Hello friends! Earlier this month I spent five hours a day for nine straight days peeled to my iPad watching The Truth About Weight Loss Summit, hosted by plant-based weight loss coach Chef AJ. The summit featured interviews with around 40 experts in nutrition mostly but also in exercise, behavior change, as well as food activists and a few people who shared inspiring weight loss journeys. I took pages of notes and can’t wait to share my takeaways with you in the coming months.
I’ll start today by offering ten easy-to-remember and implement nutrition tips you could use to maximize health and potentially lose weight. Because a nutrition plan that promotes health also supports healthy body weight.
First, No Foods Are “Good” or “Bad”
Some might be inclined to see these tips as dos and don’ts…or good and bad foods…or the right and wrong way to eat. In my opinion, a less rigid framework is more helpful.
No food is a “don’t” or bad or wrong. All food, whether a fresh apple from a tree or an apple pie from the McDonald’s drive-thru, serves its purpose: to give us the energy we need to live.
Categorizing food as good or bad sets us up to fail because 1) who gets to decide?; and 2) it’s too easy to make the seemingly logical leap from “good” or “bad” foods to “good” or “bad” people, depending on what we choose to eat. Life is hard enough without beating ourselves up about indulging in a treat.
Sometimes (if you’re like me) you gotta have the pie. The key is making sure that treat foods are just that, a treat.
10 Nutrition Tips for Health & Weight Loss
To achieve optimal health and to lose weight, if that’s your goal, you need to choose foods that promote health the vast majority of the time. The other 20% or so of the time it’s okay to choose foods that aren’t ideal for health when consumed in excess. (Some people do find that abstaining from certain foods entirely is a successful strategy. It really depends on what works best for the individual.)
That said, I offer these tips simply as information for you to consider as you decide which foods you want to include in your diet and in what quantities.
(Just a reminder: I’m a health coach, not a dietician and nothing in this post should be considered medical advice. Please check with your health care provider before making changes to your diet.)
Okay…remember how I said “easy-to-remember” tips above? I present to you two acronyms to help you commit these tips to memory: G-BOMBS and SOFAS.
I also highlight two concepts to keep in mind: calorie density and our brain’s reward center as it relates to food.
This term was coined by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, one of the weight-loss summit experts who I’ve been a fan of for a while now.
- are nutrient-dense, whole-plant “superfoods”
- are high in fiber and phytonutrients
- are low in caloric density (except the “S” group); and
- fight cancer and chronic disease.
Calorie density is key to weight loss, friends. Low-calorie dense foods contain fewer than 600 calories per pound. With the exception of nuts and seeds, all whole plant foods have low caloric density.
To illustrate calorie density, here are a few examples of foods, by weight, that equal 250 calories:
- 5 lbs. celery
- 2 Reese’s peanut butter cups
- 3 lbs. broccoli
- 2 T. peanut butter or oil
- 3 oranges
- 1/3 cup peanuts
As you can see, low-calorie dense foods are way more filling than high-calorie dense foods so you feel satisfied longer and end up eating less.
One of the top takeaways from the summit was that you can eat low-calorie-dense foods without restriction and lose weight without feeling hungry all the time. No counting calories or macros and no measuring food!
So let’s talk about these nutritious, delicious plant powerhouses.
100 calories per pound. High in protein, green vegetables support heart and eye health and lower the risk of diabetes and cancer. This group includes leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
150 calories per pound. Satisfying yet the lowest calorie-dense carbohydrate source (due to the high fiber content). Beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas are in this group, collectively called legumes. Eating beans lowers the risk of colon and other cancers.
180 calories per pound. The Allium family of plants (onions, leeks, garlic, chives, shallots, and scallions) contain anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
100 calories per pound (raw). Cooking mushrooms brings out more of the anti-cancer compounds. Choose white (button), cremini (baby Bella), portobello, oyster, shiitake, maitake, and reishi varieties.
200 calories per pound (average). Naturally sweet but low in sugar and packed with fiber and phytonutrients. Berries of all kinds, but especially blueberries (261 calories per pound), support brain and heart health and also have anti-cancer effects.
2400-3200 calories per pound. This group includes nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.) however seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, etc.) are higher in protein and lower in fat than nuts are and are also rich in trace minerals. Seeds and nuts, when eaten in moderation (a small handful daily) are associated with weight loss, longevity, and aid the absorption of nutrients from vegetables when eaten together.
G-BOMBS & You
You might be thinking, great…I like berries and seeds. The G-BOM part may be harder to get excited about. Greens, beans, onions, and mushrooms are not universally liked foods to say the very least. In time, all tastes can be acquired if gradually adding these foods to your diet is a change you decide to pursue.
Even if G-BOMs never become your favorite foods, you don’t need to eat large quantities to get the benefits. For example, in a recent Chinese study, women who ate at least 10 grams of fresh mushrooms each day (about one white button mushroom) had a 64% decreased risk of breast cancer!
I’m not sure who came up with this acronym but I learned about it recently from Chef AJ. I highly recommend her presentation, 7 Habits to Lose Weight and Finally Keep It Off for Good for anyone focused on weight loss whether you eat a whole food plant-based diet or not.
- are empty calories with minimal or zero nutrition
- are calorie-dense
- lack fiber (exception: “F” category)
- increase risk for chronic conditions and disease including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity
- aren’t found in nature in this form
Calorie-free. Sodium is an essential mineral our bodies need however excess sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, is dehydrating, and can leach calcium from bones. We can get enough sodium naturally from food.
4000 calories per pound. Obviously, oil isn’t going to help with weight loss. As for health, the only fats our bodies need from dietary sources are the essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6 which can be found in whole food. (Note: If vegetable oils are present in the diet, keeping the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 oils low (1:4 instead of the more typical 1:15 in the Standard American Diet) is something to work toward.)
1500 calories per pound (whole wheat). On its own, wheat flour contains some decent nutrition. In one cup you get 26% RDA for iron, 16 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber in 407 calories. The problem is that flour is often paired with sugar and oil or butter. For the same number of calories from one and a half cups of cooked chickpeas, you get 39% RDA for iron, 22 grams of protein, and 19 grams of fiber (and chickpeas even just straight out of the can are so much tastier than a cup of flour!).
Calories per pound: Beer 200; Wine 400; Vodka 1000. Alcohol isn’t going to help with weight loss or our short or long-term health and should be used in moderation if at all.
1800 calories per pound. I wish it wasn’t so (said my sweet tooth) but added sugar, in its many forms, is not our friend if we want to lose weight or achieve optimal health. Sugar causes low-grade inflammation throughout the body and is linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, all of which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. (Sugar also contributes to premature aging.)
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that you stop eating fruit! In addition to natural sugars, fruit is full of beneficial water, fiber, and phytonutrients and because of the low-calorie density of plant foods, including fruit, you’re unlikely to consume natural sugars from fruit in excess when you are eating a balanced diet.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with type 2 diabetes include fruit in their diet.
SOFAS and You
The second takeaway from the summit: If giving up foods high in SOFAS feels impossible for you in this moment it’s not your fault.
Corporate food giants have employed food scientists for decades to create foods that exploit our brain’s preference for calorie-dense foods as a means for survival when food was scarce in pre-modern humans’ environment.
There’s something called a “bliss point” in these laboratories where the perfect ratio of salt, fat, and sugar is achieved to produce the greatest dopamine boost in the reward (or pleasure) center of the brain.
In summary, corporations have designed these highly-palatable processed food-like substances to addict consumers for profit. The sicker Americans get, the richer they get.
Consuming fewer SOFAS and more G-BOMBS is a revolutionary act, people!
A few final notes for you if you’re thinking about changing behavior around the ideas I’ve covered today.
- Start small and slow. Set yourself up for success by not taking too much change on at once.
- Set SMART goals. Create goals that are specific and measurable and support your success.
- Create action goals. The A in SMART means action. This means the goal should be to do something (not not do something). If, for example, your goal is to limit salt, your goal could be “I will season food with herbs and spices before adding salt.” (I wrote a post on SMART goals and you can download a goal setting template from my home page.)
- Be on the lookout for SOFAS. Reading Nutrition Facts panels and ingredient lists on packaged foods is an essential skill to spot salt (sodium), sugar, and oil. Be especially mindful of saturated fats and trans-fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) and added sugars. Food manufacturers are now required to separate added sugar from naturally occurring sugars.
- Talk to a health coach. If you’d like help figuring out how to implement some healthy habits, around diet and/or other Lifestyle Medicine behaviors, I hope you’ll consider reaching out to schedule a Discovery Call with me. Nutrition is my favorite area of the six areas of Lifestyle Medicine and I’d love to help you!
I’d love to hear what you learned from reading today’s post and why that’s important to you. Please leave a comment below!