Last week I wrote about how a meat-based diet works, and why it may be a very efficient and healthy strategy for people who are struggling with weight loss. But how to start? Making a huge change in one’s diet is difficult – lots of habits to change, social pressures, worries about whether it’s the right thing to do … there are many obstacles which make it unlikely that a sudden, big intervention will lead to meaningful long-term changes.
Most people eat a small number of foods most of the time. It is those staple meals you should try to focus on. If you manage to eat really healthy 80% of the time, you can relax a bit on the remaining 20%. So let’s see how you could improve those meals one step at a time.
Make Small Healthy Swaps!
Following those simple rules you can make small tweaks (“swaps”) to your meals which will incrementally improve your diet:
- Replace a part of the meal which is mostly “empty” calories with meat or other animal products. Or just remove it.
- The relative amount of protein (% of calories) of the meal must increase.
- The total number of calories of the meal should not increase.
- The “deliciousness” of the meal should not decrease.
For example, next time you make sandwiches maybe use half as much bread (half as many sandwiches) or thinner slices of bread, but add more ham and maybe an egg, maybe use home-made mayo instead of margarine. Calories stay the same, empty calories from the bread are being replaced with more satiating calories from the meat and the eggs, and along for the ride come nutrients that our body craves and would not get from bread or vegetables. The sandwiches are still as tasty or even tastier, and much more nutritious!
The main goal physiologically is to increase the nutrient density of the meal, which is measured by putting the amount of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein) in relation to the amount of energy (calories).
Why Does This Work For Weight Loss And Body Composition?
By optimizing the meals, the body gets more nutrition and thus stays fuller longer. Studies suggest that protein is the most satiating macro-nutrient. If you do it correctly and choose the right foods – some experimentation might be needed – then you end up with a win-win situation: You eat more delicious meals, are less hungry between meals, and if you are also active or exercise a lot, your body has more raw material (micro-nutrients and protein) to repair and improve your body.
Suggestions For Foods To Swap Out (Remove/Reduce Amount)
- Bread (including whole-grain)
- Pasta (including whole-grain)
- Rice (including brown/whole-grain)
- Cereal (including … you know the deal)
- Potatoes (including sweet)
- Oils (especially industrial seed oils, but also olive/coconut)
- Cake / Pastry
- Chocolate (especially sweet non-dark)
- Candy / Sugary Drinks / Juice
- Low-Fat Dairy
- Nut/Soy “milks”
Example Foods To Swap In (Introduce/Increase Amount)
- Meat in all forms (including processed, but “whole” is better)
- Cheese (focus on higher-protein types)
- Full-Fat Dairy
- Bacon (avoid high-fat, or keep amount small)
- Protein Powder (egg/whey/casein based)
- Protein Bars (depending on how well you tolerate them – beware of sugar alcohols)
- Water / Diet Drinks
Some Bad Choices For Swapping In
These are foods which some people might be tempted to use as replacements, but are actually as bad as the foods that get replaced, or they are at best neutral and don’t contribute to satiety as much as the other foods above. That doesn’t mean you should never eat them! It just means that they are less obvious choices as replacements, and you should be careful when using them. Reducing the amount works for many people, and/or combining them with the safer choices above.
- Butter (except in small amounts for frying or as a condiment like garlic butter)
- Heavy Cream (unless in small amounts and/or paired with protein)
- Other Oils/Fat (empty calories / no protein, even if animal-based or “extra virgin”)
- Whole Grains/Fiber (adds little nutrition / protein, leads to bloating in some people)
- Low-Starch Vegetables (add them on top if you can digest them well, but they add little satiety / protein)
- Fruit (much sugar, little satiety / protein)
- Nuts (too many calories, small effect on satiety)