Spring is just around the corner and many of my patients are frantic to lose weight so they can get into all those lighter, more revealing clothes! Their New Year’s resolutions fizzled out mid-February and now they’re back at it, trying harder than ever to lose those extra pounds.
There’s so much confusion out there about which is the best, fastest, safest way to lose weight! Low carb Atkins-style diets have proven successful for some but too hard to stick to for others. Low-fat, low calorie diets can work but also may take a very long time to show results.
Allow me to share a better, more effective way to lose weight. Rather than focus on a low carb diet think slow carbs or a low glycemic index method. A low carb diet can sap your stamina, make you depressed, cause you to carb-binge and ultimately fail.
Let me explain why. Basically, dieting success boils down to how you feel, both physically and mentally, while losing weight. Your well-being influences how long you can stay on a diet and how successful you will be. The key to feeling good while dieting has to do with serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a “feel-good” brain chemical that, in adequate levels, keeps your mood stable and “up”. Serotonin is created by, guess what? Carbs! That’s right.
When you decrease your carb intake drastically serotonin levels fall and many people become depressed, spacey, irritable with angry outbursts, and craving sugar badly. When your brain craves serotonin you grab the nearest high carb food and you’re back at square one.
Low Glycemic Index, Slow Carbs, a Better Way
If that unhappy picture of carb-deprivation dieting has you wondering if you’d ever succeed at losing weight, take heart! There is a healthy answer to this dilemma. All you need to do is combine a low glycemic index, slow carb food with a good protein source at every meal.
The glycemic index rates all foods from 0 to 100. These are the glycemic “load” of each food. Fast carbs have the highest glycemic load score. Slow carbs have the lowest. Fast carbs cause you to release insulin in large bursts. Insulin processes the glucose that the food you eat turns into energy. Large spikes of insulin can cause you to store fat, not burn it. You gain weight.
Now let’s look at some slow, low glycemic index carbs to include in your weight loss strategy. You want to stay below 50 on the glycemic index range when making food choices. It would be helpful to buy a pocket GI index rating book of foods to keep handy at all times.
However, to help you get started, the following foods are all lower than 50 on the glycemic index and carry a low glycemic load. Look at all the great, healthy food choices you have! Grains: Spelt bread, millet, quinoa, barley, are all low GI, 25-35 range, and delicious! Protein enriched spaghetti, (5 min boiled is GI 33), fettuccini, vermicelli are in the mid-30 range. Grains/pasta is often sorely missed on low carb plans and serves as comfort foods.
Fruits: Apples, cherries, grapefruit, berries, plums, prunes, oranges, peaches, strawberries, and grapes are all low GI fruits you can enjoy. Choose fresh, frozen, or water packed. No heavy syrup canned fruits.
Beans, Legumes: Lima, navy, black, cannellini, garbanzo, butter, pinto, and soy beans. Lentils, black-eyed peas, green peas. These are excellent protein sources as well as slow carbohydrates. Can be made into soups, hummus, salads, or side dishes.
Nuts: Very beneficial, most are 0 on the GI index, except for cashews and peanuts, which are just a trifle higher. Nuts also add Omega 3’s and B vitamins, but stick to the low salt versions. Also try unsweetened almond milk, lots of calcium, very low GI.
Vegetables: All green, red, yellow, dark orange vegetables are very low on the GI scale, in the teens to 20’s. Sweet potatoes, carrots, and corn are in the 55 GI ranges but can be worked in if you balance with lower GI carbs during the same day.
Dairy: Plain/sugar-free yogurt, no-sugar added ice cream, skim/whole milk, soy milk, cottage cheese, ricotta, can all be enjoyed in moderation.
Proteins: Beef, chicken, fish, cheeses. This food group is rated 0 on the GI because they are proteins, not carbohydrates. You should consume 3-4 oz of high quality proteins with each meal. This serves to balance carbohydrates and not spike insulin.
There you have the basics of a slow carb, low glycemic index, way of eating. Notice I didn’t say the “D” word….dieting. Balanced glycemic index eating is not so much a diet as it is a healthy lifestyle way of eating. You will lose weight relatively quickly and have much more energy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, you can’t eat 3,000 calories a day of low GI food and expect to lose weight. You do have to keep your calorie range around 1400-1500 a day, and do some moderate exercise, 30-45 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a week.
Adding resistance work with weights builds muscle that raises your metabolic rate, causes you to burn fat, and makes you look smaller as muscle takes up less space than fat.
Low carb dieting can cause some people to crash emotionally and physically from too-low serotonin levels. Low GI index, slow carb eating is a safe and healthy way to both achieve your weight loss efforts and stay feeling great mentally and physically full of energy. Now, that’s a formula for success! Bon appétit!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.