According to nytimes.com, the average person puts on one pound during the holiday season. Sensational claims of five to tens pounds of fat gain during the holiday season turn out to be greatly exaggerated …
However, this is still bad news. Here’s why: according to another report in the New England Journal of Medicine, most people never lose that pound … which means the holiday season is a major contributor to midlife weight gain.
The easy solution? Watch your diet and keep working out 🙂 But possibly easier said than done …
Here’s an alternative approach: Go ‘low carb’ this holiday season. Given the typical spread, it’s a good choice – you’ll still get to enjoy many traditional holiday dishes while keeping your diet in check.
‘Low carb’ diets have mixed reviews at best and there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding them … so I have two articles to share with you today to get you going. The first, ‘Low Carb Diet Lingo’, goes into futher detail about exactly what the phrase ‘low carb’ means and what a low carb diet looks like. The second, ‘The Holiday Meal We All Hate To Love’, gives you some tips for healthy holiday low carb eating.
This is a pretty long post, but it’s got lots of good info … if you want to give the low carb plan a go this holiday season, you might even want to print it out so you’ll have it handy for reference.
Low Carb Diet Lingo
In order to understand today’s diet talk, you have to understand the phrase low-carb. Even though these types of diets have been around for a long, long time, there seems to be a new interest. It could be due to new books coming out, or possibly revised editions of popular diet books from years past. Whatever the reason, low carb, slow carb, or low glycemic diets are getting a lot of attention. Let’s take a look at the basics of what a low carb diet looks like.
Low Carb v. Slow Carb
Even though the most popular diets include one or the other term, you can use them interchangeably, to some degree. Even the lowest of low-carb diet phases includes some carbs in the form of vegetables, typically. As a matter of fact, a certain portion of carbs must come from vegetables, with no exception. No respectable weight-loss program can truly support an absolutely carb-free diet. Carbohydrates are essential for a healthy body, even during weight-loss.
Slow-carb is just another way of saying that you need to ingest carbs that are slow burning, such as vegetables, and even some fruit. Fast burning carbs would include processed breads and pastas, for instance. These are the carbs that give a quick sugar boost, then drop just as quickly.
Not all carbs, even slow burning carbs, are created equal. Some low or slow carb diets recommend staying away from some vegetables they consider high in sugar, such as corn or peas, especially during the first phases. The same is true for dried beans and other protein rich foods that also are considered higher in carbs.
When comparing lists of acceptable foods on any low carb diet, you’ll see differences. You’ll also see differences in what levels of carbs are going to result in weight loss, and where those carbs should come from. In some diets, even slow burning carbs like dried beans are forbidden in the first phases. In other diets, all carbs, as long as they are slow burning carbs, are just fine.
This is not simple, but it is all a matter of opinion, personal preference, and what works for you. If you’ve been on a diet that includes such slow burning carbs as brown rice, black beans, and quinoa, and haven’t seen any results, this diet may not be for you. Individuals process carbs differently. Simply following a diet according to a low-glycemic index (the amount of carbs in a food) may not be what you need to lose weight, or it may be, but it’s a good way to start understanding how your body processes carbohydrates.
The Protein Process
Years ago, people were going on all sorts of vegetable and fruit only diets. Then there were the whole grain diets. None of those diets are part of our vernacular today, but the diets that are high in protein and low in fast-burning carbs are. Protein is essential for building muscle, which burns fat, and keeps us strong. Protein is a building block, just like other nutrients we know to be essential.
No matter which diet you follow today, if it includes a balanced approach to good sources of protein and carbohydrates, it is most likely a respectable weight-loss program. Human beings cannot live on protein alone, nor does any proper diet developed by a health professional suggest otherwise.
There was, actually, a myth around high protein, low carb diets for years. Nowhere in the mainstream market of dieting did a protein-only method for weight-loss exist. Even one of the most popular diets for decades that suggested adding more servings of proteins at every meal, actually formed the basis of their diet on ingesting more vegetables than protein. People got seriously ill, even fatally ill, by eating only protein, but this approach was never approved or suggested by any mainstream diet.
Eating a diet that’s rich in protein is not difficult for the most part. Protein from many sources, including dairy products, eggs, cheese, meat, poultry, and seafood is suggested in most low-carb diets. Because most proteins are also low carb, or no carb, it makes sense to eat a lot of these foods when on a low-carb diet. And because it’s almost impossible to over-indulge in protein, it’s a safe bet that you will practice portion control more easily.
It’s rare to see a person eat a whole roasted chicken, but a huge plate of pasta can disappear quite easily at one sitting. The diet systems may vary in exactly how much and which sources you should get the majority of your protein, but most well-respected diets include a good portion of protein each day, balanced with a variety of healthy carbs.
The Fat Fact
This seems to be where the division lies in many low-carb diets. Some diet plans say simply that you can’t get “fat from fat.” Other diet plans are so concerned with fat intake that they allow more carbohydrates if it means avoiding fat, as is the case with most ‘lite’ foods. If you check the labels, you’ll often find that “low fat,” “reduced fat,” and “light or lite” means added sugars to tweak the flavor.
The reason is simple; fat is flavor. That’s why one mainstream low-carb diet recommends eating regular, full fat foods, such as regular mayonnaise, sour cream, and even whole milk or heavy cream. While other low-carb diets have fats restricted by eating only fat-reduced dairy, dressings, etc.
The debate over fat is not easily settled. Fat is essential to your body’s, including your brain’s, health. Fat gives food flavor. Fat also makes you feel full. Without fat in your diet, your body will suffer. However, it’s also important to remember that it’s the type of fat you eat that matters. Fat that naturally occurs in nuts and avocados, for instance, are considered by most diets as essential elements. Added fats for cooking and serving foods, such as olive oil, are often included in healthy fats, but not in all stages of all diets. It all depends on which diet you’re following. Clear as mud, right?
So what is the truth? Should you eat whole grains and black beans on a low carb diet or stick to celery and broccoli? How much protein is enough protein? Should you eat eggs fried in olive oil or poached in water? Are fats good or bad for you?
The fact is, the answer is different for different people. Some people respond very well to a high protein diet with added fat, while others simply don’t. Some people lose weight eating a diet that’s rich in whole grains, while other people gain weight. The best thing anyone can do is get all the information, then use your own common sense to decide what works for you. Keep a journal as you add and subtract foods from your diet, then do what works best for you.
The Holiday Meal We All Hate To Love
Many of us can trace our love for carbs right back to the holiday meals. From the breaded stuffing to the creamy green bean casserole to the sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows to the mounds of buttery dinner rolls, each dish outdid the next in a serious attempt at getting us almost immobile. The holiday meal was a text-book case for carb-loading; a meal any marathoner would be happy to eat. But, we went from the table to the couch, rarely burning off any of the carbs we ingested. When did all this over-indulgence happen?
The Classic Holiday Feast
Imagine the classic holiday feast … what do you see on the table? Well, first you notice the turkey. If you look closely, you’ll notice the turkey is huge, and in fact, Grandma is probably struggling trying to hold it up like that. The bird in that picture probably weighs about twenty to twenty five pounds. Take a look at that picture one more time. That turkey is almost as big as Grandma!
But, what else do you notice about that picture. Look at the table. It’s not crammed with creamy casseroles, piles of sweet potatoes, corn oyster bakes, or cheesy macaroni. You would probably find the mashed potatoes in the covered casserole, but that’s a bare minimum compared to today’s holiday spread. Yes, it appears the masterpiece, the star of the table, was most definitely the turkey. You’ll see a few celery sticks, pickles, cranberry sauce, and some fruit on the table. So, a typical holiday table during, for example, World War II was a huge, protein packed, low carb feast.
So, when did things turn to the carb-fest we have today? We can’t exactly be sure, but with many changes in consumerism, we can trace a ‘boom’ in consuming to post World War II. Families grew, and right along with the growth of families came a growth of meals. Kitchens were becoming more modern and cooking was becoming easier. More prepackaged foods became available. The post World War II home meant Mom in the kitchen cooking big meals for a big family. The holiday table grew along with the family.
We went from a high protein holiday meal, featuring a lean, nutritious bird, with a few sides straight from the garden, to a meal of shrinking protein and increasing carbohydrates in the form of creamy, sugary vegetables and fruits. In lieu of a serving of baked sweet potatoes, we laced them with sugar, maple syrup, and a marshmallow topping. Our blanched green beans turned into a canned soup and french fried onion delight. Our tastes changed, and so did our expectations.
Over the years, we have developed a litany of side dishes that have taken center stage, or table, in place of the turkey. As we complain about our expanding waists, we dream of those beautiful holiday tables.
Oh, yes, the holiday meal is our most guilty pleasure – and we hate to love it, but we do so love it. So, now what? How can we get back to the Norman Rockwell table, rich in protein and healthy carbs?
Go Back to the Farm
It’s often said that in order to eat healthy, shop the perimeters of the grocery store. Stick to the produce and protein and you can’t go wrong. The trouble starts when you move into the center of the store where you’ll find the packaged, processed foods. Take that one step further and I say stick to the farm.
If you want to go back to the classic holiday table, you’ll need to think only of what is produced on the farm. Whether it’s grown in the garden or the pens, hunted or fished, the closer you eat to what is in and of the earth, the healthier your diet will be. Eating low carb usually means eating whole foods in a state closest to natural. In other words, unprocessed or lightly processed foods are best. Even foods that aren’t necessarily considered low carb, such as bread, can be enjoyed in small quantities if it is mostly made of whole, unprocessed grains.
Plentiful protein is another basis for a low carb diet. That is not to say that you should eat only protein or mostly protein. A low carb diet requires a good amount of fiber-rich vegetables, but protein is considered essential as well. As a matter of fact, protein, and the fats that are naturally occurring in protein sources are not only necessary to feel full, but are also necessary for overall health.
When families relied on the farm for their food supply, it was not uncommon to have two or three chickens, ducks, geese, or turkeys on the table for a large meal. The meal was then rounded out with a nice supply of vegetables, greens, fruits, or berries from the gardens and surrounding grounds. But creamy casserole style concoctions were not common. Instead, cream, butter, and cheese were saved for special touches, like desserts.
Look at your holiday menu this year. Are you relying too heavily on the traditions handed down from our post World War II atmosphere of bigger is better when it comes to the family meal? Are your favorite carb-rich dishes going to ruin your efforts at dieting this holiday season? You won’t miss your traditional dishes if you replace them with plenty of good, wholesome, flavorful foods. Make this the holiday season you finally stick to your diet and feel great about doing it.
P.S. If you liked this post, keep an eye out … I’ve put together a special ‘holiday fat zapper’ package with a full-blown low carb meal plan, fast and effective workout routine, and more … I’ll have more details for you in the next couple of days. Happy holidays!