How often do you write down what you’re eating, and calculate the calories and how many grams of carbs, protein, and fats you eat in a day?
Rhetorical — we all know it’s never. I get it. I wouldn’t either if I wasn’t in the health field — and enjoy feeling super healthy and energetic most days. And even then — I know people who are way more into it than I am. But almost everyone doesn’t. Why? Because measuring grams and calories is tedious. And you already know what it would tell you, so it gets avoided. But would you do it for one day?
This column is about happier aging. And healthier aging is part of happier aging for sure. My goal is to make you think today about your food intake — the quality more than the quantity. Because in my experience the quantity can largely be controlled by the quality. Let me explain.
If you are eating primarily carbs throughout your day, your body craves more carbs. That’s because heavy carb-laden foods (bread, cereals, pasta, etc.) spike your insulin and also the dopamine in your brain, thereby creating an addiction-like cycle. If you eat cereal, toast, or granola for breakfast and don’t include 15-30 grams of protein (e.g. four eggs, or a full protein smoothie) in your breakfast you’re doing it, and what’s more, you’re setting the stage for the same carb-rich, insulin-spike, dopamine-release cycle craving all day long. With more calories and treats to come after dinner. This is a primary component (if not THE primary component!) of the typical North American, waistline/hips expanding, insulin resistance/diabetes-producing, cardiovascular-killing, cancer-causing diet.
Care to get out of this cycle? If you do, there’s one great place to start. Increasing your quality protein intake.
The amount of protein you need depends on your body/weight, goals, and lifestyle. The daily minimum recommended by the National Institutes of Health is 0.36 grams per pound for a sedentary person. But that is so low — more like the amount you need to just survive, but not THRIVE. Many studies are showing now that higher protein intake builds immune system function, reduces appetite and therefore caloric intake and fat stores (related to snacking), and helps keep metabolism (fat burning!) at a higher level. Protein also positively changes the levels of the fat-regulating hormones in your body! That’s how quality controls the quantity of food intake.
Most of the studies on protein and weight loss express protein intake as a percentage of calories, and recommend aiming for protein at 30 per cent of daily calories as very effective for health and fat loss. You can find the number of grams by multiplying your calorie intake by 0.075. For example, on a 2,000 calorie diet you would eat 2000 x 0.075 = 150 grams of protein. Not many people get more than 80 grams of protein a day! Basically, most people could double their current protein intake and be much healthier and burn much more fat! Except for those with kidney function problems, where this would be contraindicated.
A four ounce (small to medium) chicken breast is about 25 g of protein. A four ounce steak provides about 30-35 g of protein. Whey protein or vegan protein smoothies are usually designed to be approximately 25 g of protein per serving.
The rest of your plate should be made up with nutritious foods that carry vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, like fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc. Natural things.
So my challenge to you is to count your grams of protein for a day or two, and see if you are able to increase it. Use online tools like a protein calculator that estimates your daily protein intake, based on your age, height, weight, activity level, and goal. Then find a way to incorporate healthy smoothies in to your day. Especially at breakfast. It sets a healthy tone for your body for the entire day. And week. And month. And year. And beyond. That’s healthier aging. That’s happier aging. Happy holidays!