Common nutritional mistakes and fixes

People are becoming more interested in taking health into their own hands. Seeing many of the failures of the current food and medical industries is driving people to try new approaches.

This is a great thing!

However, the problems can come quickly with this approach. Often times, people’s metabolisms have been damaged from years of poor habits. There are complexities that need to be addressed that differ from person to person. This is why there is no “one size fits all diet”. There are overlapping principles from different approaches, the common denominators that tend to work for most people: eating more fruits and vegetables, avoiding junk foods, cutting down on processed sugar, drinking plenty of water, etc.

A person’s current weight, genetics and ethnicity come into play. The status of their digestive tract is important to know what foods to avoid and which to add in.

So here are some common nutritional mistakes and some quick fixes.

High protein / Low carbohydrate diet

This is a go to in the fitness industry and tends to work pretty well, especially with younger people and those that don’t have too much weight to lose. But this diet can yield a glaring problem especially if the person attempting it is very overweight.

The problem is what is your body using for fuel? The goal of almost any weight loss plan is to cause the body to burn fat as fuel. This is one of the most common strategies for weight loss. It stems from the fact that, especially in Western nations, we rely so much on sugar for fuel because it is literally everywhere, that when we suddenly cut the sugar and increase the protein our bodies will use protein as a fuel (your body tends to use what it is getting the most as fuel because its efficient). Since the preferred sugar source is gone, protein is burned, which is a “dirty fuel” in that it is not preferred naturally by the body. Carbohydrates and fat are preferred fuel sources.

Solution: Add in more fats with the protein. People on high protein diets tend to not eat enough fat. If you increase fat in the diet without adding extra sugar you’re body should start to burn fat as the preferred source. High fat, low carb fuels are somewhat hard to come by but include avocados, some cheese, eggs, and of course plenty of oils. Olive oil is a go to source of healthy fats that can make dishes taste better too. Don’t expect good results by eating protein and little else.

Suddenly eating nothing but vegetables

We all have this friend. They decide to clean up their act from a diet standpoint and just start eating salads. Along with constantly being miserable and hungry, they lose no weight. Its a disaster. The road to obesity is paved with good intentions.

Nutrition is a tricky thing. In some ways it really is so simple but in other ways its unbelievably complex. Finding the balance in the middle should be the goal.

I sometimes refer to these people as armchair nutritionists. They mean well but they do not know the basics of nutrition, as in how much protein they need, or carbohydrates and fats. They do not know the subtleties involved with specific nutrients like vitamin k, vitamin D or the more advanced ingredients like coenzyme q10 or selenium. So what ends up happening is a guessing game of foods.

So how do you find the happy medium of getting a lot of nutrients while not creating deficiencies which are very common with these types of people?

Solution: Use color as your guide when creating vegetable based meals. There should be a wide variety of colors and textures. Just eating broccoli, kale and spinach isn’t going to cut it. Throw in dark vegetables like beets, red cabbage, different types of roots. Most vegetables are not high in protein so it is easy to be deficient. Artichokes, green peas, lentils and even potatoes have decent protein. The goal here should be diversity of foods and colors, supplemented fats and protein-dense vegetables.

Eating way more sugar than you think you are

This is probably the biggest issue I have to walk through with my clients when we talk nutrition. People are genuinely making better choices and even reading food labels, but sugar sneaks in literally everywhere. To put in perspective, 100 years ago we were consuming almost no added sugar and sugar was actually a delicacy that was hard to come by. It was actually a “treat” back then. Nowadays people’s entire diets can consist of “treats”.

In order to really hone in on sugar levels there are basic food label reading techniques that can make it much easier.

First off you must look at the total servings in the product. I saw a medium sized chocolate milk at the gas station while traveling recently. There were 25 grams of pure sugar per serving…and there were four servings in the bottle! I could easily have drank the entire thing, and I would have consumed 100 grams of sugar!

Once you have the serving size, then look at the total carbohydrate number. Then, find the sugar number below that. Here’s where it gets tricky.

There are “hidden carbs” in a lot of foods, and the food industry is notorious for doing everything in their power to make the consumer think their product is low in sugar when that usually is not the case.

Find the fiber number below the carbohydrates. It is clearly labeled. Then, subtract the grams of fiber from the total carbohydrates. The number you’re left with is the “net sugar content”. Sometimes, there are missing sugars, as in the sugar number + the fiber number does not equal the total carbohydrates. This can be puzzling.

The reason is that there are sugar alcohols that are in the food but are not required to be listed as sugar. They can be found by examining the ingredient list but this can be frustrating unless you know how to read the ingredients well.

Solution: There is only one way to really get a read on how much sugar you’re eating and that is to diligently read every food label and pay attention to the grams of sugars. There should be a 9:5 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. This is a healthy average for any food. They may not all have this ratio but it is a good gauge. Something with 15 grams of carbs and 2 grams of protein is usually not going to be a good choice. Many seemingly healthy foods contain enormous amounts of sugar. Artificially flavored yogurts are one example. If you are looking for weight loss, start by trying to keep the grams of sugar under 60 per day. This is just sugar on the label, not total carbohydrates. If you can master that, try getting below 50, and so on. Its much harder than it seems because one soda per day already surpasses that number.

In the end the old nutritional proverb still rings true: most nutritional strategies will work if you stick them. But I would argue that avoiding the specific traps that different diets carry with them is just as important!

Benjamin Hetzel