For many people the new year offers a fresh slate to eat a healthier diet, shed excess weight or start resistance training to build muscle strength. Commendable goals that can improve your health and longevity.
The question you might have pondered, though, is how to approach your resolution. With so much information out there, it’s easy to become confused and unsure of what to eat.
Before you overhaul your diet based on questionable nutrition and diet advice, take a moment to read the facts about five popular diet claims.
Follow a detox diet in January
December’s food and drink excesses prompt many people to embrace a restrictive diet plan to “detox” their body of holiday “toxins.”
Advocates claim that our bodies become overloaded with toxins in food, alcohol and the environment, which can trigger weight gain, fatigue and a myriad of health problems. By temporarily giving up certain foods while consuming more fibre, antioxidants and, in some cases, herbal extracts, detox plans supposedly boost the body’s natural detoxification processes.
There’s no evidence, though, that doing so speeds the removal of toxins. The healthy human body is highly efficient at removing or neutralizing toxic substances; our liver, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys and lungs are exquisitely designed for that task.
Bottom line: You’re better off eating healthy year-round instead of detoxing a few times a year. Resolve to make lasting changes, one at a time, to your eating habits.
Eat a lot more protein to build muscle
If strength training is on your resolution list, you might be tempted to crank up your protein intake. That makes sense since protein-rich foods such as meat, eggs and tofu supply amino acids, the building blocks used to repair and build muscles after exercise.
According to a 2018 McMaster University review of 49 studies involving men and women, young and old, there’s a limit to how much protein your muscles can use.
The sweet spot for adding muscle and building strength when resistance training: 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Consuming more protein didn’t offer additional muscle benefits.
For a 180-pound (82 kg) male, that’s 130 g of protein a day – equivalent to eating 10 ounces of fish, chicken or lean meat, one cup of Greek yogurt, one scoop of protein powder and two cups of vegetables each day.
Bottom line: Consume 20 to 30 g of protein after a strength workout and divide the rest evenly over three meals.
Avoid eating fruit to lose weight
The naturally occurring sugar (fructose) in fruit comes packaged with fibre, vitamin, minerals, antioxidants and protective phytochemicals. That’s very different than the refined sugar that’s added to processed foods.
Bottom line: Include at least two fruit servings in your diet each day to increase your intake of fibre, vitamin C, folate, potassium and disease-fighting flavonoids. Cut excess calories from added sugars and/or refined (white) starchy foods.
Vitamin supplements are useless
Study findings that multivitamins don’t protect against heart disease or cancer has led some experts to contend that supplements are a waste of money. Yet, vitamin and mineral supplements aren’t meant to ward off disease; they’re intended to bridge nutrient gaps in your diet.
It’s not always possible to get all the nutrients you need from foods alone. If you regularly skip meals, eat a low-calorie diet or have a health condition or take medications that interfere with nutrient absorption, you may benefit from a nutrition supplement.
And last month, a large randomized controlled trial conducted in healthy adults, called VITAL, found that taking a fish oil (omega-3) supplement reduced the risk of heart attack in people who rarely ate fish.
Bottom line: Consult your dietitian or health-care provider to find out if you could benefit by taking a supplement.
Regular exercise beats diet for losing weight
It takes a lot of exercise to generate a calorie deficit large enough to affect the bathroom scale.
For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, it takes roughly 35 minutes of jogging, 75 minutes of brisk walking or 110 minutes of weightlifting to burn 500 calories, something you’d need to do every day to lose one pound each week.
Cutting calories from food has a bigger impact on weight loss since it’s relatively easier to eat smaller portions, limit desserts and so on.
Adding resistance training to your weight loss program, however, will help prevent muscle loss that’s associated with dieting. The amount of muscle you have is the biggest contributor to your resting metabolism, the number of calories the body burns each day to carry out basic functions such as breathing, keeping your heart beating and repairing cells.
Bottom line: The best approach to weight loss is a combination of diet and exercise. When it comes to maintaining a weight loss, include exercise in your regime.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.
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