It's that time of year when we tend to feel the effects of over-indulgence from the holiday season, and promises of effortless weight loss lure us into trying the hottest new diet. This year, arm yourself with the knowledge that even as diets come and go, populations in the West seem to be getting heavier.
The word “diet” conjures up feelings of deprivation and hunger. When you deny yourself any foods, you seem to want them even more. This year, aim to adopt a balanced way of eating that will not leave you watching the clock for the next meal time.
Weight loss is just mathematics
Although it may not be obvious at first, losing weight is relatively easy. If you take in fewer calories each day than you use up, the result will be weight loss. So to lose weight you need to eat less, exercise more, or do both.
Most weight loss plans will enable you to lose weight. But, have you noticed how quickly the weight creeps back on again as soon as you come off the diet? And often, the weight regained means that you end up even heavier than you were in the first place – until of course you go for the next quick fix diet. This “yo-yo” dieting is neither good for your health, nor your weight loss goals.
The secret to losing weight is to find a way of eating that helps you to manage your weight in the long term.
The Glycaemic Index
You may have heard of the Glycaemic Index (GI), which is an important tool in the management of diabetes. Emerging research suggests that a balanced low GI eating plan could also have a role to play in weight management.
The index provides a measure of how much a food raises the blood-sugar level during digestion. When you eat carbohydrate food (such as chapattis, rice, bread, potatoes, pasta, cereals and sugary foods), your body converts it to glucose (sugar) that can then be used for energy. This also causes the glucose level in your blood to rise.
Different foods cause blood glucose to rise at different speeds. Those carbohydrate foods that cause quick and sharp increases in your blood glucose levels are called high GI foods.
Low and medium GI foods cause a slower rise in blood glucose level. Examples include wholegrain breads, basmati rice, dhals, bhajra (millet), beans, chick peas, porridge, muesli, nuts, fruit and vegetables.
A study of more than 500 adults from eight European countries published in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2010 set out to test how best to keep weight off. The study design was robust and different groups of people were assigned different diets – all were allowed to eat as much as they liked of different combinations of foods over a six-month period.
“This research showed that both low GI diets and high-protein diets were equally effective in preventing weight regain,” said Professor Jennie Brand-Miller of the University of Sydney. “What is surprising is that the diet group that combined both low GI and high-protein strategies continued to lose weight throughout the one-year follow-up. This was something never, ever seen before in any study of weight maintenance after weight loss.”
Much more research is needed to prove the effects of low GI eating on weight loss, and this study focussed on protein too. So it makes sense to ensure you have a balance of all foods, including lean protein, lower fat and low GI foods.
What you need to know
The Glycaemic Index has been researched around the world for years and studies on GI have been extensively published in medical journals. The concept is widely recommended by diabetes associations around the world, since choosing foods that have a low impact on blood glucose levels is helpful in the management of diabetes.
However, there are limitations to the GI way of eating. Although many low GI foods are inherently healthy (think wholegrains, dhal, fruit and vegetables), you can also get a low GI result if you eat foods that are high in protein and fat – unhealthy foods like chocolate and luxury ice creams also have a low GI value. Cooking and processing also affect GI. So the results of the research must be taken in the context of a balanced eating plan.
The quality of carbs is important. Choose healthy, low GI carbs like whole grains, porridge, pasta, dahl, fruit, veg, beans and pulses are good fibre-rich foods. Within this, make sure you also watch the amount and type of fat you eat; a balanced selection will get you the best of both worlds.
For example, to accompany pasta, choose a tomato-based sauce rather than a cheesy or cream sauce. If cooking dhal, limit the amount of oil or ghee added. If you want to try out a balanced low GI eating plan, choose recipes that are based on lower fat and low GI ingredients: Moong Bean Soup, Baked Aubergine, Chinese Crunch Salad, Dudhi and Lentil Curry, Masoor Dhal and Pea and Bean Salad.
Watch your portion size. The best way to watch your weight is to eat a range of foods that you enjoy. Rather than denying yourself your favourite foods, be disciplined in knowing when to stop.
Pay particular attention to the quantity you eat. The recipes on the Nutrition Centre give guidance on suggested number of servings per dish, helping you to control portion sizes. (Try using a smaller dinner plate – it will help reduce your portion size without you even realising it!)
Have a balanced approach to your meals. Choose a variety of healthy foods, including lean protein, lower fat dairy products, wholegrain carbs, fruit and vegetables - and eat regular meals, especially breakfast. Research shows that people who eat breakfast are better able to lose weight than breakfast skippers.
So, are you ready to start your new healthy lifestyle? Remember to set a smart goal to begin with, and then make balanced, lower fat choices. Just losing 5 per cent of your body weight and keeping it off can have a big impact on your long term health. Good luck!