If you are like many Americans that struggle to lose excess weight, there’s comfort in knowing that you are not alone and all the odds are stacked against you. As our hormones decline with age, our food choices, the toxic environment and the sleep-deprived world we live in tell the cells in our body to hold on to the fat for dear life. In this series of blogs on weight, I’ll cover some evidence-based ways on what NOT TO DO and DO to boost weight loss without counting every calorie we eat and every step we take.
I have personally tried just about every diet in the book and realized after many years that it’s not a one-diet-fits-all approach and that some diets will make you feel better where others will not. Because we live in a world full of gourmands and almost infinite food choices, it’s become even more complicated to know what works and what doesn’t. For example, I don’t do well with wheat and dairy but it took me many years of eating the Western diet to figure that out. You probably heard the advice – it’s NOT what you eat but it’s what you DON’T eat that matters.
Inflammation and Weight
Did you know that inflammation in the body can prevent you from losing weight? Chronic inflammation contributes to insulin resistance and obesity regardless of how much you eat. Obesity is also an inflammatory condition that traps you in the cycle of fat gain and resistant weight loss creating a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.
But enough of the bad news. There are ways to promote weight loss without starting a new fad diet or becoming a super athlete.
Here are some of the inflammatory foods you should consider eliminating from the diet to amp up your body’s fat burning potential:
Artificial sweeteners like Equal, Sweet-n-Low, and NutraSweet contain saccharin or aspartame and are commonly used in foods and beverages to make them sugar-free. If you think reaching for a diet soda is a good idea because it has zero sugar, did you know that consumption of diet soda is also strongly associated with obesity? Not to mention that some people can develop a sensitivity to these artificial sweeteners creating inflammation and joint pain, headaches, skin rashes and swelling. Just say NO to artificial sweeteners. How about trying stevia or allulose instead?
Here are a few to consider:
An estimated 30-50 million Americans are lactose intolerant (where your body lacks the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose sugar). This means that those people should avoid dairy products like milk, cream, cheese, and whey. When you eat what your body cannot handle, stomach discomfort, bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea/constipation is the inflammatory response. Popping a Lactaid pill to have that slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream is not the answer. If you want to reduce inflammation, listen to your body and avoid products it doesn’t like. Of course, it’s easier said than done. I love ice cream and pizza and will indulge in them infrequently and only when I’ve been following a clean diet and my body feels optimal. But when I’m trying to lose weight, dairy is OUT.
Did you know that drinking too much alcohol not only damages your liver but can permanently change your gut microbiota contributing to alcohol-induced oxidative stress, intestinal permeability to bacteria and other diseases? This study demonstrated the well-established link that excess alcohol can have on the composition of gut microbiota.
You may be genetically programmed to tolerate less foods than your sibling/parent so it’s important to know how YOU respond to foods. Inability to tolerate the foods you eat will generate chronic inflammation in the body and make it difficult to lose weight. Common allergenic foods include corn, dairy, eggs, nuts, wheat and soy. Consider working with a nutritionist to try an elimination diet to see if any of these foods impact you. Or you can try it at home by eliminating most of the common allergenic foods. Have you heard of the Whole 30 program? Check it out – you may want to try it to see how much weight you lose after 30 days of eating clean.
Foods containing sugar and processed carbohydrates
Sugar is in almost everything and it’s almost impossible to avoid when you’re eating out. Did you know that sugar (in various forms) triggers the release of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which increases oxidative stress and inflammation and damages mitochondrial, skeletal, muscle and brain function? This study suggests the need to limit added sugar to reduce inflammation and prevent the development of metabolic and related diseases. Also, enriched bread, cereals, crackers, pastries, cakes and cookies have low nutrient density and fiber content but high glucose spiking potential that lead to an inflammatory state and insulin resistance. As good as it tastes going down, the advance glycation end products (AGEs) generated from eating these foods is your body’s way of telling you to STOP.
French fries, doughnuts, chips, tortillas, and fried chicken are staples of the Western diet. The vegetable oils used to fry these foods are high in omega-6 fatty acids which creates an imbalance with the essential omega-3 fatty acids, leading to inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. To add insult to injury, foods cooked in high temperatures generate a compound called acrylamide which is anticipated to have human carcinogenic effects. Here’s a recipe for Air Fryer French Fries – if you don’t own an air-fryer, you can oven-fry them instead.
Gluten is a general name for proteins found in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley, and acts like a glue to help maintain its shape and provide a chewy texture. Gluten is predominant in wheat products like bread, baked goods, pasta, pizza dough and cereals but can also be found in soups, sauces and salad dressings. If you have sensitivity to gluten, your body will see it as a foreign pathogen triggering an inflammatory response. This study shows how the consumption of wheat and cereal grains can contribute to the manifestation of chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases by promoting intestinal permeability and a pro-inflammatory immune response.
If you eat a low-carb diet with animal/sea protein, stay away from deli meat, hot dogs, smoked, cured and other processed foods. These foods stimulate the creation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which in turn generates inflammation in the body. AGEs are implicated in the progression of many diseases including diabetes and atherosclerosis.
Preservatives, Artificial Colors and Flavor Enhancers
These additives designed to increase shelf life, make food look tempting and enhance flavor are unnatural substances thereby promoting inflammation in the body. Here are some common preservatives to watch out for:
- Nitrites (nitrates and nitrosamines)
- Sulfites/sulfur dioxide
- Sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, benzene
Many of the artificial colors have been banned by the FDA but there are still some in the market as it’s being reviewed. Check labels carefully and consider shopping at chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods where they won’t stock any foods with artificial coloring.
If you are a fan of Chinese food like me, you will notice some restaurants still add MSG (monosodium glutamate) to enhance the flavoring of the food. That’s why that Kung Pao chicken tastes so good! In this study, researchers used MSG to induce obesity. And this study showed that MSG promotes liver inflammation. So next time you go for some Chinese food, make sure it’s MSG free!
Known as partially-hydrogenated oils, trans fats are inexpensive and highly stable with a desirable taste and texture. Some restaurants and fast food chains still use trans fat for frying foods as it can be used multiple times without changing out the oil. Trans fats are also found in cookies, cakes, crackers, and packaged snack foods. And remember, foods can be labeled as “trans-fat free” if they contain less than 0.5g per serving. So read the ingredient list carefully and if it says ‘partially-hydrogenated oils’, it has trans fats. It is evident that consumption of trans fatty acids is associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers leading to conditions like cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.