It is intuitive to believe that eating late in the day will result in rapid conversion of the food eaten into body fat because we will not burn those calories in as much as we will soon be asleep and the calories will not be needed hence converted to fat. Sounds logical upon first blush but incorrect! Our bodies do not shut down during sleep. Our heart continues to beat, we breathe, we dream, we toss and turn. Each of these activities and in the aggregate occurs as a result of caloric utilization. Admittedly, we do not burn the same amount of calories as when we are awake and moving about but calories are required to support these activities. I do however recommend avoidance of large meals in close proximity to our going to sleep. They may result in heartburn and other unpleasant gastrointestinal phenomena.
- False-Coffee will not sabotage a weight loss plan as long as additions to the coffee (flavorings, sugar, cream, etc.) don’t add calories to the coffee. Indeed, for many people the energy boost from the caffeine can result in more activity and more calories being burned. The additional caloric utilization may lead to even greater weight loss. Now some of us may have medical reasons to avoid caffeine, so I strongly suggest you consult your physician regarding your use of coffee. (See my previous article in this series “Coffee in Your Pot” for further information.)
- True-Almost monthly evidence is found in well performed scientific studies demonstrating that chronic inflammation can lead to a variety diseases including cardiovascular disease. Much of this can be reduced or eliminated with diet, lifestyle modifications and medications. Because inflammation can be so devastating to the body, please discuss this issue and your status with your physician. Some dietary tips to reduce inflammation include choosing healthy fats, increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, drink more tea and up your fiber intake.
- False-I ask each of my patients who are trying to lose weight about their calorie counting. (We develop specific dietary plans for each of our patients which emphasize the importance of caloric restriction for weight loss while maintaining a healthy balance of foods.) Almost daily a patient will answer the question with “I don’t count calories but I eat healthy.” Often when I explore the diet, I find that although the food choices are indeed healthy-complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and excellent sources of protein-the calories exceed the recommended number by 100 or more a day. For any of us, 100 calories a day in excess of the number of calories we burn in a day will result in approximately 10 pounds of weight gain in a year. While I am a proponent of eating healthy, this alone will not result in weight loss and may indeed cause weight gain. When trying to lose weight with a traditional “balanced diet” calorie counting is mandatory for each of us. You will find an excellent calorie counter on our website that is free to all. Another calorie counter which I can enthusiastically recommend is My Fitness Pal which is available at no cost on smart phones, computers, and tablets.
- False-Weight training is an important part of physical fitness. Although our muscles may grow in response, the increased muscle mass will result in more calories being burned because muscle is an active tissue while fat is not. Any “bulking up” will be limited for most of us and the offset in muscle size increase will be increased caloric utilization resulting in weight loss. I strongly recommend you do not over estimate the number of calories burned through any form of exercise. Weight training has many benefits and I suggest that you discuss this matter with your physician.
- True-Red meat eaten in moderation can be an extremely useful and healthy part of a weight loss plan for most of us. It is loaded with nutrients including iron and protein as well as other substances such as vitamins and minerals. Proper choices of red meat are important-lean cuts, appropriate serving size- but the stigma attached to red meat is not deserved.
- False-Low fat dairy products have been shown to be useful in weight loss diets. The reason for this is not entirely clear but there is evidence that the high calcium content may provide a boost in metabolism. Caution must be used in the choice of the specific dairy products but one should focus on low fat choices. Please remember although they are healthy, pay attention to the calories.
- True- Although nuts are high in both calories and fat small amounts can be a useful addition to a weight loss plan. Nuts do have a high fat content but most of the fat is unsaturated or “healthy” fat. They also contain protein and fiber each of which can reduce hunger. Eat in moderation (about 1 ounce) and be sure to include their calories in your total daily count.
- True-Skipping meals can result in increased and more difficult to control hunger later in the day or even awaken us from sleep resulting in “night eating.” Eating small amounts throughout the day increases one’s metabolism resulting in a greater number of calories utilized throughout the day, higher energy and reduced hunger.
Joy, Amy, Benjamin, and I wish each of you Happy Holidays. Stay Safe and Stay Well!
Benton Baker III, M.D., FACS, FACOG
200 River Pointe, Suite 115, Conroe, TX, 77304 936-756-8446