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The Secret To Successful Weight Loss: Calories, Fat or Calorie Density?

The Secret to Successful Weight Loss: Calories, Fat or Calorie Density? Chef Jeff's Weekly Health Tips December 21, 1998


For many years, counting calories was thought to be the secret to weight loss. It didn't matter what you ate, just as long as you counted calories and created a calorie (energy) deficit.


Then, the focus switched to fat. The thought was that by eliminating and/or reducing the fat in your diet, weight loss would be easy. You didn't have to count calories anymore, instead just watch and limit your fat intake because "fat makes you fat".


Neither idea seems to have worked very well. Despite all the attention on counting calories and watching fat in this country, the number of overweight Americans has risen dramatically. Today, a staggering 57% of the population is overweight, and 33% of the population is considered obese. Not only do we have more fat people, but the fat people are also fatter than ever.


So, what is the solution? Should we be watching our fat intake, or should we be counting calories? Or is the answer in some combination of both or elsewhere?


A recent review article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1998;68: 1149-1150, 1157-1173) will help us to understand this important issue.


The article, which reviewed 28 studies on the relationship between fat intake and weight, found that people who switch to a low-fat diet but eat as much as they like still to decrease their calorie intake by 11% to 30%. The findings suggest that the adoption of a low-fat diet can lead to weight loss and reduce the prevalence of obesity.


Findings from the 28 studies suggest that the incidence of obesity has increased in nations where fat intake has risen but remained steady in countries where the population has continued to follow a low-fat diet.


Because high-fat diets pack a relatively high number of calories into relatively small quantities of food (in other words, high fat foods are very "calorie dense"), people are more likely to eat too many calories when following these diets. By contrast, low-fat diets have relatively low ``calorie density,'' and can fill people up before they eat too many calories.


Low-fat diets are usually more satiating because they usually contain high amounts of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and water. Because these diets are more satisfying, people are more likely to stick with them for the long-term, and not only lose weight, but keep it off.


While studies suggest that people are less likely to go overboard on calories when they eat low-fat foods, ``reduced fat'' foods that substitute extra sweeteners for fat are another matter. Though low in fat, these foods still have a high calorie density and are not very satisfying because they are usually low in fiber and water content. Refined, processed carbohydrates (bread, bagel, pasta, crackers, etc.) have ~3x the calorie density of unrefined, unprocessed complex carbohydrates (rice, oats, peas, beans, potatoes, etc.).


And though considerable evidence suggests that low-fat foods can aid weight loss, they are not the sole answer to obesity, the researchers point out. They estimate that by doing nothing more than lowering fat intake by 10%, the average person could expect to lose slightly over a pound per month. By lowering fat intake and exercising more, people can lose considerably more.


So, is the answer to successful weight loss calories, fat, or calorie density??


The answer is all three.

Calories still count.


To lose weight, you must create a calorie (energy) deficit. this can be done by either reducing your caloric intake, or by increasing your caloric output through increased exercise and activity. A combination of both has shown to be most effective.


Fat also still matters.


Why? Because fat is the most concentrated source of calories in our food. Every gram of carbohydrate or protein yields 4 calories. Every gram of fat yields 9 calories. So, the more fat you eat, the more calories you eat. Reducing the fat content of your diet can reduce the number of calories you take in as long as you choice healthy low fat high fiber unprocessed carbohydrate foods instead.


Calorie density is the key.


Calorie density may be the most important factor in weight loss. If you replace the high fat foods with low-fat hi-calorie dense foods, you may still take consume too many calories. The highest calorie dense foods next to fats are refined, processed carbohydrates.


The secret to successful long-term weight loss is to focus your diet on low calorie density foods. These foods will allow you to eat more food, eat more often, feel more satisfied, avoid feeling hungry, AND take in less calories. The problem with most diets is that they are too restrictive, too limiting, too controlled, and often leave you hungry. Understanding this concept may be the missing link that many of you need in reaching your health and weight goals. By choosing low calorie density foods you can liberalize the amount of food you eat, how often you eat, not have to count calories, AND still lose weight.


The above mentioned studies proved this. The subjects in these studies were able to switch to a low-fat diet and eat as much as they like and still decrease their calorie intake by 11% to 30%. They consumed low fat foods that were also low in calorie density.


This is the secret to long term successful weight loss.


What foods are the lowest in calorie density?

- Vegetables are the lowest in calorie density averaging 150 calories/lb.

- Fruits are next, averaging ~300 calories/lb

- Unrefined, unprocessed complex carbohydrates are next averaging 500 calories/lb.


However, refined processed carbohydrates (even the low-fat ones) average about 1500 calories/lb. This is very high in calorie density.


The new year is right around the corner, and what better way is there to start the new year then by incorporating this important secret into your lifestyle.


So, for this week’s health tip........


Focus most of your diet on the foods that are low in fat and calorie density (vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole unprocessed grains) and you will be practicing the secret too long term successful weight loss.


Have another great week, and remember...


Your Health Is Your Greatest Wealth!

In Health,

Chef Jeff

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