Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds

healthyfoods

Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that the standard prescription for weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories you consume.

But a new study, published Tuesday in JAMA, may turn that advice on its head. It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.

The strategy worked for people whether they followed diets that were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. And their success did not appear to be influenced by their genetics or their insulin-response to carbohydrates, a finding that casts doubt on the increasingly popular idea that different diets should be recommended to people based on their DNA makeup or on their tolerance for carbs or fat.

The research lends strong support to the notion that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run. It also suggests that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage Americans to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“This is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States,” said Dr. Mozaffarian, who was not involved in the new study. “It’s time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting.”

The new research was published in JAMA and led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It was a large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups.

Dr. Gardner and his colleagues designed the study to compare how overweight and obese people would fare on low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. But they also wanted to test the hypothesis — suggested by previous studies — that some people are predisposed to do better on one diet over the other depending on their genetics and their ability to metabolize carbs and fat. A growing number of services have capitalized on this idea by offering people personalized nutrition advice tailored to their genotypes.

The researchers recruited adults from the Bay Area and split them into two diet groups, which were called “healthy” low carb and “healthy” low fat. Members of both groups attended classes with dietitians where they were trained to eat nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods, cooked at home whenever possible.

Soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread are technically low in fat, for example, but the low-fat group was told to avoid those things and eat foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, fresh fruit and legumes. The low-carb group was trained to choose nutritious foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods.

The participants were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity but did not generally increase their exercise levels, Dr. Gardner said. In classes with the dietitians, most of the time was spent discussing food and behavioral strategies to support their dietary changes.

The new study stands apart from many previous weight-loss trials because it did not set extremely restrictive carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits on people and emphasized that they focus on eating whole or “real” foods — as much as they needed to avoid feeling hungry.

“The unique thing is that we didn’t ever set a number for them to follow,” Dr. Gardner said.

Of course, many dieters regain what they lose, and this study cannot establish whether participants will be able to sustain their new habits. While people on average lost a significant amount of weight in the study, there was also wide variability in both groups. Some people gained weight, and some lost as much as 50 to 60 pounds. Dr. Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight reported that the study had “changed their relationship with food.” They no longer ate in their cars or in front of their television screens, and they were cooking more at home and sitting down to eat dinner with their families, for example.

“We really stressed to both groups again and again that we wanted them to eat high-quality foods,” Dr. Gardner said. “We told them all that we wanted them to minimize added sugar and refined grains and eat more vegetables and whole foods. We said, ‘Don’t go out and buy a low-fat brownie just because it says low fat. And those low-carb chips — don’t buy them, because they’re still chips and that’s gaming the system.’”

Dr. Gardner said many of the people in the study were surprised — and relieved — that they did not have to restrict or even think about calories.

“A couple weeks into the study people were asking when we were going to tell them how many calories to cut back on,” he said. “And months into the study they said, ‘Thank you! We’ve had to do that so many times in the past.’”

Calorie counting has long been ingrained in the prevailing nutrition and weight loss advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, tells people who are trying to lose weight to “write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day,” while making an effort to restrict the amount of calories they eat and increasing the amount of calories they burn through physical activity.

“Weight management is all about balancing the number of calories you take in with the number your body uses or burns off,” the agency says.

Yet the new study found that after one year of focusing on food quality, not calories, the two groups lost substantial amounts of weight. On average, the members of the low-carb group lost just over 13 pounds, while those in the low-fat group lost about 11.7 pounds. Both groups also saw improvements in other health markers, like reductions in their waist sizes, body fat, and blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

The researchers took DNA samples from each subject and analyzed a group of genetic variants that influence fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Ultimately the subjects’ genotypes did not appear to influence their responses to the diets.

The researchers also looked at whether people who secreted higher levels of insulin in response to carbohydrate intake — a barometer of insulin resistance — did better on the low-carb diet. Surprisingly, they did not, Dr. Gardner said, which was somewhat disappointing.

“It would have been sweet to say we have a simple clinical test that will point out whether you’re insulin resistant or not and whether you should eat more or less carbs,” he added.

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study did not support a “precision medicine” approach to nutrition, but that future studies would be likely to look at many other genetic factors that could be significant. He said the most important message of the study was that a “high quality diet” produced substantial weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs did not matter, which is consistent with other studies, including many that show that eating healthy fats and carbs can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

“The bottom line: Diet quality is important for both weight control and long-term well-being,” he said.

Dr. Gardner said it is not that calories don’t matter. After all, both groups ultimately ended up consuming fewer calories on average by the end of the study, even though they were not conscious of it. The point is that they did this by focusing on nutritious whole foods that satisfied their hunger. “I think one place we go wrong is telling people to figure out how many calories they eat and then telling them to cut back on 500 calories, which makes them miserable,” he said. “We really need to focus on that foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains.”

— From the New York Times, February 20, 2018

Chia Seed Pudding

overnight oats with Greek yogurt, Chia seeds and banana

Chia seeds were discovered more than 5,000 years ago and were a staple in the Aztec and Mayan diets. It’s no wonder they have stuck around for so long — they are a nutrition powerhouse! One 2-tablespoon serving provides 190 calories, 4 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams fiber and 9 grams fat, along with numerous vitamins and minerals.

Here are three ways to enjoy chia seeds as a pudding for a brain-boosting breakfast, light lunch or snack! Each recipes makes one serving.

Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding
Ingredients
2 tablespoons chia seeds
½ cup unsweetened almond milk (or other unsweetened milk)
Dash of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple syrup, honey or agave
Optional toppings: sliced kiwi, strawberries or any combination of fruit

Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
Ingredients
2 tablespoons chia seeds
½ cup unsweetened almond milk (or other unsweetened milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Optional toppings: 1 to 2 tablespoons trail mix for an extra protein boost; sliced strawberries and/or banana

Peanut Protein Banana Chia Seed Pudding
Ingredients
2 tablespoons chia seeds
½ cup unsweetened almond milk (or other unsweetened milk)
1 teaspoon maple syrup, honey or agave
1 banana, separated — ½ mashed in recipe, other ½ sliced on top
1 to 2 tablespoons peanut protein powder
Optional toppings: cacao nibs and sliced strawberries

Directions for all recipes

1. Place all ingredients except toppings in a medium-sized jar and stir to combine.
2. Cover with lid and place in refrigerator overnight.
3. Remove lid and stir — should be a pudding-like consistency.
4. Top with optional ingredients. Enjoy!

Quick Guide to Nutritious Meals

family-cooking-large

Planning saves time and allows the opportunity to pack the family meal with an extra nutritional punch. Before you make your shopping list and head to the grocery store, consider the following criteria for healthier options:

  • Include at least one selection from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein foods.
  • Limit foods that are fried or highly refined.
  • Incorporate high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds.

Here is a balanced and nutritious dinner that the entire family will love: Mediterranean chicken breast (a boneless, skinless chicken breast baked for 20 minutes with lemon juice, a pinch of oregano and topped with feta cheese); steamed broccoli; brown rice; low-fat vanilla yogurt topped with fresh berries; and a glass of water.

Make Meals a Family Affair

Even if in a rush, families still can work together for speedy meal preparation: adults can be in charge of the entrée, older kids can prepare a salad and little ones can help set the table.
Finally, to make the most of your family meals, make conversation part of the dining experience and reduce distractions by turning off the TV and phones and tuning into your loved ones.

When You Don’t Have Time for Homemade

If you don’t have time to whip up a homemade meal, you still can enjoy all the benefits of a nutritious family dinner. Here are four speedy meals you can prepare without breaking a sweat.

  • Frozen ravioli with store-bought sauce and a salad. A well-stocked pantry and freezer can go a long way in cutting down on last minute trips to the supermarket. Fill your pantry with go-to ingredients such as your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce, whole-wheat pasta and polenta, and load your freezer with different varieties of frozen ravioli, stuffed shells or manicotti. A healthful dinner will never be more than 20 minutes away.
  • Rotisserie chicken, frozen mashed potatoes and peas. When it comes to frozen veggies you can lose the guilt. Because they’re flash frozen within hours of harvesting, frozen vegetables actually may have more nutrients than fresh which can sit at the store for days. Plus, they’re ready in the microwave or on the stovetop in minutes. In addition to peas, load up on edamame, carrots, corn, chopped spinach and even mashed potatoes.
  • Veggie burgers with a cucumber salad. A vegetarian meal doesn’t have to mean hours slaving over the stove. Keep staples such as veggie burgers and whole-wheat buns on hand for a meatless meal you can throw together on the fly. Serve with sliced cucumbers drizzled with your favorite light vinaigrette dressing.
  • Grilled chicken Caesar salad with French bread. For a convenience meal that feels homemade, slice up store-bought grilled chicken breasts and toss with hearts of romaine and light Caesar dressing. If you have a few minutes to spare, bake up frozen whole-wheat dinner rolls or French bread and the house will smell like you’ve been baking all afternoon.

How to Meal-Prep 5 Mediterranean Lunches for the Week in Under an Hour

quinoa salad

Pictured Recipe: Roasted Veggie & Quinoa Salad

What’s not to love about meal prep? It’s budget-friendly, helps you stick to your diet, and saves you lots of time during the week. In this meal-prep meal plan, we walk you through four super-simple base recipes that come together to create delicious Mediterranean-style lunches for the work week. And the best part yet—all of the prep work can be done in under an hour. We already mapped out the prep plan for you (shopping list included!), and came up with some simple recipe ideas to create for the week (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the ideas).

Make these ahead on Sunday:

Best Poached Chicken

Sheet Pan Roasted Root Vegetables

Basic Quinoa

Herb Vinaigrette

Shopping List

Download the shopping list here! We added a few extra shopping list items, like canned chickpeas and hummus, which we use in the meal ideas at the bottom of the page. Depending on how many people you are meal prepping for, you may need to adjust the recipes to account for more or fewer servings. If you end up making more than you need, use the leftovers for dinner this week.

Why Mediterranean?
The Mediterranean diet has long been recognized as one of the healthiest and most delicious ways to eat. It’s an uncomplicated and easy-to-follow way of eating—simply include plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats (like olive oil and the healthy fat you get from salmon), whole grains (like quinoa), beans and legumes, lean protein and calcium-rich dairy items.

Let’s Get Started!
Work backwards and start with the recipe that takes the longest to prepare. While things are cooking, you can prep the other menu items. Start by preheating the oven to 450 degrees F for the Sheet Pan Roasted Root Vegetables.

Step 1: Prepare the Best Poached Chicken
Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes

This simple poached chicken recipe has crazy-good flavor. The secret is using bone-in breasts and adding white wine and herbs to the poaching liquid. Don’t eat meat? Skip this step and move onto Step 3. We included vegan and vegetarian lunch ideas at the bottom of the page.

Meal-Prep Tips:
• Shred or chop the chicken while it is still slightly warm. It is harder to pull the meat apart after it’s been refrigerated.
• Don’t throw out that poaching liquid! Strain the leftover poaching liquid and use it as you would low-sodium chicken broth in any recipe for an extra boost of flavor. Store it in the fridge for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.
• Super-Fast Meal Prep: Pick up pre-cooked chicken breast or a rotisserie chicken at your grocery deli.

Step 2: Prepare the Sheet Pan Roasted Root Vegetables
Prep time: 10 Minutes | Cook time: 30-40 minutes

While the chicken is simmering, start to prep your veggies. This simple recipe is the perfect example of the Mediterranean diet. Fresh ingredients, plus olive oil and a little salt and pepper are all you need to make a mouthwatering heap of nutritious, tender and colorful root vegetables. This recipe makes enough for lunch this week, plus leftovers for dinner. Don’t need that much veg? This recipe is easy to cut in half.

Meal Prep Tips:
• When batch cooking vegetables, use ones that have a similar cook time so you don’t end up with some veggies that are still raw, while others are cooked to death. Some good combos include…
• Summer Squash + Green Beans + Cherry Tomatoes
• Zucchini + Corn + Bell Peppers
• Beets + Potatoes + Fennel
• Super Fast Meal Prep: Pick up pre-chopped vegetables from the produce section of your grocery store.

Step 3: Prepare the Basic Quinoa
Prep time: 5 Minutes | Cook time: 15-20 minutes

While the veggies are roasting, prepare your quinoa. This foolproof recipe for perfectly cooked quinoa is fast and easy! This high-protein, fiber-rich grain will help give your meal more satisfying staying power.

Meal Prep Tips:
• Quick cooking whole grains like quinoa and whole-wheat couscous are great go-to options for fast meal prep. When cooking grains with a longer cook time, like brown rice or farro, make extra and freeze the leftovers.
• Super-Fast Meal Prep: Buy pre-cooked rice from the grocery store for even faster meal prep.

Step 4: Prepare the Herb Vinaigrette
Prep time: 10 Minutes

While the quinoa is cooking, make your dressing. This fresh herb vinaigrette dressing recipe calls to use whatever herbs you have on hand, so it’s versatile and excitingly new each time you make it. If you want to make this recipe vegetarian, skip the chicken broth and use veggie broth or water instead.

Meal Prep Tips:
• Save yourself from washing a dish by making your vinaigrettes and dressings right in a mason jar. Just add the ingredients and shake to combine.
• Try packing your salads in a mason jar! Watch how to make the perfect mason jar salad.

Step 5: Assemble Your Lunches!
You can either build all five of your lunches now and place in separate storage containers, or store the four base recipes separately and build your lunches as you need them. For the salad recipes, wait till the night before to add the greens so you don’t end up with wilted salad.

Chicken, Quinoa & Veggie Bowl

1/2 cup quinoa + 3/4 cup chicken + 1 cup roasted veggies + 1-2 Tbsp. vinaigrette
(= 342 calories, 19 g protein, 5 g fiber)
To jazz it up even more: add fresh crumbled feta or goat cheese and sunflower seeds

Roasted Veggie & Quinoa Salad

2 cups mixed greens + 1 cup roasted veggies + 1/2 cup quinoa + 1 Tbsp. crumbled feta + 1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds + 1-2 Tbsp. vinaigrette
(= 355 calories, 10 g protein, 9 g fiber)
To jazz it up even more: serve with a side of toasted pita bread and hummus

Roasted Veggie & Hummus Pita Pocket

1 whole-wheat pita + 4 Tbsp. hummus + 1/2 cup roasted veggies + 1/2 cup mixed greens + 1 Tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
(= 357 calories, 14 g protein, 10 g fiber)
Cut the pita in half and spread hummus inside both pita pockets. Roughly chop the veggies and add both the veggies and mixed greens to each pita half
To jazz it up even more: add a dash of hot sauce for a spicy kick

Loaded Mediterranean Chicken-Quinoa Salad

1/2 cup quinoa + 3/4 cup chicken + 1 cup roasted veggies + 1/4 avocado, sliced + 1 Tbsp. crumbled feta cheese + 1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds + 1-2 Tbsp. vinaigrette
(= 499 calories, 23 g protein, 10 g fiber)

Vegetarian Chickpea & Veggie Grain Bowl

Add 1 cup quinoa + 1 cup mixed greens + 1 cup roasted veggies + 1/4 cup chickpeas + 1 Tbsp. crumbled feta
(= 303 calories, 10 g protein, 9 g fiber)
To jazz it up even more: add sunflower seeds or a dollop of garlic-flavored hummus