Losing weight

For the average person who wants to lose weight




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Purpose of food

Technical explanations

Effect of food

Essential nutrients

Multivitamins

QA

Terminology accuracy

Mind, body and invisible dangers

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The following is the result of my research during and after I've lost about 20% of my weight, at a rate of about 1 kilogram (2 pounds) per month.

I wanted to lose this weight because I had an undesired amount of fat on my abdomen (which is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease), my knees started shaking while going up stairs, and I had a general state of fatigue after walking for a while.

The result is that I've regained the weight that I had when I was thin and I was 20 years old, and some times I feel like a feather when I walk.

Most of the physical exercise that I have done was walking (only during the warm season, 30...60 minutes a day, and much faster than most people). This was contrasted with sitting on a chair for 10 hours a day. While I have returned to the weight from my youth, I have not been able to get a flat stomach, and some fat is still on the abdomen (even years later). This is to be expected considering that I have not followed a strict diet and I have not done hard physical exercise.

I can't say how my new way of eating has affected my mental capacity, which is critical in my line of work, because I have been living under tremendous stress for many years both before and after the weight loss, and I am aware that stress and exhaustion are the main enemies of a sharp mind.

This article is written for the average person who wants to lose weight. People who have diseases usually associated with obesity, like diabetes, should perform extra research which refers specifically to their condition.

The one sentence summary of this article is: drink plenty of water, eat plenty of vegetables and proteins (preferably from fish), and don't replace (unsaturated) fats with carbohydrates.



Purpose of food

The body asks for food because it needs energy, water and essential nutrients (like vitamins, minerals and aminoacids which form proteins). In general, most nutrients are found in fruits and vegetables, while most aminoacids are found in meats and seeds (including nuts). Energy (which is measured in calories) is found in all types of food, but is mostly present in foods made from seeds (like flour, and therefore bread), sugar, (fatty) meats.

The main reason why people get fat is that they eat foods which contain more calories than their bodies consume. However, the body doesn't require a fixed number of calories, but a range which varies significantly even during a single day.

Because of this variation of energy, for reasons that you will read later, you must not adopt a diet which starves you, you must change your eating style forever.

If you eat more calories than your body's average needs are, the body will either store the extra calories (which means that you will get fatter) or will send more energy to the muscles (which means that you will feel more energetic).

If you eat less calories than your average needs are, the body will reduce its activity and will send less energy to your muscles. This means that if you simply eat fewer calories, you will just feel less energetic and you will not lose weight.

This is why, if you want to lose weight, you have to eat the smart way.

You can lose weight by either doing some physical tasks, or you can reduce the number of calories that you eat.

The average person will not lose weight by doing a physical sport because the body consumes energy very efficiently, so it's much easier to reduce the number of calories that your body assimilates by reducing the amount of calories that you eat. The big problem is that the faster you consume energy, the more intensely your body will ask you for food to compensate the lost energy. Also, despite appearances, tiredness is not proportional with the consumption of energy; physical effort leads to muscle exhaustion not fat consumption.

As an example, the body consumes about 800 kilocalories while running 12 kilometers in an hour, 400 kilocalories per hour of jogging, 200 kilocalories while walking 4 kilometers in an hour (meaning, 600 kilocalories while walking 12 kilometers), 100 kilocalories per hour of vigorous sex. Yet, 100 grams (0.2 pounds) of bread contains about 250...300 kilocalories, meaning that you have to run for about half an run in order to consume the calories from 100 grams of bread.

You can see that if you walk or run the same distance, you consume about the same amount of energy (600 versus 800 kilocalories), but running will make you much more tired and will also trigger hunger.

Genetics plays an important role. Someone who is fat may think that the people who do sports are thin to because they do sports, but in reality they are thin because their genetics sends more energy to the muscles rather store it as fat. The genetics of these people makes them feel energetic, so they subconsciously try to consume their energy by doing sports. Women's bodies are genetically inclined to store more fat than men's bodies. However, the majority of people should not be concerned about this; with the correct diet, their bodies would have a normal amount of fat.

There is no magic in losing weight. There is no need for and there are no secrets, magical diets, recipes or potions. Most people can lose weight if they live by common sense phrases like "stop eating before you feel full" and "eat slowly so that your body can have the time to tell you that it's full", and if they understand some of the effects that various foods have on their bodies.



Technical explanations

A calorie is a unit of energy, not a substance.

An approximate number of calories that are necessary for an average person is 2'000 kilocalories per day. Pizza (whose dough is mainly made from flour) contains 200...300 kilocalories per 100 grams, so a 700 grams pizza can even exceed the 2'000 kilocalories daily threshold.

The human body can obtain calories from the following types of food components, each of which contains a different amount of calories:

  • Fats: 9 kilocalories per pure gram of fats (not of whole food). Examples of foods with a high content of fats: oils, butter, chips (because they absorb a lot of the oil in which they are fried), nuts. Fats can be: saturated, trans-saturated (which should be avoided), and unsaturated (which can be mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated).

  • Proteins (the essential aminoacids form proteins): 4 kilocalories per pure gram of proteins (not of whole food). Examples of foods with a high content of proteins: meat.

  • Carbohydrates: 4 kilocalories per pure gram of carbohydrates (not of whole food). Examples of foods with a high content of carbohydrates: sugar, flour, bread, beagles, seeds (including nuts).

  • Alcohol: 7 kilocalories per pure gram of alcohol (not of whole liquid).

Through digestion, the body assimilates a number of calories equal with or lower than the one listed above. The actual amount varies significantly depending on the composition of the food and of the bacteria present in the stomach. For example, some foods, like fruits, vegetables and seeds (including nuts) can only be partly digested by the body, due to their high content of fiber (which is not easily digestible).

Cooking such foods breaks down the fiber, making the food more digestible, and also makes available more essential nutrients. However, some fiber and essential nutrients are also destroyed by heat, so there is a balance in cooking.

The body constantly consumes calories, even during sleep, and varies considerably from person to person. This is called basal metabolic rate (BMR). The highest observed difference between the minimum and maximum BMR was 700 kilocalories.

Physical activity requires extra calories, but the body is very efficient in this regard. For example, the body's basal metabolism uses about 70% from the total consumed energy, physical activity uses about 20%, and the digestion of food uses about 10%.

The number of calories consumed by a person's body is not fixed, but is an interval. Depending on how many calories are available, the body generates more or less energy, so the person feels more or less energetic. Therefore, simply consuming more or less calories on a short term doesn't make a person fatter or thinner, but does make that person more or less energetic. The body must get used to assimilating a higher or lower amount of calories in order to change its weight.

If the body receives fewer calories than what it was used to get, it adapts to the conditions which it considers "difficult" and uses fewer calories to generate energy instead of consuming the extra required energy from the stored energy (which would lead to weight loss).

The number of calories which are necessary to a body depends on the body's weight, but also its composition. For example, while the body's fat does require energy, it requires fewer calories than the rest of the body, per gram.

When the body assimilates more calories than what it needs, it stores the extra calories as fat. This storing is easier to happen at night, so this is why is recommended to eat with about 4 hours before going to sleep, and maybe also eat lighter.

The type of food also affects the rate of storing. For example, the digestion of carbohydrates requires that the body produces insulin, and insulin favors the storing of fat.



Effect of food

The most efficient way to lose weight over a long term, that is, without shocking the body, is to reduce the number of calories that the body assimilates.

Don't follow crash / quick diets, change the way you eat forever! Don't starve your body, eat whenever you feel the need, but eat fruits, vegetables, seeds (including nuts) and lean meats (without visible fat on them). If you starve your body, it will reduce the energy that it gives you and you would feel less energetic, and you will not lose weight (because your body will effectively consume less energy / calories).

The most important thing in life is to be happy, not slim. The mind has a fundamental effect on the body, on its mental and physical health, so if you feel bad about eating a certain way then that would not improve your life. Find your own long term balance.

Eat mainly fruits, vegetables, seeds (including nuts) and lean meat (which doesn't have visible fat on it), and preferably avoid eating foods made with sugar, flour and oil, in particular heavily processed foods which keep most calories from these types of foods but throw away the parts that make your body tell you that it's full.

Foods like bagels, chips and sweetened beverages should be avoided; you can eat them, just consider them (once-in-a-while) treats rather than foods or snacks. The beverages that are made strictly from fruit juice have a similar effect on health because there is little difference in the body between the sugar from fruits and the added sugar (made from sugar cane for example).

The main problem with the foods to avoid is not necessarily that they contain a large number of calories, but that they don't make you feel as satiated as foods which contain many proteins and fats (like meat and nuts). What's more, sugar and flour (and cooked foods in general) are easily digested, but uncooked fruits, vegetables and seeds (including nuts) are only partially digested, and actually require more calories to be used to digest the fiber that they contain, which means that the body can only assimilate much fewer calories even if, for example, nuts contain more calories than sugar (for the same weight).

Here, fiber refers to the hard-to-digest or non-digestible parts of food, not the dietary fiber. For example, in oranges the fiber is what is left of the oranges after their juice is squeezed out of them.

It's important to understand that satiation is not proportional with the number of calories of food. It is currently unknown what causes satiation. One possible explanation is leptin.

You should eat fruits, vegetables and seeds (including nuts) which are solid (= not leaves) and don't need cooking (and, of course, without cooking them). On one hand the cooking (not just the heat) destroys some fiber and nutrients from foods, but on the other hand it releases some nutrients and calories from the destroyed fiber, so there is a balance which depends on the type of food. Just don't cook the life out of food!

You will hear that fruits and vegetables are awesome and that they contain all sorts of essential nutrients. But you will not hear that you would have to eat every day a huge amount of those foods (and many others) in order to get all the essential nutrients which can benefit you.

Fruits and vegetables are not magical, but have several key advantages:

  • They keep you from eating the foods that are worse for your health, like foods based mostly on flour and sugar.

  • They contain fiber which regulates the digestion (meaning, the entire energy and nutrient absorption mechanism, not just the bowel movement) and controls the appetite. Fiber increases the activity of the bacteria which is present in the digestive system and helps digest the food, which presumably results in an improved cleaning of the digestive system.

  • They contain a lot of water which is easily ingested in large quantities (unlike plain water which is simply drank). Also, the ingested water stays more time in the digestive system.

  • Have traces of essential nutrients (like vitamins and minerals); some have significant amounts of essential nutrients.

  • They have components which create a more fluid environment in the mouth and digestive system, and this results in an oral environment which is less destructive on the teeth, and also in more active beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. (Carbohydrates, sugar in particular, do the opposite, creating a sticky environment which increases the risk of teeth deterioration and slows down the activity of the beneficial bacteria from the digestive system.)

  • Have few calories per unit of weight, fact which may trigger the body to say that it's full after ingesting a smaller amount of calories.

You should limit the amount of food which contains more calories (for the same weight) than fruits, vegetables and meats. For example, bread contains about 50% more calories that grilled chicken breast, which means that it's much easier to gain weight by eating bread than chicken. Even worse, foods which contain a lot of carbohydrates (like flour and sugar) will give you a lower feeling of satiety, so you are more likely to eat a greater amount of such foods, therefore ending up getting several times more calories than you get from meats.

You should stop eating before you feel full, and you should eat a low volume of food so that your stomach doesn't extend to allow more food. This way the stomach will get used to allowing a small amount of food, and you will therefore feel satiety quicker.

You should avoid destroying the fiber of food by (over)cooking it; cooking can mean various things, like applying heat or mincing. Food must be made digestible, but not turned into mush. This means that the foods which can be eaten without cooking should be cooked as little as possible. The fiber slows down digestion and therefore increases satiety and reduces the amount of calories absorbed by the body.

You should avoid eating soup because soups extend the stomach and this allows you to eat more food, because they contain a lot of calories since they are made with oil, because you are likely to eat a lot of bread with it, and because the fiber of the vegetables has been mostly destroyed (and therefore all the calories from the soup are easily absorbed).

You should especially avoid eating both soup and a second course, eat only one of them.

If until now you were used to eat meat with, say, rice or potatoes, you should reduce the rice and potatoes as much as possible.

Don't try to lose weight quickly by starving your body because that would lead to reduced energy (and a general feeling of being tired), and a lack of nutrients (for example the lack of salt could lead to fainting).

It's advised to drink water after eating, and especially after eating fruits which contain a lot of acids (like oranges, lemons, pineapple). Don't brush your teeth soon after eating such fruits because the acids may soften the enamel of the teeth, and the brushing could peel it slowly away. These acids, especially when they come from fruit juice rather than the fruit itself, may cause stomach problems to some people.

You should get used to reading the food composition from the labels, so that you can compare the number of calories from various types of food. Make sure that you look at the number of calories for the same food weight, and perhaps calculate it for the portions that you actually eat. Be aware that some producers show with a big font the number of calories for a lower weight than standard (100 grams) so that the buyers would think the food actually contains fewer calories.

It's not necessary to avoid sweets, but it's necessary to consider them treats not food. This is because they are usually made with 50...75% sugar, flour and fat, which means that a cake could easily contain 3 times more calories than 100 grams of lean meat (which has no visible fat on it). You should be most careful about sweets made with about 50% fats and 50% sugar; this combination appears to make it very difficult for the body to tell you to stop eating.

Juices (fresh or factory made) contain a lot of calories due to the high amount of sugar (natural or factory added). For example, Pepsi and Coke have about 10% sugar, which for a 1 liter bottle a day is enormous.

A kilogram (2 pounds) of fruits or vegetables offer, for example, the same amount of calories as 100 grams of milk chocolate, but while such a chocolate is easily eaten at one time, a kilogram of raw fruits or vegetables just doesn't fit in the average stomach (of a thin person). What's more, the body will assimilate a smaller amount of the calories from the fruits or vegetables because of their fiber.



Essential nutrients

If you feel that you want to eat something but you don't know what, or you eat and your cravings are not satisfied, it's likely that you have a deficiency of some essential nutrient(s) or water.

To get the daily recommended dose of many essential nutrients you would have to eat daily several kilograms (double for pounds) of foods for each specific essential nutrient (because each type of food usually has a single type of essential nutrient in a significant amount). Obviously that's not going to happen, and this is why some people supplement their essential nutrients with multivitamin pills.

The daily recommended doses were calculated to meet the needs of most people, following the scientific literature, although not necessarily using controlled studies. You can find the recent values here. The effect of all the daily recommended doses taken together may be quite different, meaning that it's possible that the independent beneficial effects of some essential nutrients are eliminated by the effects of other essential nutrients.

Centuries ago it was easy to have such severe deficiency of essential nutrients that people died. An example of this was scurvy. In modern times, the available food is varied enough and contains enough essential nutrients that this doesn't happen, except for people who don't eat enough food, or varied enough food.

Essential nutrients are not magic, they are essential (just like air and water). They don't heal diseases (just like air and water), they don't make you a super-hero. They make the body function at peak efficiency, and therefore they strengthen the immune system and reduce the chances that you get sick. Eating more essential nutrients than the daily recommended dose will have no beneficial effect, and some of them might have a negative effect, but having too little of them is likely to increase the chances that you get sick.

Essential nutrients are essential for life. Without them, you might simply feel weak, or you might have muscular cramps, or your teeth might degrade faster, or in extreme cases it's possible to die (which is unlikely in modern times, but those who eat very little are exposed to this possibility).

Take calcium for example. The daily recommended dose (for adults) is 1 gram per day. This can be taken by the body from about 0.8...1 liters of milk, 150...200 grams of cheese, 400...800 grams of yogurt, or 700 grams of bread. A low amount of calcium intake may lead to muscular cramps, weak bones and teeth. However, a too high amount may lead to kidney stones.



Multivitamins

It's actually cheaper to get the essential nutrients from multivitamins than from food because multivitamins are made either from the actual chemicals that form the essential nutrients, or from plants that are not normally used as food and are easier to grow than food is.

However, since people have to eat, and since they can live well without having the extra amount of multivitamins, taking multivitamins may be an unnecessary cost.

Fluorescent-yellow pee indicates that some component of the multivitamins that you are taking is being eliminated by the body because either it doesn't need it, or because it can't assimilate it. Usually, multivitamins contain this component in a dose much higher than the body needs because it is known that such a high dose has no negative effect, and is likely used as a simple way to see that the body does process (though not necessarily assimilates) the multivitamins.

If you see any side effects, like itching skin or headaches (but which can even be as severe as blood loss), immediately stop taking the multivitamins. Your body is reacting to the specific recipe with which those multivitamins were made.

Some people, including some physicians, might tell you that the yellow pee is proof that you are wasting money on multivitamins, but this shows that they misunderstand and misrepresent several factors: both food and multivitamin cost, the recommended doses of vitamins and minerals can't be obtained from food by most people, multivitamins contain larger than recommended doses because the body absorbs what it needs, but some bodies require much higher amounts of multivitamins in order to absorb the recommended doses.

There is in fact a trend of denigrating multivitamin supplementation. However, if you read such articles you can see that the people writing them, aside from trying to provoke emotions instead of explaining facts logically, imply that the people who take multivitamins do so in order to heal themselves of various diseases, a fact which is false (excluding what is told by the people who have a financial interest to say that they heal diseases).

Nutrients, vitamins and minerals don't fight diseases, but taken in appropriate doses they give the immune system the resources with which to fight the body's enemies. That's it. So, while they may help the body avoid a cold, they will not work against disease X (unless the body's immune system can fight it with the extra resources).

While multivitamins may prevent a cold, if a cold has (nearly) installed, it will continue its usual course. If you usually take just a third of the recommended dose, the probability to catch a cold is higher (than for a full dose), but at the very least, the symptoms of the cold will be less severe (and the duration will appear shorter). Personally, I've never caught a cold when taking at least two thirds of the daily dose.

In order to avoid catching a cold, you have to take multivitamins with several weeks before you are exposed to the (common cold) virus, so that your immune system can have the time to build its defenses. If you start sneezing more often than usual, it's a sign that your body is successfully fighting the virus.

So, why do some people who change their diet to vegetables think that these have cured their disease? It's not because of the magic nutrients from vegetables, it's because they have stopped eating whatever foods were poisoning their bodies before the change, were because some deficiencies that they had were filled.

These clarifications are not meant to be merely semantic, they are meant to limit any potential irrational enthusiasm regarding the healing potential of vegetables, multivitamins and "supernutrients".

As for the ability of various vitamins to decrease the chances of cancer, there is no evidence that they do so with a significant relevance. In fact, vitamin E taken in a daily dose of 400 IU appears to increase the risk of prostate cancer by 17% (this increase represents an extra 1% of the total male population). The most popular multivitamin supplements contain less than this dose of vitamin E.

Personally, while trying to lose weight I've also taken multivitamins for 2 years, almost continuously. Before that, I used to catch a cold about every spring and autumn. During those 2 years none of this happened, but afterward, when I stopped taking them, the problems have gradually returned over half a year, and have stopped again after taking multivitamins again, and so on.



QA



Should I count the calories that I eat?

No, because you have no idea how many calories your body needs.

However, you should compare how many calories are in the types and amounts of foods that you eat, so that you can choose the ones with fewer calories.



How fast should I be losing weight?

If you can lose at most 1 kilogram (= 2 pounds) per month, that's great, but if you want to lose your extra weight faster than you can increase this limit several times without negatively affecting your health.

If you lose a lot of weight, especially if it happens fast, your body will not lose fat everywhere just as much or just as fast, and some fat will remain in certain areas, like on the abdomen, making the skin look flappy.

While losing weight, fat isn't the only thing that you will be losing, but muscles as well. Read this for details.



How much vegetables and fruits should I eat?

If possible, several kilograms (double for pounds) a day.

In order to benefit from eating vegetables and fruits, their fiber content must be made digestible, but not turned into mush. This means that the vegetables, like tomatoes or cucumbers, which can be eaten without cooking should be cooked as little as possible.

Vegetables, like kidney beans, which can't be eaten without cooking should be cooked extensively (but still not turned into mush).

Cooking can mean using heat, but also putting the vegetables and fruits through a blender in order to break their fiber.

For best results, this amount of vegetables should replace the majority of carbohydrate-rich foods that you are most likely eating now. While seeds contain a large percentage of carbohydrates, the fiber content dramatically reduces their effect.



What about fried foods?

Beware of fried foods!

Fried oil is somewhat toxic. See here when oils become toxic.

Cooking in oil brings you a large amount of unnecessary fats.

Raw potatoes contain about 93% carbohydrates but have a small amount of calories (per 100 grams). However, home made french fries have 2 times the number of calories because they absorb the frying oil; the ones fried at fast foods restaurants have 4 times the number of calories (I don't know why, but you can check this at the USDA food list).



What if I crave sweets?

Eat them, but limit their amount, don't eat until you're full, and reduce with an equal amount of calories the rest of the food that you eat (but not from the ones which contain uncooked fiber).

If you were to abstain from eating sweets, you would increase the probability that you would simply drop your new eating habits and start eating without limits again.

It's important to eat the way that you can sustain for the rest of your life.



How late should I eat before going to sleep?

If possible, eat with at least 4 hours before going to sleep. It has been observed that as the usual sleep time approaches, the metabolism slows down and this favors the deposition of calories as fat.



Should I eat a lot of food fewer times a day, or little food more times a day?

This is not so simple. If you eat a lot of food at a time, your stomach would get used to being expanded and would therefore allow more food in the future, that is, you would feel satiation with a longer delay.

On the other hand, every time you eat, you start a metabolic process which tells your brain to continue to eat until satiation. This means that you might find yourself having difficulties in stopping from eating.

You have to find your own balance depending on how you feel in each case, and likely a middle-ground approach is best. In any case, a consistent breakfast makes a good starting point.

Also, don't create a habit of eating without restraints (or treating yourself royally) in the weekends. Eat about the same amount of calories every day. It's better to eat a small treat every day than a lot of them once a week.



I feel the need to eat a lot as if my body is looking for a specific type of food, but I don't know which. Why is this?

Leaving aside any possible medical condition that you may have and the medical tests that you could take, one possible cause is that your body is low on some essential nutrients, and perhaps most importantly, low on water.

Many people delay drinking water when their bodies request it, and when they get used to it and feel no more thirst, they think that they don't need water so much. However, the body simply starts getting water from food, and asks for a lot of food in order to get the needed water.

If you take multivitamins for a while and see that your cravings are decreasing, their absence was likely the reason for the cravings.

If at the same time you feel that you are low on energy, you should check that you are drinking plenty of water, eating plenty of vegetables and proteins (preferably from fish), and don't replace fats with carbohydrates.

If you are limiting the number of calories for fear that you may gain weight, you could eat more and at the same time do some physical exercise in order to burn the extra energy.



Should I avoid eating saturated fat?

After a few decades of demonization (apparently without scientifically valid proof) of saturated fat, people are starting to look at the studies which show that there is no causation between the intake of saturated fat and heart attack.

Specifically, a WHO report says that "Replacing dietary sources of SFA with carbohydrates decreases both LDL and HDL cholesterol concentration but does not change the total/HDL cholesterol ratio."

The reason for this observation is that the liver compensates for the cholesterol from food, trying to keep a balance inside the body.

So, it's pointless to replace saturated fats with carbohydrates.

Another study says that "Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats."

See this and this for details.



Should I eat omega fatty acids

The modern diet is too rich in omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids, which is not healthy.

Studies have suggested that omega-6 fatty acids should be consumed in a 1:1 ratio to omega-3. Excessive levels of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids may increase the probability of some diseases.

Salmon, mackerel and flaxseed oil are some of the best oil sources of omega-3 fatty acids relative to omega-6 fatty acids.



Should I avoid eating meat?

There is no scientific reason why the average person should avoid eating meat. If your philosophy tells you to avoid meat for such and such (moral) reason, then avoid eating meat.

Be aware that "proteins" is a generic word which encompasses any combination of aminoacids, but the body needs a specific combination of aminoacids which are essential for it, and meats provide a much better balance among the essential aminoacids, than vegetables do.

If you want to avoid even eating fish, then seeds (including nuts) are a good way to compensate the missing proteins; soy is also a choice but be aware of its phytoestrogenic effect.

However, the food industry has something called "processed meat" (for example, burgers), which is in fact not meat because the entire food may contain (for example) 30% meat (where the rest is anything except meat). If you look at a can of tuna with vegetables, where the fish is 20...30%, on the can it says "tuna salad", not "tuna"; even this, for full honesty, it should be called vegetables salad because the tuna is only about 25%.

Frequent eating of processed meat has been linked to some health issues.

Meat provides mainly proteins while giving you much fewer calories than what other types of foods give you for the same amount of proteins. Seeds (including nuts), are a very complex type of food, which provides fats, proteins and carbohydrates, but also contain a lot of fiber which causes gas.



Should I avoid eating carbohydrates?

There is a trend now to avoid carbohydrates, but carbohydrates are not the enemy, however carbohydrate dominance is. Still, far more important is what type of food you eat and how it's cooked (that is, how much of the fiber was destroyed).

If you are diabetic, you probably should, but otherwise there is no general health reason why you should. However, note that carbohydrates, and sugar in particular, cause tooth decay.

You should drink plenty of water, eat plenty of vegetables and proteins (preferably from fish), and don't replace (unsaturated) fats with carbohydrates.



Does eating carbohydrates cause tooth decay?

Yes, eating carbohydrates, and sugar in particular, creates an acidic and sticky environment in the mouth which significantly increases the risk of teeth deterioration (like cavities).

A high risk is indicated by the presence of the biofilm, which is a soft and white substance between the gums and teeth, which mostly forms when eating carbohydrates.

The frequency of sugar ingestion, not the amount, is the most important factor of tooth decay. When sugar is eaten, the formed acids soften the tooth enamel and leave it vulnerable for about half an hour. Eating more sugar doesn't increase this time, but eating sugar more often leaves the enamel vulnerable for longer, so it's better to eat sweets once a day rather than eat a bag of candies throughout the day.

Tooth decay can be reduced by flossing and brushing the teeth with an electrical toothbrush (twice a day, after breakfast and dinner).



Which is better: fruit or fruit juice?

Home made fruit and vegetable juices contain a lot of calories due to the high amount of natural sugar, more specifically, the same amount as Pepsi and Coke, which is about 10%.

The fruit juice contains a concentrated amount of calories and acids. The acids may cause stomach problems to some people. The entire fruit has a significantly lesser effect on health because the rest of the fruit (= the fiber) slows down the digestion of the fruit components, and makes you feel full before you ingest too many calories.

The fruit juice contains much less fiber than the entire fruit, which means that the stomach creates less gas during digestion.

You should sip fruit juices with a straw in order to keep the acids off your teeth (as much as is possible).



Some people say not to eat many fruits and vegetables because they can't be digested by the body. Is that correct?

It's correct that the body can't digest large parts of fruits and vegetables. However, it's exactly for this reason why fruits and vegetables are good, not bad. This undigested (or partly digested) fiber regulates digestion (not just excretion).

However, some fruits and vegetables may have to be cooked in order to partly destroy their fiber's resistance to digestion. It depends on each type of fruit and vegetable, and also on the specifics of your digestive system (mainly on what types of bacteria reside in your stomach).

For example, it's unlikely that your digestive system requires apples or oranges to be cooked, but it's most likely that it requires potatoes or beans to be cooked to some degree.

An unfortunate side effect of eating fruits and vegetables is that the digestion of their fiber causes gas, but so does the digestion of carbohydrates (= anything made with flour and sugar); carbohydrates are also present in fruits and vegetables, especially in seeds.



Is canned food safe?

Canned food is very practical, so it's here to stay. Therefore, it's important to understand its health effects, and what can be done to minimize the possible health risks.

In part, canned food is safe to eat.

In modern times, the cans are made of steel or aluminum, possibly coated inside with a tin or plastic layer which prevents the metal from leaching into the food; some producers even use plastic envelops instead of metal.

However, the plastic layer usually contains bisphenol-A. Some producers do have such a layer which doesn't contain bisphenol-A, but you have to check with the producer to make sure that this is the case; still, there is no guarantee that the replacement is safer.

The problem is that the bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical which may be dangerous to health, leaches into the food. The amount of leached bisphenol-A which ends up in the body depends on the type of food, with canned soup being the worst. This doesn't necessarily make the canned food unsafe, because the absolute amount of ingested bisphenol-A is still below the level which is considered safe.

Both Europe's and USA's food safety administrations say that bisphenol-A is safe to use in the packaging of foods.

Bisphenol-A is present in most plastics, including plastic water bottles, so it's quite difficult to avoid. There are some alternatives to this chemical, but there are no guarantees that they are any safer.

Buy canned food only if its shelf life is maximum 3 years (rather than 5 years or more), presumably because these don't contain preservatives, or contain less.

Look for cans which are close to their manufacturing date, because the metal or plastic had little time to leach into the food.

Throw away the cans that are bulging, dented, cracked, leaking or rusted.

Wash the lid, especially its rim, before you open a can.

After you empty the can, smell it inside. If you have a tingly sensation, if it smells like metal / oxidation, don't buy that product / brand again. Basically, the metal of the can leaches into the food, makes it taste bad and makes it unsafe on the long term.

If the can contains oil, throw the oil because bisphenol-A is attracted by fats. It may be a good idea to throw away any fluid from the can, be it oil, water or something else.

Don't scrape (the inside of) the can.

Never cook food in the can, first move it in your normal cookware.

Since heat is normally used during canning, vitamins C and B are destroyed in part. However, this also happens during cooking at home, it's not limited to canning.



Should I do sports to lose weight?

Studies show that the average people don't lose weight if they do sports over long periods of time, and the composition of their bodies doesn't change either. That's because the body is very efficient at energy consumption while doing sports (no matter how tired you feel afterward), because the body asks for the consumed energy to be replaced by eating, and because the caloric intake from small amounts of food overwhelms this small consumption.

Sports should be done for health reasons, not for losing weight.

However, simple exercise, like walking at an average pace, or even standing rather than sitting, should complement a healthy diet and may help losing weight because it doesn't triggering hunger to compensate the loss of energy (like sports do).

However, some sports may be particularly effective at removing fat from specific areas of the body, that is, when you realize that you can't lose the fat from, say, your abdomen by dieting, some sports may help you do that.



Why do I feel tired after eating?

A possible cause of fatigue after eating is that you've eaten a lot of carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates like flour and sugar. The digestion of carbohydrates requires the body to generate insulin, and the need of the body to produce a high amount of insulin causes the fatigue.

The intensity of the feeling of fatigue may indicate the potential of a diabetic condition.



Why do most people get fatter as they age?

This is because the body's basal metabolic rate (BMR) is reducing with aging, because the physical activity of older people is reducing, yet people continue to eat as much as they were used to eat when they were young.

Older people should eat fewer calories than they were eating when they were young, in order to maintain their weight.



What are the habits of people who maintain their weight?

Studies show that most people who are keeping their weight under control do the following:

  • Stop eating when their bodies tell them that they are full, not when their parents or friends tell them to stop, or when their plates are empty, or when their TV shows are over.

  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.

  • Maintain a low calorie diet.

  • Walk a lot (like an hour every day).

  • Eat breakfast.

  • Weigh themselves weekly.

  • Watch little TV, that is, prefer to stand or walk rather than sit.



How much alcohol is it safe to drink per day?

The USA and UK governments recommend a maximum of 150 ml of wine (5 fluid ounces) (with 13% alcohol) for men and women, 400 ml (13 fluid ounces) of beer (with 5% alcohol). The USA government allows for men a maximum that's double, but, considering other sources, this appears to be too much. This amount is per day, you can't accumulate a week's amount in a single day of the week.

Since women generally have a lower mass than men, they should drink less than men in order to get the same amount of alcohol per unit of mass (kilogram or pound).

Alcohol should be drank during meals in order to slow its assimilation.



Should I do what the studies say it's good for health?

One of the biggest problems of studies is that they are either performed in test tubes, on animals, or on very few people. You are neither of these and the human body, maybe yours in particular, often reacts in opposite ways.

Worse, the researchers measure several (even tens) of health parameters, and in small studies one of them is bound to come out looking good, looking as if eating whatever is studied has made a difference. But the difference exists because there is a huge variation in human physiology and behavior, and in environmental factors. And the more parameters are measured, the higher is the chance that one of them will look good. This is why many studies of the same thing show opposite results.

But leaving aside the weakness of studies, what you should do depends on what matters to you. Is it health, happiness or a long life? Does something which appears to improve health also increases the life expectancy? And how happy are the people who follow that path (compared to those who don't)?

Studies don't normally look at these factors. In fact, some studies which do look at these factors show that even though some foods and life styles do improve various health characteristics, they don't increase the life expectancy of the people who eat those foods and have those life styles. In other words, in terms of longevity, the improved health has been lost in the noise of life. So, if people feel miserable when eating something and their life expectancy stays the same, why eat that?

Sometimes, even if a food shows a positive effect, a neutral or even a negative effect can occur when increasing the dose through food supplements. This is called hormesis. This is a possible explanation why, for example, antioxidants from some foods show a health benefit, but show none or a negative effect when the antioxidant is taken in a larger dose as part of a food supplement.



I hear a lot about antioxidants and polyphenols. Are they really good for health?

While you will hear that they are very good for your health, you will not hear how much the dose should be (= how much you should eat), how they compare with each other or with other things (= which one is worth the trouble), or by how much they improve your health.

Most studies regarding these things are done in test tubes, and at best on animals. People are neither of these and the human body often reacts in opposite ways, especially when you consider that it needs a large amount of these things in order to be affected by them.

There have been some studies done on people, but while some of them show health benefits, some show no health benefits, and some show a negative health impact.

The most important thing is that they don't cure any fatal disease, as claimed by the fans and sellers of the foods which contain antioxidants and polyphenols.

When you read any health claims about a nutrient, think about this: if it can't keep the common cold away, never mind heal it, how could it possibly keep away cancer or whatever other serious disease?



Should I eat foods with added multivitamins?

You should avoid foods (including water and milk) which are specifically marketed as having added multivitamins and minerals, because you can't control their type and amount.

There are studies which show that food fortification benefits people on the average, and people with a low income in particular. However, you can't know if you are part of that average, especially if you don't have a low income, so you can't know that you are indeed deficient with regards to those multivitamins and minerals.

Multivitamin pills can be easily controlled, especially by not taking them.

If you avoid fluoride water / milk / salt, brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste.



Should multivitamins be from a natural or artificial source?

Generally, it doesn't matter because the essential nutrients are literally chemicals, not magical elements, so they can be precisely created in laboratories.

More important are the absolute amount and ratios of the components, in what amount they are assimilated by the body, and what potentially toxic chemicals do the pills contain (chemicals which are used during manufacturing).

When you decide which to take, go for the company that you trust most, and for the ones that you can afford.



Should I take breaks from taking multivitamins?

It's generally recommended to do so, for example take multivitamins for 3 months then stop for a while, and so. The main claimed reason is that the body gets used to them and therefore they become less useful.

I have not seen scientific evidence that this is necessary, or that the claimed reason is based on studies rather than mere precautions.

Vitamins and minerals are chemicals that the body uses in its normal operation, like water, air and food. When things are put in this perspective, it sounds silly to say "stop eating because the body will get used to food or to the vitamins and minerals from it". Just as well, it sounds silly to say "stop taking multivitamins because the body will get used to them".

However, it's important to note that multivitamins usually contain some elements which are in a dose far higher than the daily recommended dose; see Multivitamins for details.

Studies have shown that they don't present a risk on the average population, but you can never know how your body will react to them on the long term. You also can't be sure how your kidneys will react while processing (for elimination) huge amounts of those vitamins and minerals. Then again, you also can't be sure how your kidneys will react while processing the calcium (/ limestone) from the water you drink.

One way to follow precautions and still take multivitamins is to take a dose smaller than the daily recommended dose, like a third (which has enough of an effect in general), but two thirds is visibly better in strengthening the immune system.



All of this is just not working. I barely eat, I have no energy and I'm still gaining weight. Why?

If you want to lose weight, you should not barely eat, you should eat a lot of proteins (preferably from fish), fruits, vegetables and seeds (including nuts).

It's possible that your metabolism is storing calories rather than using them to generate energy. You may have to seek medical advice if you want to lose weight.



Does a diet with caloric restriction increase the lifespan?

Yes and no, depending on what you actually eat.

According to the largest such study, if you are eating a lot of refined carbohydrates (specifically, refined sugar), there is an increase in longevity if you then change to a calorie restricted diet. However, if you are eating very little refined carbohydrates, there is no increase in longevity if you then change to a calorie restricted diet.



Any tips about wine?

Red wines are (usually) astringent, white wines are (usually) not astringent. Rose wines are in between. Astringency is a feeling in the mouth similar to that produced by clove. If you think that this feeling is similar to that of the dentist's numbing spray, you should not be surprised because that spray contains clove extract.

The alcohol level of wine doesn't change with the wine's age. This is because the alcohol level remains fixed once the fermentation process ends (and wines are not sold before this happens). However, the changes which occur during the aging process do modify the perception of the alcohol level, usually amplifying the taste of alcohol.

The Traminer family (including the Gewurztraminer variety) of grapes gives a strong aroma to wine, without being overwhelming.



How do I pick a good watermelon?

The more of the following statements are true, the better the watermelon is:

  • Is not deformed from its normal (round or oblong) form. For some heavy watermelons, the side with the yellow spot is flat because there is a lot of weight on it all the time, so don't worry if you see this.

  • The rind has no scars and no holes. Scars indicate a troubled growth, with weather shocks.

  • The rind is firm and doesn't bend, or barely bends, when it's pressed firmly with the weight of an (entire) arm (but not with the weight of the whole body); test the yellow spot in particular. If the rind bends clearly, the watermelon is mush inside, that is, the fiber is very soft. The pressure to apply depends on the thickness of the rind, and this in turn depends partly on the size of the watermelon. If when you press the rind you can hear a cracking sound (inside the watermelon), the watermelon is likely overripe; a faint sound may indicate a great watermelon, but the louder the sound is, the more overripe the watermelon is.

  • The yellow spot isn't white. A white spot indicates that the watermelon didn't have time to mature. A missing yellow spot, or a cream spot, is fine, the white is the problem.

  • Put your palms on the opposite sides of the watermelon, on its width, and slap it with one palm. If you feel a strong vibration on the other palm, it's a good sign.

All other indicators of ripeness are unreliable. You will find online people who show you how a good watermelon should sound when its rind is knocked or slapped, but they don't cut open the watermelons that supposedly sound bad, to compare the "good" and the "bad".

The best indicator of ripeness is the trust you have in the seller. The producers and the sellers have more options at their disposal to check the ripeness, like knowing when they planted the watermelons and actually cutting them open and tasting them.

Buy watermelons within their season, but avoid those brought from thousands of kilometers / miles away. As with all fresh products, you should buy them from the market, not from the supermarket.

Watermelons which sit for a few days in the sun at the market become soft inside, so you might want to buy them from shaded shops. The rule about the firm rind might not apply because the fiber inside gets soft faster than the rind, so the rind may be hard when the fiber is soft.

Watermelons don't continue to ripe after they are harvested, but they do get softer inside as time goes by. A watermelon is good, perhaps, up to about 10 days after being harvested.

Don't keep uncut watermelons in the refrigerator; keep them at room temperature, away from sunlight. When you cut them, cover the uneaten parts with plastic foil and put them in the refrigerator, but eat them as soon as possible.

Don't simply accept the seller's advice. Always follow the rules!

Personally, during season, I eat about 2 kg (4 pounds) of watermelon (without the rind) during weekdays, and double during weekends. I can say, after a few days of overindulgence, that the sickness limit for me is 5 kg (10 pounds) a day. This means that the watermelon has 600 kilocalories during weekdays, and 1'200 kilocalories during weekends. Yet, my weight doesn't change during that time.



Any other advice?

Stress makes people eat more.

The digestion of the fiber present in fruits, vegetables and seeds (including nuts) causes gas, but the level varies wildly depending on the type of food and on the bacteria present in the digestive system.

The digestion of carbohydrates causes gas.

The digestion of fats and proteins doesn't cause gas.

Nuts may cause colon spasms (a few hours after being eaten).

You should drink plenty of water, eat plenty of vegetables and proteins (preferably from fish), and don't replace (unsaturated) fats with carbohydrates.



Terminology accuracy

Whenever you research dietary advice, you should be very careful with the terminology and labeling which tries to shorten things.

Many of the people who are very vocal about diets have their own specific terminology which is, unfortunately, created relative to other diets rather than relative to numbers or to the understanding of the average person.

For example, you will find people talking about a "high-carb diet", meaning a diet where carbohydrates are present in a high amount relative to (but not necessarily higher than) other types of nutrients. Unfortunately, for the average person, a "high-XXX diet" means that the food contains mostly XXX, which isn't what such a diet actually means because those types of foods actually contain mostly other types of nutrients (not XXX).

For example, oranges have about 10% carbohydrates (90% water), bananas 22% (75% water), pasta 25% (70% water), nuts 20...30% (40...50% fats and 20% proteins), bread 40...50% (35% water and 10% proteins), and sugar has 100% (and no water). However the average person will be surprised to find that the people who say that they are on a "high-carb diet" are not eating bread and sugar, but rather fruits, seeds (including nuts) and pasta.

For the average person, a diet where fruits, vegetables and seeds (including nuts) make up most of the food is not a "high-carb diet", but one based on... fruits, vegetables and seeds (including nuts).

The type of food is crucial for the amount of calories that are assimilated by the body, so a diet where fruits, vegetables and seeds (including nuts) make up most of the food will provide significantly less calories to the body (due to the partial digestion of these foods because of their fiber) than the calories provided by fast-foods and sweets with an equal number of calories.



Mind, body and invisible dangers

You may have heard that the mind affects the body. But is there any way to actually understand its effect, to feel the consequences rather than merely rationalize them? Following, is an example with multiple twists, so bear with it.

Perhaps you have heard of the "divination pendulum". This is, for example, a ring which is hanging by a string, ring which can answer any question that you ask, by channeling the divine energy or the subconscious mind. Before you ask your questions, you have to establish how you expect the pendulum to swing if the answer to the question is either "yes" or "no": left-right or forth-back.

With an elbow on a table (or any fixed support) and your forearm in the air, hold the string with your fingers, letting the ring hang loose, and ask a a question. Focus on the question. After a while, the pendulum will start swinging in one of the established directions. You have your divine answer.

Skeptics would say that the ring moves because you move the string, but it's obvious to anyone that your hand isn't moving. Your elbow is sitting firmly on the table and, anyway, the swinging is quite ample, so it's clear that minuscule hand movements couldn't possibly be responsible for the swinging.

Now comes the first twist. Focus on the answer "yes". The pendulum will start swinging in the direction which corresponds to "yes". Now focus on the answer "no". The pendulum will start swinging in the direction which corresponds to "no". This is odd, it's as if something is interfering with the answers. What could it be? How can you find out?

Thinking logically, you should start considering that maybe, just maybe, by focusing on an answer, you somehow move your hand and basically give yourself the answer. But you can see and feel that your hand isn't moving. Still, how can you be absolutely sure? The answer: put your entire forearm on the table and repeat the questions.

Surprise! The ring no longer moves. Weird! Has the divine abandoned you? You again hold your forearm in the air, ask the questions and the ring starts answering again. You're relieved. Clearly, the table somehow absorbs the divine energy because it has more contact with the forearm than just with the elbow. Or maybe it's an evil table, or maybe it's not evil but absorbs the divine energy without knowing any better.

If you were a logical person, you would start realizing that the divine wasn't answering any of your questions, and the table is not in any way influencing the divine energies. You would realize that, somehow, your hand was actually moving, and those invisible movements were amplifying the pendulum's swing (that's why it took a while to get an "answer").

Now comes the second twist. Does it really matter that the ring wasn't moving due to the divine energy? It doesn't! Certainly not for what matters in the real world: the mind's effect on the body. The one thing that results from this experiment is extremely important for people's health: what you think affects your body, even if you don't see or feel how it happens.

In practice, this is how stress works and why it's a major contributing factor to the leading causes of death, and it's also why happy people live longer. But merely telling yourself that you are not stressed and that you are happy, doesn't change the effects (maybe just a little bit), it just hides them better from your consciousness.

Here comes the final twist. This experiments should lead logical people into realizing that they should not believe in everything they see, and they should also believe in what they don't see. Ironic, when you think that that's how magic and religion work. But the moral of the story is that whatever may appear logical at first, is not necessarily the whole story, it may be just how limited the knowledge of people is at some point in their lives. Perhaps at this point you have started to realize that what truly matters in life is what and how you think, because this has physical, invisible consequences.

Are there any signs that could tell you if you are stressed and if your mind is hurting your body even if you can't see it happening? An agitated sleep is one such sign, the lack of dreams is another. An agitated sleep means that your body, especially your brain, can't fully reenergize. If you don't dream, or at least don't remember dreaming, it may be because your mind is too stressed to wander around pointlessly (at least that's what it may appear to be doing when dreaming), or is too stressed to give enough importance to the dreams to remember them. Nightmares may actually be a sign that even though your mind is stressed about something, it's also free enough to tell you about it in some twisted way.



Websites

USDA food list = The reference of food composition from the United States Department of Agriculture.

SkipThePie = A more friendly reference of food composition which uses the data from USDA, which also shows the percentage from the daily recommended dose.

USDA doses = Webapp for daily recommended doses for essential nutrients.

FDA doses = Daily recommended doses for essential nutrients.

MyDr = Calculator for calories burnt during various types of physical activity.







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