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Friday, January 7, 2011

Obesity and Protein Needs

Grain products: rich sources of complex and si...Image via Wikipedia
By Jim Duffy

The number of people who are medically defined as being obese (which is weighing more than 20% over their ideal weight) is near 34 million in the United States alone. (Source: ) The number of people who are currently on, have recently completed, have given up on or are about to kick off a diet of any kind is 20 million at any given time, and they spend around one billion dollars every year on fitness and nutrition plans, pills, supplements and equipment. (Source:

During their diet plans, these dieters will try the no carb, low carb and slow carb food plans. They will try to avoid all fats, only to find that they are failing miserably. They will try high protein or even extremely high protein diets, only to fail at that as well. In the end, they will turn to skipping meals and not eating at all or will try using liquid diet plans. None of these will work, but why?

- The body needs food to survive, in the right amounts and the right types. This includes all three of the nutrients: carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

- A liquid diet is difficult to sustain for the long term and may be more harmful than it would be beneficial.

- Skipping meals can cause your body to gain weight because of its effect on the metabolism and thermogenesis.

- Balancing all of the nutrients in the correct proportion is more important than not eating at all.

- It is important to know what your needs are before starting a plan of any kind and to discuss that plan with a doctor, a registered dietician or a nutritionist.

The Importance of Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats

The body uses all three of the macronutrients for different purposes. Fat and carbohydrates are burned by the body for energy and other uses. Protein can also be used for energy, but also has many other tasks to complete within the body since it is a vital component of every single cell in the body. Protein's functions include:

- Building and repairing cells, including those that make up RNA and DNA, the building blocks of life itself.

- Making enzymes which are used to digest food and make new cells.

- Making other chemicals which are used to make neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are used by the body to send nerve related messages around the body.

- Helping to create and maintain connective tissue.

- Building cell membranes.

- Contributing to the cell matrix.

- Maintaining the fluid balance in the body (too much fluid can lead to edema or may cause heart disturbances, too little can cause dehydration.)

- Regulating the acid/base (pH) balance of the blood

- Working in the formation of hormones and enzymes (with the exception of the 8 amino acids that must be received from food sources every day.)

- Contributing to the immune system (antibodies are proteins.)

- Some of the hormones and enzymes created by protein in the body work to regulate sleep, digestion and ovulation.

(Source: Nelson 2009)

A Liquid Diet for the Long Term?

Will you lose weight on an all liquid diet? It depends on a number of factors. First, if you are consuming enough calories of the right kinds, it is possible that you will lose some weight, however, after a brief period of success, the body will overrule most people's intentions and they will begin to eat (possibly gorge themselves on) solid foods once again. At this point, they are likely not only to gain back everything that they had lost, but to gain additional weight as well. Liquid diets are difficult to manage in the long term but can serve as a great way to kick off or jumpstart a healthier eating plan. There are a number of problems with an all liquid diet, which include:

- Slowed or stalled metabolism. Your body will become convinced that it is starving and will hold onto all foods instead of burning them for energy.

- Amenorrhea. This is cessation of menstrual cycles not related to pregnancy.

- Constipation. It may seem strange that you would be constipated when on an all liquid diet, however, there is no food for the body to push through the system, which can lead to waste materials backing up.

- High protein, liquid diets can lead to serious electrolyte imbalances that can affect the beating and rhythm of the heart.

- 25% or more of those on long term liquid diets develop gall stones, especially those that are at all prone to them.

(Sources: www.colombianet.isource/winter95/diet.html, Vanderbilt University Psychology Department, Cicely Richards)

Skipping Meals and Weight Gain

When you start skipping meals or reduce your calories below what is right for your body and activity level, your body goes into panic mode and holds onto all food. Your body is programmed with a number of signals. When it is hungry, it sends out the signal with the hunger hormone ghrelin, and most people will respond by eating. When the body thinks that it is full, it will send out the satiety hormone, leptin. (Some people are deficient in leptin, which is why they eat far more than they need to but still feel hungry). When the body sends out ghrelin but no food is delivered, it will send out a secondary signal for the body to burn some of the reserves for energy. However, the body will start getting the feeling that no food is ever going to be delivered and will start slowing down what it considers to be non-essential activities, including metabolism. Everything that is eaten will be stored immediately, leading to further weight gain.

All Things in Balance

There are three macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates and proteins. Despite some of the recent diet plans that gained popularity, all three of these are needed in the healthy diet, but in the right amounts and the right types. Fats should make up the smallest portion of the diet and should be the healthy, monounsaturated varieties. Healthy fats include olive oil, avocadoes and Omega-3 fatty acids. Carbohydrates should make up the largest part of the diet, but should also be of the right kind. Complex carbohydrates, like those in most fruits and vegetables and whole grain pastas and breads, take longer for the body to break down and digest and are less likely to lead to insulin surges, which are one of the leading causes of weight gain. Simple carbohydrates, like white bread and sugary foods, can cause the body to flood with insulin, which will lead to weight gain.

Proteins must be of the right type as well or the body will continue to eat until it gets what it needs. The body has a set type of protein that it needs for each task in the body, and if those foods are not received, it will continue to seek food, leading to possible weight gain. If you do not get enough protein with one meal, the body will simply eat more to make up for it. (Source: Science Alert, Massey University 2009).

A diet that increases protein slightly and decreases fat without changing the carbohydrate amount has been shown to lead to decreased calorie intake and significant weight loss. The higher levels of protein are said to be more satisfying, but do not have any effect on either the hunger hormone, ghrelin, or the satiety hormone, leptin. For weight loss, the diet should be 30% protein, 20% fat and 50% complex carbohydrates. (Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

Know What You Need

Before you start any diet plan, you should have an idea of how many calories that you need to maintain your current weight so that you know by how many you will need to reduce to lose weight. Once you know your calorie count, you can start to devise a diet plan that gives you the right amount of all three macronutrients so that you have slow and steady, healthy weight loss. It is important to consider your general, overall health before changing the way that you eat, especially if you are taking medications or are being treated for any physical or mental disorder. Consulting a physician or nutritionist is not just something that diets suggest, it is very important because there are certain types of conditions that can be adversely affected by the wrong eating plan.

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