Starting With Food

Between 80% to 95% of dieters regain their lost weights within a year.

Diet is undoubtedly important whether you are looking to lose weight, gain weight, or improve your overall health.1

To most people, the word “diet” means short term partial starvation or meal replacements as a drastic measure to lose body fat. This is not the type of diet we’re after. 2 An effective diet is one that can be maintained over the long term and one that enhances and maintains our health.

Such a diet must firstly contain and provide the nutrients that enable the proper building, repair, and functioning of our bodies. It must provide macro and micro nutrients which support the many complex chemical processes that enable us to live.3

Secondly, a maintainable diet must be a satiating one. It should leave us feeling full not just when we eat, but also sustain us until the next meal time. We should depend not on our limited willpower4 to keep us from over consumption.5

Food also affects our moods and how we feel. Through our own experiences or those of our children, most of us are familiar with the elation and hyperactivity from the sugar rush, and the fatigue, irritation, and lack of concentration from the sugar crash afterward. Foods can affect how our brain perceive our fullness and our appetite.6

Finally, a maintainable diet must not harm our bodies. It must not impede us from functioning as we should, and it must not cause us to be more prone to diseases and aging.

So instead of some strict calories counting or dietary restriction, let us start with replacing bad food with good, nutritious, satiating ones. What are these good and bad foods? My summarized recommendations are:7

  • If you can only do one thing, reduce your sugar intake. Reduce sugar and all products with excessive sugar, whether natural or otherwise. This includes fruit juice, Milo / Horlicks / Ovaltine, low-fat milk / yogurt, breakfast cereal, and energy drinks.

  • Eliminate processed food and food-like substances, replace them with real food, i.e. where you can still see the individual meat, vegetables, and whatever ingredients that go into them.

  • Eat lots of vegetables, especially leafy ones. Food or food like products derived from corn, potatoes, flour, or soybean should not be counted as vegetables, and if these are the only “vegetables” you take, you need to expand the range.

  • Fats are satiating and mostly not as harmful as most of us believe. However, good and bad fats affect us very differently, and it pays to distinguish them.

    As a general rule, stay away from oils that could have gone rancid or became trans-fats from excessive heating and processing, and avoid those high on Omega 6 or linoleic fatty acid.8 Eliminate or reduce deep fried food, margarine, hydrogenated oils, and vegetable seed oils such as those from canola, rapeseed, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, soybean, safflower, though these are frequently mistaken for healthy oils.

    Don’t be afraid to replace these with food rich in saturated and monounsaturated fats such as from ghee and full cream milk from grass-fed cows, coconut, avocado, macadamia, olive or those occurring naturally in eggs, nuts, oily fish, cheese, butter, grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, etc. Most of these are highly satiating so you would probably not overeat, but do be careful of some like nuts where it is possible to eat too much of.

  • Meat, especially red meat, and organ meats, had been demonized with saturated fats and cholesterol rich foods. Like fats, the quality of meat can vary greatly, the good ones are hugely satiating and beneficial to our health when taken appropriately. It is very important to be selective with the animal protein you consume. Chicken and beef are especially affected by modern feedlot techniques, such as antibiotics, confined living spaces, and inappropriate food. For instance, grain fed cows are more susceptible to diseases and have a much higher ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid.

    Choose meats and products (eggs, milk) from pastured animals as much as possible. Also eat fresh meats, and not processed ones like in hot dogs, sausages, ham, unless you know how it’s made.

  • You do not need to avoid food that is high in cholesterol. Our blood cholesterol levels are controlled by production in our livers and are not linked to the cholesterol levels in our food.

  • Eat more shellfish and fish, which are high in Omega 3 and other nutrients. Take note that large high-on-the-food-chain fishes like tuna and swordfish accumulate a large amount of mercury from their diets, Compared to wild fish, farmed fish are also more likely to be less healthy and likely to carry more pollutants from their environments.

  • Our Asian diets are often dominated by carbohydrate, and for most people, I recommend reducing carbohydrates. Our digestive system turns carbohydrates into monosaccharides, or simply, sugar, and carbohydrate can affect us the same way sugar do.

    If you need to eat carbohydrates, consider those with high fiber and nutrient contents like legumes, or starchy and bulky vegetables such as sweet potatoes, tapioca, carrots, turnips, pumpkins, squashes, etc.

    You might also consider getting more healthy fats into your diet. A high fat diet reduces blood sugar variation and can keep you feeling full longer. 9

  • Eat fermented food. Fermenting food makes them more digestible, less harmful and can provide some additional nutrients not easily found elsewhere. Active fermented food can also introduce beneficial bacteria to our gut microbiome.

  • As risk management, reduce or eliminate products from wheat and most grain, such as bread, pasta, noodles. Besides being high in carbohydrate, wheat contains gluten-related proteins that can potentially damage our intestine wall and cause inflammation and autoimmune responses. It is still unclear how many people are really affected, though some have estimated that most are gluten sensitive even if we are not celiac patients. 10

  1. Weight loss or reduced body fat is just part of our health goal. In fact, extremely low body fat can be as unhealthy as high body fat. 

  2. Not all short-term caloric restriction are bad if they are used for a specific purpose as part of long-term strategies. For example, intermittent fasting is sometimes used to activate autophagy and encourage usage of fat for energy. 

  3. It must also provide sustenance for the trillions of bacteria residing in our guts and living symbiotically with us. More on that in other posts. 

  4. Our willpower is limited and should be conserved for more important decision making. Ego Depletion, You Are Not So Smart 

  5. In these five plus years of improving my health, I have not counted my caloric intake even once. I just make sure I’m sufficiently and not overly full. 

  6. Leptin receptors in the hippocampus “tells” our bodies when we’re full and to stop eating. Elevated insulin has been found to affect leptin sensitivity. 

  7. My original intention was to include discussion of all the recommendations into this article, but it is too much material that deserves more attention. I’ve moved the details into subsequent posts. 

  8. Although Omega-6 is required and an essential component of cell walls, most of us have too much Omega-6 compared to Omega-3. Modern western diets typically have about 16:1 omega 6 to omega 3 ratio, studies have shown health improvements in many diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases when the ratio are lowered to 4:1 and below. 

  9. I’m frequently getting by with 2 meals a day when I consume enough fat. 

  10. This can be a controversial one so take it how you will. Given the high cost of autoimmune diseases, it is probably wise to keep free of gluten. I went from making my own bread to not eating bread, pizza, pasta, noodles or anything containing wheat. I do not suffer from any outward symptom of gluten sensitivity but bread actually leaves me feeling bloated and hungrier. I still take beer occasionally, though… 


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