When it comes to improving body composition, appetite control, and satiety, there is arguably not a single more effective, well-established dietary factor than optimizing one’s protein intake.
While the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has established a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein intake at 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (or, about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight), research illustrates quite clearly and convincingly that an increase in dietary protein intake to at least TWICE (i.e., ≥ 1.6g/kg or 0.72 g/lb) that of the IOM recommendations may be “metabolically advantageous,” particularly for individuals looking to improve body composition (e.g., lose fat) as well as older adults (who are likely to lose muscle mass as they age) and physically active folks (e.g., athletes, military personnel, recreational exercisers).
Research has shown that consuming diets higher in protein are not only safe for otherwise healthy individuals, they may provide a host of benefits.
Higher protein diets may:
• Accelerate fat loss and spare lean body mass while following a reduced calorie diet.2,3 In fact, in a meta-analysis of 24 weight-loss studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from the University of South Australia found that high-protein diets led to significantly greater losses in body fat and spared losses in lean body mass, which are common with standard protein, reduced-calorie diets.
• Attenuate weight regain and contribute to long-term weight maintenance. That’s right, not only have high-protein diets been shown to lead to greater fat loss and improvements in body composition during dieting trials, researchers have also found that high-protein diets increase compliance and long-term weight management.
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that after dropping over 20 pounds during an 8-week weight loss trial, folks consuming a higher protein diet regained less body weight over the next 12 months when compared to individuals consuming a standard-protein diet.
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• Optimize 24-hour muscle protein synthesis and facilitate the maintenance or building of muscle mass.
In other words, higher protein diets can help build lean body mass, and they may be particularly beneficial to help offset losses in muscle mass associated with aging. Age-related losses in muscle mass (i.e., sarcopenia) present tremendous concerns in terms of health and function in aging populations.
• Boost metabolic rate. Studies consistently show that protein-rich foods increase “diet-induced thermogenesis” (DIT), which refers to the energy expended (i.e., calories burned) in order to process food for storage and utilization, to a greater extent than carbohydrate- and fat-dense foods. This increase in DIT results in a subsequent increase in metabolic rate (i.e., daily energy expenditure).
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• Preserve metabolic rate after weight loss. A common concern and consequence of standard-protein, reduced-calorie diets is a significant decline in metabolic rate, which frequently leads to weight regain. However, studies have shown that high-protein diets may conserve metabolic rate and therefore prevent weight regain. In one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that metabolic rate was conserved to a significantly greater extent in folks who consumed a higher protein diet (30% of total calories) compared to individuals who consumed a lower protein diet (20% of total calories).
• Increase satiety and improve appetite control. High-protein meals boost satiety, which means that protein-dense foods are much more likely to make you feel full and satisfied.
Diets rich in high-quality proteins improve appetite control, as well as reduce daily food intake.
In a recent study published in the Nutrition Journal, researchers from the University of Missouri found that consuming higher protein, dairy-based snacks (e.g., yogurt) improved satiety, appetite control, and limited subsequent food intake when compared to higher fat and higher carbohydrate-based snacks.
• Improve carbohydrate metabolism and glycemic regulation. A number of studies have shown that high-protein diets lead to significant improvements in carbohydrate management and insulin efficiency in as little as 5 weeks.
• Increase calcium absorption. Despite pervasive myths about potential negative effects on bone health, high-protein diets may lead to long-term improvements in bone health when calcium intake is adequate.
Taken together, the evidence suggests that optimizing protein intake—which entails consuming more protein than what’s considered the minimal amount to prevent a deficiency—is both safe and has the potential to elicit a number of favorable metabolic adaptations, including:
• Improved weight management
• Greater fat loss
• Increased lean body mass
• Better recovery from physical activity
• Better lean body mass retention (when dieting)
• Increased metabolic rate
• Preservation of metabolic rate (when dieting)
• Better long-term weight maintenance
• Improved glycemic regulation and carbohydrate metabolism
• Improved calcium retention and better bone health
With that being said, not all dietary sources of protein are created equally. In fact, there are a number of very common inferior choices that may actually have a counterproductive effect on body composition and overall health. The goal of this report is to help shine the light on some of those foods and ingredients that fall under the umbrella of proteins and may appear to be healthy—or are marketed as such—when in fact they may be derailing you from achieving your health and body composition goals.
Before delving into these foods and ingredients, it’s important to remind you that, in the grand scheme of things, your health, fitness, performance, and body composition are contingent on your entire body of “nutrition work”—not an individual food or single meal. In other words, there’s no “magic” bullet. Instead of viewing foods in isolation as “good” or “bad,” think about weight management and “deep health” as the product of practicing healthy eating habits, creating a positive food environment, and choosing high-quality, nutritious foods in appropriate amounts relative to your goals and activity levels regularly and consistently over time. Good nutrition takes practice, and just like getting better and mastering anything in life, it’s about progress—not perfection.
Start where you are and make small changes that you are ready, willing, and able to take on; focus on mastering those new behaviors, one step at a time. With that being said, let’s get to those foods!
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1. Soy Protein
Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story, is an expert on the hidden dangers of soy. As Daniel describes in her book, there are a number of potential problems with soy consumption.
• Soy may impair thyroid function. Soy contains substances called goitrogens that block the synthesis of thyroid hormones. A drop in thyroid function may lead to weight gain, difficulty losing weight, mood swings, lethargy, and a host of other negative outcomes.
• Soy may lower testosterone levels. Soy contains phytoestrogens called isoflavones that have been shown to lower testosterone, which may negatively impact body composition, physical function, feelings of wellbeing, energy levels, and libido.
• Soy may lead to female reproductive issues. The isoflavones in soy can mimic and sometimes block the effects of estrogen. Soy phytoestrogens may disrupt endocrine function and lead to hormonal imbalances, may cause infertility, and may promote breast cancer in women.
• Soy is genetically modified (GM). Although the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is both complex and controversial, it’s also worth pointing out that nearly all (i.e., ~90%) of the soy grown in the United States is genetically engineered. Recent research from Norway found that animals fed a GM diet got fatter quicker than animals fed a non-GM diet.
• Soy contains phytic acid. Phytic acid is considered an “anti-nutrient,” which may prevent the absorption of valuable minerals by binding with calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc, as well as the vitamin niacin.
• Soy may cause gastric distress. Soy contains substances (i.e., trypsin inhibitors) that inhibit proteases, enzymes that digest the proteins that we eat. This can lead to inadequate digestion and GI distress.
• Soy is an allergen. The proteins in soy are among the top 8 allergens that the FDA requires food manufacturers to list on ingredient labels.
As was previously mentioned, one of the numerous benefits associated with a higher protein intake is increased satiety and appetite control. However, a number of studies have provided further evidence that all proteins are not created equally, and soy protein may be an inferior option compared to animal proteins (e.g., whey).
In a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, a team of researchers from the Netherlands found that when healthy participants received a breakfast with soy protein they experienced significantly greater hunger compared to the same breakfast with whey protein.26 What’s more, when the folks ate the breakfast with whey protein, they demonstrated much stronger responses in the hormone GLP-1, which suppresses appetite, promotes satiety, and contributes to controlling food intake.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the journal Nutrition Research, a team of researchers from Iran found that participants who consumed a whey protein supplement 30 minutes prior to their largest meal experienced significantly greater reductions in appetite and calorie intake compared to participants who consumed a soy protein supplement.
After 12 weeks, the folks who supplemented with whey protein experienced greater reductions in body fat and waist circumference, as well as superior improvements body composition (i.e., less fat, more muscle) compared to the soy protein group.
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers representing the United States Department of Agriculture (at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center) instructed overweight participants to consume either a whey protein supplement, soy protein supplement, or carbohydrate supplement (all equal calories) along with their normal eating habits for 23 weeks.
At the end of the study, only the whey protein group lost a significant amount of weight and body fat. What’s more, only the folks supplementing with whey protein experienced significant reductions in waist circumference and decreases in levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin.
A key objective during weight loss is to reduce body fat while minimizing loss of lean body mass (e.g., muscle mass) to promote optimal overall health, metabolic function, cardiovascular health, and physical functioning. As previously mentioned, the building and retention of lean body mass is key to preserving metabolic rate, as losses in lean body mass—which comprises the metabolically active tissues of the body—is a major contributor to the decreased metabolic rate associated with dieting and may also predispose one to weight regain.
Along those lines, there’s additional research that provides evidence that soy protein may also be inferior to whey protein when it comes to building muscle and recovering from exercise.
In a series of studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from McMaster University assessed whether supplementation with milk led to greater increases in muscle size (i.e., hypertrophy) and lean body mass compared to equal amounts of protein from soy. In the first study, the researchers found that milk-based proteins led to greater increases in protein synthesis (i.e., rebuilding, recovery) compared to soy proteins when taken acutely after exercise.
Based on those findings, the researchers set out to assess whether healthy young men would realize any differences in hypertrophy and lean body mass over a longer study period (i.e., 12 weeks) when supplementation (i.e., either milk-based or soy proteins) was combined with resistance training. After 12 weeks, the participants who consumed milk after their strength training workouts increased muscle size and lean body mass greater than the group that consumed soy protein.
Multiple additional studies have found similar results: Soy protein appears to be inferior to milk-based proteins (e.g., whey protein) in stimulating protein synthesis (both at rest and after exercise), building muscle mass, and promoting recovery from exercise.
Thus, despite the fact that some proponents of soy may argue that it is a “high-quality protein,” the evidence suggests that it is inferior to milk-based proteins, such as whey protein. As alluded to above, this may have significant implications for people looking to improve body composition, active folks (e.g., athletes, military personnel, recreational exercisers), and elderly men and women, who are especially susceptible to muscle loss with aging (i.e., sarcopenia).
Marketers and soy proponents would certainly like for you to believe that soy is a staple in Asian cultures. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Soybeans were first grown in Asia to be used as a crop fertilizer—not to be eaten. As a matter of fact, soy was commonly called “green manure” and was used to enrich the soil between the planting of crops. Soybeans were known for their ability to replenish the nitrogen supply in soil, which improved the harvest of crops that were consumed as food.
The Chinese later began introducing small amounts of heavily fermented soy into their diets in the form of miso, tamari soy sauce, tempeh, and natto. Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese only consume about an ounce of soy per day and only of the fermented variety. The fermentation process destroys many of the toxins and antinutrients listed above. What’s more, the fermentation process yields probiotics (i.e., good bacteria) that can have a beneficial impact on the gut flora.
Overall, it’s best to avoid most commercial soy products, including:
• Soy protein isolate (any soy protein powder)
• Soybean oil
• Soy milk
• Soy cheese, soy ice cream, soy yogurt
• Soy “meat”
• Soy-based infant formula
Occasional consumption of fermented soy from whole food sources would be the best options, including:
• Tamari soy sauce
Overall, your best bet is to avoid processed foods—soy is hidden everywhere—and focus on whole, minimally processed foods. In short, soy is NOT a health food. If you include it regularly in your diet, it could very well be holding you back from the progress you deserve and, in many cases, causing you to store belly fat. Worse yet, it could be damaging your metabolism, hormones, and overall health.
2. Fried Meats
Two words: trans fats.
Chicken tenders, fried chicken, fried steak, fried pork, fried fish, and fried shrimp are just a handful of examples of foods formerly known as healthy proteins that have taken a trip to the deep fryer. Many restaurants use partially hydrogenated oils when they fry foods like these because these types of oils, which are the major dietary source of industrial produced trans fats, can be used many times in commercial fryers.
If you’re not completely familiar with trans fatty acids, a good starting point is the recent determination by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that partially hydrogenated oils are not safe for human consumption.
Nutritionally speaking, trans fatty acids serve no purpose, and as Erin Russell, Assistant Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, puts it, “Partially hydrogenated oils are entirely artificial and would not be in our food supply if t hey weren’t economically attractive to the food industry.”
Why are partially hydrogenated oils so attractive to the food industry? Production of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils was developed because of low cost, long shelf life, and suitability for commercial frying and transport.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that consumption of trans fats is as low as possible. In essence, industrial-produced trans fats are like tobacco in the sense that they’re not beneficial at any dose. For instance, the IOM c ites evidence that any intake of industrial-produced trans fats (above zero) will increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease.
But the problems don’t start and stop with an increased risk of heart disease. In fact, there’s evidence that suggest that a number of negative health outcomes are correlated with trans fat intake, including weight gain and obesity.
Trans fats have also been associated with an unhealthy inflammatory response, endothelial dysfunction, and decreased insulin sensitivity.
Along the lines of weight gain, trans fat intake has been associated with abdominal obesity.
Even in the absence of excessive caloric intake, controlled animal studies have shown that trans fats are an independent factor for weight gain, including enhanced storage of abdominal fat. In one study published in the journal Obesity Surgery, Brazilian researchers discovered that there was a higher content of trans fatty acids in the visceral fat of obese folks, suggesting that trans fats may be preferentially stored as deep abdominal fat.
This is particularly worrisome because visceral fat (i.e., abdominal obesity) is associated with a laundry list of negative health outcomes and a “constellation of metabolic abnormalities,” including:
• High triglycerides
• Low levels of “good” cholesterol (i.e., HDL)
• High levels of apolipoprotein B (which is considered a better predictor of cardiovascular risk than the more commonly used LDL)
• Small, dense LDL and HDL particles (small, dense particles are considered more detrimental than large, fluffy particles)
• Unhealthy levels of inflammation
• Insulin resistance
• Poor carbohydrate tolerance and metabolism
• Leptin resistance
This is one piece of nutritional advice that the mainstream media seems to have gotten right: Get rid of fried foods.
3. Gluten-Containing Foods
There is quite a bit of information circulating on the topic of gluten—it’s a big deal! However, just a short decade ago, celiac disease, which involves an autoimmune response against gluten, was considered rare outside of Europe. As a matter of fact, healthcare professionals all but wrote it off as a potential issue.
Just a decade later, the topic has gone from being nearly completely ignored to gaining worldwide attention.
As a result, there has been a surge in gluten-free diets and in the discussion of gluten. Unlike wheat allergies and celiac disease where wheat- and gluten-containing products need to be avoided, non-celiac gluten sensitivity does not involve allergic or autoimmune responses.
That being said, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is still an issue, and it may involve a variety of gastrointestinal and extraintestinal (i.e., outside the intestine) symptoms, such as behavioral changes, bone or joint discomfort, muscle cramps, leg numbness, gas, bloating, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, eczema, sugar cravings, and you guessed it, difficulty with weight management.
In a study published in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research reported the data they collected from nearly 6,000 patients between 2004 and 2010. The criteria for non-celiac gluten sensitivity were fulfilled by 347 of the patients seen (i.e., 6% of the patients). Their symptoms included abdominal pain (68%); eczema and/or rash (40%); headache (35%); ‘foggy mind’ (34%); fatigue (33%); diarrhea (33%); depression (22%); anemia (20%); numbness in
the legs, arms or fingers 20%; and joint pain (11%).
Taken in context, that means that over 18 million individuals in America alone are affected by non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But researchers believe this “epidemic” is even far more widespread, and doctors from the aforementioned University of Maryland
Center for Celiac Research conclude, “All individuals, even those with a low degree of risk, are susceptible to some form of gluten reaction during their life span.”
Best-selling books have suggested a connection between wheat/gluten and obesity, and researchers from Brazil have provided evidence to fortify that connection. Specifically, scientists found that rats fed a gluten-free diet experienced reduced body fat, an improvement in carbohydrate metabolism and insulin sensitivity, and a reduction in the expression of pro-inflammatory markers. The authors concluded that “gluten exclusion should be tested as a new dietary approach to prevent the development of obesity and metabolic disorders.”
While it seems all the rage to vilify gluten, a recent study suggests that it may not be the scapegoat that some may lead you to believe. Instead, there may be other components of foods (that also contain gluten) that may be leading to gastrointestinal symptoms, on which folks tend to pin the blame on gluten. Specifically, the low-fermentable, poorlyabsorbed, short-chain carbohydrates—more affectionately referred to as FODMAPs (fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols)—also found in many of the gluten-containing grains and foods may actually be to blame for the digestive discomfort that some folks experience when eating these foods.
In a double-blind, cross-over trial published in the journal Gastroenterology, Australian researchers randomly assigned a group of participants—all of whom had self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity—to a low-FODMAP diet, and their symptoms improved significantly. Interestingly, when the participants were reintroduced to a diet that contained gluten but not the other FODMAP-containing foods (i.e., low FODMAP diet with gluten), only 8% of the folks who were “diagnosed” with non-celiac gluten sensitivity actually experienced any issues. Based on their findings, the researchers concluded, “We found no evidence of specific or dose-dependent effects of gluten in patients with NCGS [non-celiac gluten sensitivity] placed on diets low in FODMAPs.”
By no means is this meant to say that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is not an issue. Rather, in general, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is largely a self-reported issue, and there may be other factors in play besides gluten. In a study published in the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice, the same group of Australian researchers recruited 147 participants (130 of whom were women) with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The participants completed a survey with questions pertaining to their symptoms and their dietary habits.
Of the respondents, only 27% met the criteria for non-celiac gluten sensitivity.53 In other words, when deferring to self-reporting, the research suggests that 3 out of 4 people don’t have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. What’s more, the researchers also found that symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity are poorly controlled despite gluten avoidance in 1 of 4 of the study participants, providing more evidence that there’s more to the equation than gluten.
Besides FODMAPs, recent studies also show that there may be other components of gluten-containing foods that contribute to symptoms frequently associated with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For instance, in a study published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers found that wheat amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs)—a family of five or more proteins found in wheat that are resistant to digestion
and are the major allergen responsible for baker’s allergy—may trigger small intestinal inflammation and be, at least in part, to blame for gastrointestinal symptoms frequently associated with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Despite all of that, it’s estimated that 100 million Americans consume gluten-free products each year. While there is indeed a “fad” component to the gluten-free craze— and many health-related claims are unfounded—there is also undisputable and increasing evidence for non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
However, many questions remain unanswered, and further research needs to explore whether the elimination of gluten alone is sufficient and to better understand the overlap with other components of glutencontaining grains (e.g., FODMAPs, ATIs).
While the evidence continues to accumulate and the story on gluten proceeds to develop, perhaps something that can be more firmly said is this: While gluten itself may not be the culprit, many of the foods containing gluten may be. In other words, when you consider the laundry list of gluten-containing foods, there’s no wonder that many people tend to look, feel, and perform better when they gravitate toward a gluten-free menu.
It’s becoming increasing apparent that consumption of refined carbohydrates (e.g., refined flours made from gluten-containing grains and the “foods” that are made with them like breads, breakfast cereals, pastas, bagels, baked goods, crackers, pancakes, waffles, cakes, cookies, breading/coating, croutons, tortillas, etc.) is closely related to obesity and various forms of chronic illness, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact, numerous studies have linked consumption of these highly processed carbohydrates to obesity.
According to Harvard researcher and professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology Dr. Frank Hu, “Refined carbohydrates are likely to cause even greater metabolic damage than saturated fat,” and “the time has come to shift the focus of the diet-heart paradigm away from restricted fat intake and toward reduced consumption of refined carbohydrates.”
Along those lines, in a 2004 epidemiological study, researchers analyzed nearly 90 years’ worth of data, and they found that “increasing intakes of refined carbohydrate concomitant with decreasing intakes of fiber paralleled the upward trend in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes observed in the United States during the 20th century.”
One of the more fascinating ways that these refined carbohydrates may fuel weight gain is by driving cravings. In a study published the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that (compared with a meal containing an equal amount of calories and much slower digesting carbohydrates) a meal containing fast-digesting carbohydrates significantly increased hunger and cravings.
Not only that, the researchers also took brain scans to see how the different types of carbohydrates affected various centers of the brain, and what they found was nothing short of astonishing. After consuming the meal with fast-digesting carbohydrates, the participants’ brain regions associated with reward and craving were selectively stimulated, essentially hard-wiring the body to seek more and more.
This study provides evidence that refined carbohydrates elicit hunger, food cravings, overeating, and weight gain. These refined grains and the foods made with them are a far cry from the whole kernel
grains from which they’re derived. If gluten-free means cutting back on the consumption of refined carbohydrates, then it’s likely to lead to improvements in health, body composition, and performance.
“There is evidence that when people make [gluten-free] diet changes, they may lose weight. It might not necessarily be because of the gluten, but rather the fact that they have eliminated processed foods from the diet and are eating more lean proteins and fruits and vegetables,” says Lara Field, MS, RD, a pediatric nutrition advisor at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
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4. Farmed Salmon
There are a number of great reasons to consume salmon—besides the fact that, properly prepared, it’s quite tasty—and one of the most salient is that salmon can be an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have brain and cardiovascular health benefits as well as beneficial effects on metabolism and body composition.
Researchers from Gettysburg College found that supplementation with fish oils, which supply the same types of omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish like salmon, for 6 weeks significantly increased lean body mass and decreased fat mass.
What’s more the participants also experienced increased metabolic rate and significantly decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone associated with increased abdominal fat storage.
Researchers from Australia recently found similar impressive results as they combined omega-3 fatty acid supplementation with a weight-loss diet. They found that study participants with higher omega-3 fatty acid intakes lost significantly more fat than the folks who did not supplement with the fish oils, despite the fact that both groups followed the same diet protocol.
However, there’s a caveat here. You see, it’s not just about omega-3 fatty acids, as there is another type of essential fat that bears discussion: omega-6 fatty acids.
Experts estimate that throughout human history the optimal ratio for consumption of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids was about 1:1. With the contemporary diet, this ratio has shifted dramatically in favor omega-6 fatty acids to 20:1.66
While there are multiple explanations, including a decrease in omega-3 fatty acid consumption from
freshwater fish, researchers attribute this in large part to the ubiquity of vegetable oils (e.g., soybean oil) present in the Western diet.
This is important for a number of reasons, especially when it comes to managing body weight and promoting a healthy inflammatory response. For example, omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects (e.g., suppress IL-1beta, TNF-alpha, and IL-6) whereas omega-6 fatty acids do not.68 What’s more, studies show that omega-6 fats promote inflammation, particularly when they are consumed in excess of omega-3 fats.
In a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, French researchers assessed the effects of a 10-week diet modification to decrease the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in healthy subjects on various health parameters, including inflammatory markers.
The researchers found that the diet intervention (i.e., decreased omega-6 and increased omega-3 fatty acids) resulted in significant reductions in TNF-alpha and “multiple favorable effects on metabolic and inflammatory profiles.” Additionally, the participants demonstrated significant increases in the hormone adiponectin, which is associated with enhanced insulin sensitivity and has been shown to facilitate fat burning.
Along those lines, the 10-week diet modification did, in fact, result in a significant increase in fat oxidation. This finding is consistent with previous work in which researchers found that supplementation with 6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids for just 3 weeks significantly increased fat oxidation and resulted in 2.5 times greater fat loss compared to when participants supplemented with an equivalent amount of fat from other sources, including vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (e.g., sunflower and peanut oils).
With the understanding and appreciation of the significance of balancing omega-6 and omega-3 acids, it’s now time to break the news as to why farmed salmon may be such an inferior option compared to its wild-caught counterpart. Because farmed salmon are typically fed commodities like soy and corn, which have dramatically higher concentrations of omega-6 fats compared to omega-3 fats, the fatty acid profiles of the salmon change markedly relative to wild-caught salmon, which feed on other omega-3-
rich fish (e.g., sardines, anchovies) lower on the food chain.
The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats (i.e., more omega-3 fats, fewer omega-6 fats) in wild-caught salmon is upwards of 266% higher than that of farmed salmon, which is lower in omega-3 and higher in omega-6 content.75 But that’s not all; farmed salmon also contain high concentrations of potentially health-damaging contaminants (e.g., PCBs, dioxins, chlorinated pesticides).
Hmmm…fewer omega-3 fatty acids and more omega-6 fatty acids and contaminants; how does that sound to you? Not very good to us either.
5. Meat and Dairy from Grain-Fed Animals
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat”; well, that extends to “You are what you eat eats.”
In other words, the food fed to the animals (e.g., cattle) that you consume has a direct impact on its nutrition content. Considering that corn—particularly the genetically engineered variety (i.e., GMO corn —is a staple of animal feed, there are similar concerns with meat and dairy from grain-fed animals as there are with farmed salmon.
As mentioned in the previous section, there is a concerning imbalance between the consumption of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the average person’s diet. While the rise in consumption of vegetable oils plays a significant role in this dietary imbalance, it’s also worth mentioning that the consumption of meat (and dairy) from grain-fed feedlot animals directly contributes as well.
In other words, not all meat and dairy is created equally. For example, beef and dairy from grass-fed cattle may be a superior option over standard grain-fed options. Interestingly, regardless of whether beef is from grain- or grass-fed cattle, its fatty acid profile will be about 40-50% saturated fat, about 40-50% monounsaturated fat, and somewhere near 10% polyunsaturated fat. However, the diet of the cow can significantly influence the types of each fat present.
Depending on the breed of cow, grass-fed beef contains up to 5 times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.76 The average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in grass-fed beef is 1.5:1, which is much closer to what’s often considered “ideal.” On the contrary, this ratio jumps all the way up to nearly 8:1 in beef from grain-fed cows.
In addition to a much healthier omega-3 fatty acid profile, grass-fed beef is one of the best dietary sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), as it contains an average of 2 to 3 times more CLA than grain-fed beef. CLA possesses antioxidant activity, and research has shown it to reduce body fat, increase lean body mass, and improve body composition.
Similar differences in fatty acid profiles are noted in dairy from pasture-raised (i.e., grass-fed) cows compared to those that are fed substantial quantities of grains, particularly corn.78–81 In one study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers from the United States and United Kingdom compared samples of dairy from organic (i.e., pasture-raised) versus conventional (i.e., grain/corn-fed) cows, and they found that organic dairy (e.g., milk, yogurt, butter) contains:
• 25% fewer omega-6 fatty acids
• 62% more omega-3 fatty acids
• 2.5 times lower omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio, which is much closer to what’s considered to be “optimal”
• 32% more EPA and 19% more DHA, which are two omega-3 fatty acids crucial for nervous system function, cardiovascular health, pain management, hormonal regulation, body composition, feelings of well-being, and more…
• 18% more CLA
It bears reiteration that the massive imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid consumption coincides with an increase in the incidence of numerous conditions associated with an unhealthy, excessive inflammatory response, including obesity, declining mental health, and metabolic dysfunction.
Not only that, research suggests that overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids (which has been brought about largely by increased consumption of industrial vegetable oils, generally low consumption of oily fish, vegetables, fruits, and beans, and increased consumption of meat and dairy from grain-fed animals) not only affects you but also potentially your children, as it may increase the incidence of obesity in future generations.
6. Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) is typically made from soy, corn, or wheat gluten. Based on that information alone and what has been presented in the previous sections, you may already have an
understanding of why this may be an inferior protein option. But, there’s more to the story.
Food manufacturers use HVP as a “flavor enhancer,” and it can be found in myriad processed foods like soups, chili, sauces, gravies, stews, processed meat products, prepared dips, potato chips, and pretzels. What’s more, you’ll also find it in many of those mass-produced soy-based vegetarian products (e.g., soy burgers, soy cheese, etc.).
HVP is produced by boiling commodities such as soy, corn, or wheat in hydrochloric acid and then neutralizing the solution with sodium hydroxide. The acid breaks down the protein in vegetables into their component amino acids, one of which is glutamic acid.
You may be more familiar with glutamic acid in the form of its sodium salt: Monosodium glutamate (i.e., MSG).
In fact, HVP, which typically contains between 10 – 30% MSG, is one way that food manufacturers “hide” this ingredient, which can cause adverse reactions (e.g., headaches) in folks who are MSG-sensitive, in their products.86 What’s more, a number of studies have suggested a link between MSG and overweight/obesity.
For example, in one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers analyzed data they collected from over 10,000 healthy Chinese adults over the course of 15 years, and they found a positive correlation between MSG consumption and weight gain.
While the connection between MSG and weight gain is not entirely clear, researchers speculate that there may be a number of potential explanations. On one hand, it’s possible that this “flavor enhancer” leads to excess energy consumption by increasing palatability and damaging the brain’s ability to regulate appetite.
Additionally, there’s some research that suggests that MSG may lead to resistance to the key fat-burning hormone leptin, and leptin resistance is closely connected with weight gain and
With that being said, it seems best to avoid or limit consumption of those heavily processed foods containing HVP.
7. Egg Substitutes
Simply put, eggs that come in a carton are not a superior substitute for real eggs. Real eggs—including the yolks, and in particular the yolks— are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
On the other hand, mechanically-separated, low-fat, chemically-altered eggs in a carton are the result of food manufacturers preying on consumer fears, which are based on outdated, inaccurate health information.
Simply put, because eggs contain cholesterol—about 200mg per egg—many health organizations have traditionally recommended limiting their consumption based on the assumption that dietary cholesterol increases blood levels of cholesterol. However, this is faulty presumption, as dietary cholesterol is structurally different than the lipoproteins (e.g., LDL and HDL, which are commonly referred to as “cholesterol”) that circulate in the blood and serve as transport molecules.
While there may be some interaction between dietary cholesterol and blood levels of these lipoproteins (since they do serve to transport cholesterol in the body), they’re not synonymous. What’s more, the body is more than adept at producing cholesterol on its own. In fact, the liver can produce as much as 75% of the body’s cholesterol, producing 1 – 2 grams of it per day. The body’s production of cholesterol decreases when cholesterol-rich foods are consumed and increases when cholesterol-free foods
Thus, at best, this assumption is a gross oversimplication that does not appear to apply, in practice, to healthy folks, although it may extend to “hyper-responders” and diseased populations.
In a cross-over study published in the International Journal of Cardiology, researchers from Yale Prevention Research Center assessed the effects of egg consumption on endothelial function (FMD), a reliable index of cardiovascular risk.
Healthy men and women consumed two eggs per day for 6 weeks. At the end of the study, the researchers found that daily egg consumption did not affect total cholesterol, LDL, or FMD, providing clear evidence “that dietary cholesterol may be less detrimental to cardiovascular health than previously thought.”
In one study published in the journal Nutrients, researchers from Wayne State University found that students who ate eggs for breakfast (providing 400mg of cholesterol) 5 days per week for 14 weeks experienced no negative impact on blood lipids (e.g., total cholesterol, LDL).
In general, observational studies have not found a connection between egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in otherwise healthy individuals. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from Harvard University’s Department of Nutrition assessed whether there was any connection between egg consumption and coronary heart disease (CHD) among over 117,000 otherwise healthy men and women over the course of 14 – 18 years. The researchers found “no evidence of an overall significant association between egg consumption and risk of CHD or stroke in either men or women.”
In a study published in the journal Medical Science Monitor, researchers assessed the dietary patterns of nearly 10,000 adults (aged 25 – 74) to examine the association between egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease. They found that folks who consumed greater than 6 eggs per week does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease compared to people who eat none.
In a recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from Spain set out to assess whether there was any connection between egg consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) among over 14,000 men and women (ages 20 – 90) who followed a Mediterranean-style diet. Once again, the researchers found no association between egg consumption and CVD risk when comparing folks with the highest to lowest egg consumption.
Perhaps most interesting are the results from a study recently published in the Journal Metabolism where researchers from the University of Connecticut compared the effects of eating 3 whole eggs per day versus an equivalent amount of yolk-free egg substitutes on blood lipids and insulin sensitivity.
After 12 weeks, the researchers found that the participants who ate the whole eggs experienced significantly greater increases in HDL cholesterol and large HDL particles (i.e., the “good” forms of cholesterol), as well as reductions in total VLDL and medium VLDL particles. What’s more, the egg eaters also experienced significant improvements in insulin sensitivity and increases in HDL and LDL particle size (i.e., more large, fluffy particles).109 Particle size is noteworthy because small, dense particles are considered more detrimental than large, fluffy particles.
Eggs provide one of the highest quality proteins of any whole food available; in fact, researchers frequently use the eggs as the standard in measuring the quality of protein from other foods. In addition to being a low-calorie source of high-quality protein, eggs also contain a variety of vitamins (e.g., A, B, D, and E), minerals, nutrients (e.g., choline), and monounsaturated fatty acids that can reduce the risk of CHD.
As previously mentioned, it’s important not to dismiss the yolks, as that is where all of the (healthy) fats are stored, and along with them, all of the important fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., vitamins A, D, and E) and nutrients (e.g., choline). What’s more, while the whites of eggs contain a higher percentage of protein, the yolks have higher levels of the essential amino acid leucine, which, as previously discussed, plays a key role in muscle growth and recovery.
That being said, just like there are differences between beef from grass-fed and grain-fed animals, not all eggs are created equally. Specifically, research from Mother Earth News suggests that eggs from pasture-raised hens provide a superior nutrition profile compared to standard store-bought eggs.
For example, compared to typical supermarket eggs, the eggs from pasture-raised hens may contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 6 times more vitamin D
• 7 times more beta-carotene
Because the lines are somewhat blurry on the definitions of cage-free and pasture-raised, it may be beneficial to do some additional research on the eggs available to you.
Better yet, you may consider going to a local farmer’s market and purchase certified organic eggs from pasture-raised hens.
8. Sugar- and Artificially-Sweetened Yogurt
While dairy seems to have gained a negative reputation in certain circles, a large body of evidence has demonstrated that dairy consumption may contribute to increases in lean body mass along with losses in body fat (i.e., improved body composition), and what’s more, reduced-calorie diets may be further enhanced when dairy is a major component.
In one study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers from McMaster University found that folks who consumed a dairy-rich (15% of total energy intake), high-protein (30% total energy intake) diet, they lost more body fat, visceral fat, and trunk fat over the course of 16 weeks when compared to individuals consuming a standard protein intake and either moderate (7.5%) or low (2%) levels of dairy. What’s more, the highdairy, high-protein group also gained lean body mass while losing body fat (and net body weight).
While dairy (e.g., Greek yogurt, yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, etc.) may indeed be a healthy option to include in one’s nutrition plan, it’s important to delineate plain, unflavored choices between flavored, sweetened versions, including many of those that are fruit-flavored (e.g., fruit on the bottom). In addition to the proteins—which promote metabolism, body composition, appetite control, and satiety—you’ll also find some less than desirable ingredients in these variations, including added sugar and artificial sweeteners.
With regard to the former, the section on gluten-containing foods covers the potential health and body composition consequences of diets containing high amounts of added refined sugars. In addition, it may be worth pointing out that some sugar-sweetened yogurt contains high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Researchers have linked HFCS availability and consumption to obesity and metabolic dysfunction (i.e., reduced carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity).
HFCS, as well as other refined carbohydrates including sucrose, has been associated with fat accumulation and increased body weight, and some studies have found that HFCS may specifically lead to increased abdominal fat storage.
In one study published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, researchers from Princeton University found that rats with access to HFCS gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.
The researchers concluded: “This increase in body weight with HFCS was accompanied by an increase in adipose fat, notably in the abdominal region, and elevated circulating triglyceride levels. Translated to humans, these results suggest that excessive consumption of HFCS may contribute to the incidence of obesity.”
In lieu of adding sugar, some food manufacturers may opt for artificial sweeteners, which can reduce the calorie cost of the food while boosting sweetness. However, consuming artificial sweeteners may not be the sweetest option for your health and body composition.
For instance, there’s some evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain. In one recent study published in the journal Appetite, researchers compared the effects of feeding rats yogurt sweetened with either sucrose (i.e., table sugar) or the artificial sweeteners saccharin and aspartame on body weight and total caloric intake. The researchers found that, compared to sucrose, the addition of the artificial sweeteners to yogurt resulted in increased weight gain, despite similar total caloric intake among groups.
Based on evidence from animal studies, researchers speculate that the “consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners may lead to increased body weight and obesity by interfering with fundamental homeostatic, physiological processes.”
In other words, when you eat something sweet, the body anticipates certain nutritive qualities (e.g., calories). By reducing the correlation between the sweet taste and caloric content of foods (by using artificial sweeteners), researchers believe that this may drive weight and fat gain.
The impact of artificial sweeteners may extend to the gut as well. In a study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Duke University researchers found that consumption of the artificial sweetener sucralose for 12 weeks alters the gut microflora by significantly reducing the amount of good bacteria (i.e., probiotics) in rats.
Even after a 12-week recovery period, the number of beneficial microbes still remained significantly depressed.
This research is very important for numerous reasons. With regard to fat loss, the evidence that gut bacteria contribute to energy balance (i.e., weight management) is so strong that Dr. Patrice Cani and her colleagues at the Metabolism and Nutrition Research Group in Belgium have coined the term “MicrObesity” to describe the relationship between gut “dysbiosis” (i.e., an imbalance of gut bacteria) and obesity.
With all of that in mind, when choosing dairy, it’s best to choose plain, organic versions (without added sugars and/or artificial sweeteners) whenever possible. If you prefer to add something sweet, by all means, please feel free to do so in the form of whole, fresh fruit.
Not All Proteins Are Created Equally
There’s very little doubt that optimizing protein intake and consuming a high-protein diet has many favorable outcomes associated with it, including:
• Improved weight management
• Greater fat loss
• Increased lean body mass
• Better recovery from physical activity
• Better lean body mass retention (when dieting)
• Increased metabolic rate
• Preservation of metabolic rate (when dieting)
• Better long-term weight maintenance
• Improved glycemic regulation and carbohydrate metabolism
• Improved calcium retention and better bone health
However, the overriding theme of this report is that not all proteins are created equally. In fact, some sources of protein may be detrimental to health and counterproductive to health, fitness, performance, and body composition goals. We hope that you have found this to be a helpful resource in your body transformation journey.
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