So, you’re trying to lose weight. Are you doing it the RIGHT way? Too many women resort to drastic calorie cutting in hopes of losing body fat quickly, sometimes too quickly. Such an all-out, calorie-restrictive approach can backfire. We could all take a lesson from the television show The Biggest Loser. The participants trimmed calories from their diets, consuming around 1500 calories per day in combination with up to four hours of exercise daily. Sure, they lost weight. However, a study showed that the overwhelming majority regained the weight they lost and some ended up heavier than they were before going on the show.
Knocking your calories down too low, especially when you’re also exercising hard won’t serve you well longer term. Regardless of how much weight you intend to lose, the nutritional content of your diet matters. If you’re trying to shed a few pounds, focus on boosting the nutrient to calorie ratio of your diet so that you get the most nutritional benefits out of every calorie you eat or drink. Here are seven ways to boost your nutrient content to calorie ratio.
Nutrient Content Boost: Eliminate Sugar
If there’s one dietary component that will turn your nutrient to calorie ratio south, it’s sugar. No wonder! A tablespoon of sugar has 48 calories and NO nutritional value. That’s right. Sugar is completely devoid of nutrients. Plus, when you eat sugar, it raises your blood sugar and insulin level more than a fiber-rich, whole food meal would. When insulin levels are higher and insulin hangs around in your system longer, it keeps your body from using fat as a fuel source. So, you essentially “put the brakes” on fat loss without supplying your body with the nutrients it needs. Don’t waste your calories on a dietary component that offers no nutritional benefits and is detrimental to your health and fat loss.
Nutrient Content Boost: Add Spices to Your Meals
Spices contain small quantities of B-vitamins and trace minerals, such as iron, but the real reason to add them to your recipes is the antioxidants they contain. In fact, spices are a more concentrated source of antioxidants by weight than fruits and vegetables. Tumeric, ginger, and garlic are best known for their anti-inflammatory activity. Plus, garlic is a heart-healthy spice that helps lower blood pressure. It also reduces cholesterol and prevents platelets from clumping together to form a clot. Cinnamon is a good addition to coffee or hot cereal in the morning as it helps with blood sugar control. With spices, you’re getting antioxidants and health benefits without adding calories. Plus, if you use potent spices, like capsaicin, you’ll likely eat less as well. Be liberal with the spices!
Nutrient Content Boost: Fall in Love with Greens
Greens are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can add to your plate – and they’re also very low in calories. Green, leafy vegetables are rich in many of the vitamins and minerals your body needs for good health, including folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and calcium.
In one study, researchers calculated nutrient density scores for 47 foods based on the percentage of 17 nutrients each food contained. At the top of the list was a green, leafy vegetable most of us eat little of – watercress. Watercress is extremely low in calories (a cup has 4 calories) but is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin C. In addition, it contains substantial quantities of cell-protective antioxidants. One study showed that watercress protects DNA against the type of damage that can lead to cancer. In reality, you can’t go wrong with any green, leafy vegetable. They’re a powerhouse of nutrients and antioxidants, despite being low in calories.
Nutrient Content Boost: Eat Raw Vegetables
Raw foodies argue that you absorb more nutrients when you eat vegetables in their uncooked state. That’s not always true. For example, you absorb more of the lycopene from tomatoes when they’re heated or processed. The same is true of carrots – heat makes the beta-carotene in carrots more available to your body. However, cooking does destroy vitamin C as well as some B vitamins, mainly folate, and thiamine. To boost the vitamin C content of your diet, eat some of your vegetables raw and, for vitamin C, add berries to your diet. Fruit is a more reliable source of vitamin C since you eat it raw. Make sure you’re eating raw AND cooked veggies to maximize the nutrients your body gets.
Nutrient Content Boost: Enjoy More Fermented Foods
Fermented foods contain gut-friendly bacteria that not only keep your gut healthy but aid in nutrient absorption. For example, some research shows probiotic bacteria boost calcium absorption. In addition, gut-friendly bacteria synthesize some vitamins, like vitamin K and vitamin B12.
What are some sources of fermented foods? We think of fermented dairy, like yogurt and kefir, as being the best sources of probiotics. However, fermented vegetables contain a diversity of gut-friendly bacteria and you also get the fiber and phytochemicals that veggies offer as well.
Nutrient Content Boost: Focus on Color
You’ve heard the expression, “eat the rainbow” so many times that it’s etched in your brain – but there’s wisdom in those words. Of course, it only applies to whole foods – not gummy bears. The more colors you choose from the produce department, the wider the diversity of micronutrients you’ll take in. Plus, fruits and vegetables are low in calories, despite their nutrient density.
Nutrient Content Boost: Watch What You Drink
Make sure what you’re washing your food down with is a healthy choice as well. Needless to say, soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages shouldn’t be part of the line-up. Instead, explore the wonderful world of tea. Green tea and white tea are among the most antioxidant-rich foods available and they’re free of calories. While black tea contains fewer catechin antioxidants, it is rich in theaflavins, another type of antioxidant which also has health benefits.
The Bottom Line
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t compromise on the nutritional value of the foods you eat. Choose foods that have a high nutrient to calorie ratio – whole foods in their natural state rather than packaged foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce. Nutrients matter – so make sure you’re getting enough.
Am J Clin Nutr February 2007. vol. 85 no. 2 504-510.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You”
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