NYC Registered Dietitian Recommends Stop Counting Calories, Start Eating What Counts

The simple weight-loss formula since weight-loss became a thing has been cutting calories. It makes sense. Eat less = weigh less.

But we’ve learned that the complexity of the body is never so simple, and by cutting back on calories we’re giving our metabolisms a hit they might never truly recover from.

A new study, led by Dr. Gardner, the Director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Dr. Gardner took 609 overweight patients and modified their diets. Instead of focusing on numbers (calories), participants focused on quality of food. Participants were divided into two groups – a low-fat group and low-carb group. All of them were directed to change the quality of their diet in that they were asked to cut out added sugars, refined grains, and highly processed foods. All participants had sessions with registered dietitians, teaching them how to read food labels to avoid getting sucked into a “low-fat” or “low-carb” food label trap without reading whether they were as little processed as possible. The results were surprising, pretty much throwing all extreme diet trends under the bus:

  1. There was no significant difference between the low-fat and low-carb dieters.
  2. Participants never felt deprived of foods and never focused on calories.
  3. There was no focus on exercise, though it was recommended, and many participants maintained their activity levels (a few even increased activity levels).
  4. On average, participants lost between 11 and 13 pounds from the low-fat, low-carb diets respectively.

The findings of this study were so successful, the New York Times published an article, The Key to Weight Loss is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a Study Finds. And Nutrition Action, too, reports on these findings, Do Calories Matter?. This study also supports the European mindset when it comes to eating and how being healthy depends on the way we view food.

Basically, during this year-long study, participants lost weight. But not because they cut calories. At no time were they asked to count calories. Instead, they lost weight because the quality of food they ate was better.

This goes back to eating clean and focusing on great food. That’s not a bad way to get healthy. Without entering a study or breaking the bank, each and every one of us is capable of cleaning up our diet. Here are some easy-to-follow tips to eat better quality foods without losing the flavors we love:

  1. Substitute white rice and pasta with whole grains – quinoa, chia, or whole grain pasta and rice.Basil Tomatoes
  2. Replace crackers and chips with nuts, olives, or whole-wheat toast with a drizzle of olive oil and crumbled feta cheese.
  3. Replace ketchup and other processed sauces with avocado or guacamole, pico de gallo, hummus, salsa, pesto, or olive oil and balsamic.Grilled Chicken
  4. Cut all processed meats out of your diet (save the hot dog at the baseball game!) and replace salami, chorizos, and ham with roasted, grilled or shredded chicken, pulled pork, shredded beef, or even steak.
  5. Get creative with sweets:
    1. Replace ice cream and milkshakes with fruit salads and fruit smoothies.
    2. Reduce sugar in muffin and cookies recipes – up to ½.
    3. Cut back on the spoon-full-of-sugar habit … start with ¾ spoon, then ½, until you don’t need any sugar at all.
    4. Replace cookies and cupcakes with sweet potato waffles, whole-grain pancakes and French Toast, and keep them in the freezer for a go-to snack.
    5. Introduce the joys of dark chocolate, cutting back on milk and white chocolate.
  6. Don’t get rid of fats, simply introduce high-quality fats into your diet: olive oil, salmon, avocado, hard cheese, and nuts.
  7. Nobody needs to go carb-free. High-quality carbs include lentils, fresh fruit, beans, steel-cut oats, and quinoa.

By making some simple changes, cutting highly-processed foods and refined sugars out of your diet, you’re likely to feel healthier with a side-effect of weight loss or maintenance to go along with it. With health being the goal, starting by improving the quality of your diet is a smart first step.