A healthy diet could mean many different things depending on who you ask. Each person has their own body chemistry and different intolerances to various foods, meaning one singular “healthy diet” is just not practical. Before embarking on a change in diet or lifestyle each person should take their own needs into consideration. Although no single diet will show the same benefits for all people, there are a few key points that can be generalized and adapted. A healthy diet is one that is high in nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods allow you to obtain more nutrients in fewer calories. As an example, a grilled chicken breast contains 25g of protein, whereas 5 chicken nuggets contain twice the calories and only 12g of protein. Chicken breast would be more nutrient dense because it has fewer calories and more of the desired nutrient. Healthy diets tend to focus on foods that have the least amount of calories with the highest nutritional benefit.

There should also be a focus on functional foods, that is, foods that promote health beyond basic nutritional needs. Functional foods are unmodified whole foods such as broccoli, fish, whole grains, and blueberries that contain phytochemicals and elements such as omegas that can reduce the risk of heart disease, regulate blood pressure, and reduce the risk of diabetes. This is, in part, why many diets reference eating a variety of colors. Orange and yellow foods tend to be high in carotenoids, that are beneficial for eye health. Red and purple foods tend to have high antioxidant levels, and dark greens are a good source of calcium and essential vitamins including Vitamin A and Vitamin K. A healthy diet includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods from a variety of different groups and a variety of foods within each of those groups. It is important to have a wide range because each food contains a different set of nutrients that the body needs to function properly.

Nutrients are grouped into six main categories and two subcategories or “groups”. First is the macronutrient group including carbohydrates, lipids (or fats), proteins, and water. These are the main components necessary to consume. Second is the micronutrient group containing vitamins and minerals. These are also important for maintaining health but in much smaller amounts. All six of these nutrients help to regulate body processes in their own way. They provide structure, energy, regulation, and are necessary for growth, maintenance, and repair of the body. A diet that removes one of these categories completely is not going to be beneficial in the long term.

With this basis, many different diets have emerged. Some of the popular food trends that work well for many include keto diets, paleo diets, intermediate fasting, macro-focused diets, FODMAP, plant-based, and glycemic index based diets. Depending on specific food sensitivities and other health concerns, these may work better for some than others but are worth looking into if considering a diet reform or looking for a weight loss solution.

Six Essential Nutrients Infographic

 

KETO DIET

The keto diet, or ketogenic diet,  is one of the top trending diets throughout recent years. The keto diet focuses on very low carb and high-fat diet. The goal here is to shift the body into burning fat for energy instead of incoming carbs or sugars which are “easy energy” for the body. This state is called ketosis. When the body is in ketosis there are elevated levels of ketones in the blood. Ketones are a chemical made in the liver that comes from converting fat to usable energy. High ketone levels are commonly seen in both people with Diabetes, and those consuming very low levels of carbohydrates. When there is not enough insulin in the blood to turn glucose (sugar) into energy the body uses fat. It is then the job of the liver to turn this fat into ketones. These ketones can then be metabolized by the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, and used for energy. For a person, without diabetes, the increase of ketones should not be an issue, but diabetic people should consult a physician before trying the ketogenic diet.  

The popularity of this diet, like many diets, is linked to weight loss. Weight loss on the keto diet is due to the shift from burning simple sugars from consuming high amounts of carbohydrates to burning fat, therefore reducing the amount of stored fat on the body. There have been many reports of people losing weight on the keto diet which keeps the momentum of this diet going. This has also stimulated the emergence of supplement brands and sports nutrition companies coming out with lines of keto products. Spartan Nutrition, for example, has an entire line of keto products including Keto Shred which is one of their best sellers.

Other supplements for the keto diet that are often taken are Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Magnesium, Digestive Enzymes, Vitamin D, and branded ingredients such as InnoSlim® which works very similarly in the body to the keto diet. Supplements like these could aid in achieving your keto weight loss goals. Although this way of eating may not be for everyone, it has its benefits and good standing behind its very large following. As with any diet, there is a right and wrong way to go about it while staying within its general guidelines. High fat refers to healthy fats, from a variety of sources. Healthy fats can come from avocados, olive oil, fatty fish like salmon, and nuts. Eating highly processed fats will is not ideal, and could actually hinder your progression into a healthy lifestyle. Always keep in mind the nutrient density of the food being consumed no matter the diet you adopt.

 

LIFESTYLE CHOICES AND CHANGES

Having too much body fat increases the risk of chronic health problems including heart disease, diabetes, sleep disorders, respiratory problems, arthritis, and more. Obesity has also been linked to poor wound healing and complications with surgery. Plus, the longer you live with above average body fat, the higher the risk of complications. When looking to make a lifestyle change to decrease body fat and therefore decrease the risk of weight-related health issues, there are a few main points to consider.

The first thing to consider is energy balance. Today a majority of people are eating more and moving less, which means more “energy” going in, and less energy in the form of exercise and movement is going out. This means all of that energy is being stored within the body. Some of this energy is stored within the muscle and liver as glycogen to be used in the intense exercise, but a majority is stored as fat. To maintain weight, the energy, or calories, taken in needs to equal the energy or calories burned throughout the day. To lose weight, there must be a deficit, where you are taking in less energy than you are using. This will cause your body to pull from those fat stores to supply the needed energy.

An energy deficit can be created with either decreasing how much goes in, or increasing how much is used (although both is best). To remedy the problem without changing the diet is to increase physical output, meaning you are using more energy, making the body draw from its excess energy stores. Next is diet, choosing foods that are nutrient dense, and hold much fewer calories with more of a nutritional benefit. Each diet has its own set of rules on how to choose those foods, and how to space out your eating but the underlying concepts are similar. The problem with a diet change is once people see those results, they stop the diet! They often go for a “lose weight fast” remedy, starve themselves, or go on an increasingly strict plan in order to lose that unwanted fat. Once they get to their goal, it's back to fast food and fewer gym visits. This cycling is far from healthy.

Weight loss and weight management need to be integrated into a lifestyle in order to work long term. Healthy weight loss is a slow and steady process generally categorized by losing ½ to 2 lbs per week. Finding an exercise routine and diet that is not as forced will help to keep this consistent and increase the longevity of the weight loss. This can be supported by natural weight loss supplements to stimulate the body’s natural pathways to weight loss in addition to a healthy and balanced diet with added physical activity. No matter the path chosen to lose weight, healthy choices need to be integrated into the lifestyle with long term goals in mind.

 

EXERCISE

Physical activity is important not just for weight management, but also for general health and wellness. The list of ailments due to inadequate exercise extends from bone density to muscle function, and yes, obesity.

When trying to meet weight loss goals, you must burn more calories than being taken in. In order to burn calories, you need to move. Exercise both burns these calories through movement and helps to build muscle. More muscle leads to faster metabolism, which contributes to weight loss. Exercise, therefore, increases metabolism, or how many calories are burned while resting. Simply eating fewer calories is a good start, but according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the only way to maintain weight loss is through regular physical activity. They also emphasize that the same physical activity that can help you take and keep the weight off reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, two of the most prominent chronic diseases today. Exercise is also understood to contribute to improved self-confidence and well-being, possibly lowering rates of anxiety and depression.

The specific choice of exercise program will depend on the individual and should be something relatively enjoyable so the program is more likely to be maintained. Therefore, if you hate running, maybe take up cycling or swimming for your cardio rather than daily morning jogs. No matter what exercise program you choose, there should be some form of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. Aerobic exercises get your heart rate up and blood pumping. This includes walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and more.

A well-rounded exercise program also involves weight training in some form. Working out with weights helps the body to build muscle and shed fat. More muscle burns more calories, more calories burned leads to weight loss. To properly build muscle it is recommended to work out each major muscle group around three times per week.

A weight loss exercise program does not only have to involve typical cardio and weight lifting plans; exercises such as yoga and pilates also show benefits for weight loss. These forms of exercise use body weight and resistance to build strength instead of the typical kettlebells and bench presses. Some studies have even shown people who practice yoga are more mindful about what they eat, and in return, less likely to be obese.

When deciding how much exercise you should do to lose weight, you should first think about your current fitness level. If starting from zero physical activity, any increase will help. Maybe start with just a few minutes of exercise at a time to help your body slowly get used to being active.

The goal here is to work up to at least 30 minutes most days of the week to get the full benefits from exercise. This does not have to be a consistent 30 either; 10 minutes here and there to add up to the full 30 can also do the trick. As your fitness levels increase, so should the amount of time spent exercising, and the intensity of the workouts. Eventually working towards shorter duration activities that provide the same health benefit as longer activities. For example, jogging for 30 minutes provides similar benefit to walking for a full hour.

Daily activities can also ramp up physical activity time, and burn more calories in your day to day life. Simple lifestyle changes like walking to the store, taking the stairs, or simply parking farther away from the entrance will increase daily physical activity and contribute to meeting weight loss goals. As always, consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any preexisting conditions.

 

HEALTHY BLOOD GLUCOSE

When discussing weight management, blood glucose or blood sugar levels are important to take into consideration. When most people think of blood sugar, they automatically link to diabetes, but it is not just diabetics that should be thinking about their blood sugar. As a bit of background, blood sugar, or glucose, is our main source of energy. Blood sugar also triggers our hunger, energy level, and various processes within the body. Blood sugar is increased whenever you consume any form of carbohydrate from cookies and candy to carrots and brown rice. The type of carbohydrate greatly affects how quickly the body will be affected and the insulin response. The idea is to maintain a balance with blood sugar. When blood sugar is balanced and proper proportions of fats, proteins, and carbs are being consumed, is when we are able to lose weight and keep away unnecessary insulin spikes.

After consuming these various forms of carbohydrates, they are broken down into sugar molecules which then pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels. The hormone insulin (secreted from the pancreas) is then released to move sugar out of blood and into the cells to be converted into energy. In this way, insulin helps to regulate blood sugar levels to keep within a normal range. When too many simple sugars are consumed, the pancreas works overtime to produce enough insulin to store the influx of sugars. The excess of insulin tells the body that there is plenty of energy in the body and it should stop using fat for energy, and start using available blood glucose and storing more fat with the excess. The reason why refined sugar has such a harsh impact on your blood sugar levels is that it doesn’t contain any fiber, which is needed to help slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. When you eat refined sugar, the high concentration of simple sugars floods your bloodstream and causes your blood-sugar levels to rapidly spike.

The problem here begins with insulin resistance, where cells stop responding to the hormone. This can be triggered by weight gain, specifically visceral fat that is stored under the muscle in the abdomen. Visceral fat puts pressure on the organs and produces inflammatory chemicals that hinder the cells' response to insulin. David G. Marrero, Ph.D., president of health care and education at the American diabetes association put it well: Think of the body as a car, "Fill the trunk with 500 pounds of gravel and it's harder to run. It needs more gas and it wears out the engine to get the same level of performance." That's obesity. "Now think of insulin as the gas line between the fuel tank and the engine. Insulin resistance squeezes it, so when you need more fuel, it's harder to get." Insulin-resistant cells have a more difficult time taking in glucose from the blood, creating a buildup circulating blood sugar. Over time, this could lead to diabetes, which can damage the blood vessels and result in more weight gain. This excess of blood sugar signals the pancreas to make more and more insulin, which then stores all of the extra blood sugar as fat.

Low blood sugar then occurs when the overproduction of insulin leads to too much blood sugar being moved out of the blood. Low blood sugar can lead to tiredness, hunger, feeling weak, shakey, or anxious which leads to cravings more sugar and carbohydrates which re-start this cycle. This process leads to more and more fat accumulation.

How can you stop this vicious cycle? It goes back to the old faithful diet and exercise.

Exercise helps the muscles take in glucose without the using insulin which can help to improve insulin sensitivity over time, as well as reduce circulating blood glucose levels. With the diet, it is all about balancing what you are taking in, rather than the number of calories. Fats, proteins, and fiber can all help to reduce insulin spikes. Fats alone do not affect blood sugar levels, but when consumed with a carbohydrate, they can slow the absorption to avoid drastic and sharp spikes. This in part explains the growing popularity of the keto diet and ketosis that are high-fat and low-carb. Proteins also help to keep blood sugar stable, although if too much protein is eaten, it could be converted to glucose and used for energy as well through a process called gluconeogenesis.

Lastly, fiber is the key to maintaining stable blood sugar. Fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugars and other nutrients. The sugars in fruits and vegetables are slowed by the fiber content making them a much healthier sugar source than those quickly broken down refined sugars. Specifically, deep leafy greens and other deep-colored vegetables can help with insulin sensitivity. These vegetables are generally high in vitamins and minerals, specifically magnesium. Magnesium has been found to help increase insulin sensitivity to help regulate and stabilize blood sugar. You can naturally balance your blood sugar by avoiding simple carbohydrates and hidden sugar including sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (dairy sugar), and glucose (blood sugar).

Weight loss can occur when we have balanced blood sugar and no excess insulin. Having a simple understanding of blood sugar could greatly aid in facilitating long-term healthy fat loss and metabolic function. Incorporating those healthy diet guidelines and a steady exercise plan will contribute to stabilizing blood sugar levels and reaching your weight loss goals. There are also blood glucose regulating supplements on the market if this becomes a concern, to help get the system back on track and normalize body processes.

 

HYDRATION

While proper hydration is key to supporting general health and body function, it could also help to support your weight loss goals. It is interesting to note that a simple weight loss tip could just be to drink more water! Drinking more water could lead to less snacking, having a positive effect on maintaining a healthy diet. People often confuse thirst with hunger, therefore consuming more calories than necessary which leads to weight gain. This would be resolved by always drinking water first, most likely the body will be satisfied with water. With this thought process, drinking more water could help control calorie intake. When the stomach senses that it is full, even if it is full of water, it stops sending “hunger signals” to the brain, reducing the urge to snack.

Drinking more water also helps to remove waste from the body. When dehydrated, the body is unable to function properly. That leads to problems with waste removal, constipation, bloated stomach, and fatigue. When bloated, you appear to be heavier, and if you are tired and uncomfortable you are less likely to go to the gym. When properly hydrated, that energy level is normalized, waste is able to be removed, toxins can be filtered through the kidneys, and bloating reduced.

While simply drinking water may not immediately make you lose five pounds of fat, it is an important component of a weight loss journey.

 

SLEEP QUALITY

In addition to hydration, getting enough quality sleep can have a great impact on weight loss. Like proper hydration, this is not saying a good night’s sleep will automatically melt the pounds away, but the amount of sleep you are getting could help or hinder your weight loss efforts. This comes down to a few key factors: energy levels, diet, and cravings.

The first is the most obvious. If you are not sleeping enough, you do not have energy. Simple as that. A well-balanced weight loss program usually involves some form of physical activity, which requires energy. Yes, there are things like caffeine and pre-workouts, but regardless of the stimulants used, the body does not function the same when it has not had adequate rest. Studies on the topic have found that sleeping too few hours can lead to decreased or slowed protein synthesis, which is the building blocks of muscle. More muscle generally means more fat burning, and if the body cannot keep up with its muscle synthesis it does not bode well for fat loss. Inadequate sleep also means it will take longer for the body to recover after a workout. This means you will be tired, sore, your head will be cloudy, and motivation will be lacking. Not the best recipe for weight loss.

The diet is also affected by sleep. Have you ever stayed up much later than normal and find yourself hungry once again? These late night cravings are controlled by the hormones leptin and ghrelin. These two hormones work to balance energy intake and fat storage. Ghrelin, specifically, is what causes the body to feel hungry, and leptin tells you when you are full. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that sleeping less than six hours triggers the area of the brain that increases your need for food while also depressing leptin and stimulating ghrelin. So sleeping less leads to more cravings. Sleep deprivation also limits the decision making sectors of the brain, meaning it is much harder to choose the “right foods”, say no to the “bad foods” if presented to you. People who sleep less also end up eating larger portions and continuing past your “full” point.  All of this leads in the direction of weight gain instead of weight loss.

All together getting enough sleep could make a huge impact on reaching those weight loss goals. When not sleeping you won't have the energy to go to the gym and if you do your efforts will not be as rewarding. Cravings increase, and your ability to stay on a diet decreases. Getting enough sleep will limit these unfortunate side effects, potentially making it easier to stick to a weight loss plan.

 

SUPPLEMENTATION

In addition to the normal diet and exercise routine, many people look to supplements to help them along their weight loss journey. The trouble is there is an abundance of weight loss supplements on the market, which can be difficult for consumers to navigate and choose which is best for them.

These range from meal replacement shakes, to thermogenics, to multivitamins and natural herbals supplements. They are also found in various forms such as capsules, tablets, liquids, and powders. Most weight loss supplements contain more than just a single ingredient. They could include things like herbs, fiber, and minerals in different amounts to achieve the specific goal they are looking to reach. This also includes specific branded ingredients such as InnoSlim® which is a researched ingredient that blends together specific plant extracts that were found to benefit weight management.

As each person has different body chemistry, supplements may work differently for you than they do for someone else. If you’re thinking about taking a dietary supplement to lose weight, talk with your healthcare provider. This is especially important if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, or other medical conditions.