Weight loss continues to be the top reason for changing diets, but gone are the days when getting skinny was the overriding goal. Losing weight in a healthy, sustainable way is today’s holy grail.
Successful diets favor or restrict different types of foods, but they have some common threads. Processed food is out. Fresh food is in. Carbs need some control. And wholesome, high-quality fuel is essential.
Counting calories and measuring portions aren’t top concerns these days. Most modern eating plans focus on choosing foods that are nutritious and satiating and that enhance metabolic health, which helps control appetite and reduce cravings. Here’s a look at some of the best:
An analysis of American diets over an 18-year period by Harvard and Tufts universities in Boston found that an average of 42 percent of our calories come from low-quality carbs: refined grains, starchy vegetables (think fries), and foods and drinks with added sugars. Low in nutrients but high in calories, these foods contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, as well as weight gain.
So instead of limiting calories by cutting back on fats, reducing carbs can produce weight loss that’s more realistic to maintain. When people lose weight on low-fat, high-carb eating plans, they usually experience a significant drop in metabolic rate—often referred to as a “slowed metabolism.” As they shed more pounds, their bodies burn fewer calories until it becomes unrealistic to keep calories low enough to prevent weight regain.
Studies that have tested the effects of different diets on metabolism show that low-carb diets avoid this slowed metabolism dilemma. Compared to a low-fat, high-carb weight-loss diet, one that is low in carbs can increase the number of calories burned by about 90 to more than 400 calories daily, depending on the level of carb restriction.
There isn’t one single definitive low-carb diet, but cutting down on carbs—especially refined, starchy, and sugary foods and drinks that are low in nutrients—is a common feature of many healthy and effective diets. You can start by making simple substitutions such as nonstarchy vegetables for grains (including corn), mashed or riced cauliflower for potatoes, and unsweetened or stevia-sweetened drinks for those with added sugar.
The lowest-carb diet of all, the keto diet replaces most carbs with fat and alters the way the body produces energy. Instead of carbs being used to produce blood sugar—the body’s usual fuel—the lack of dietary carbs forces the body to use fat for fuel.
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