A cynic might say creating a health and fitness plan that covers all the bases is like paying for and piecing together the $600, 60,000-piece, 29-foot-long jigsaw puzzle now available through Costco. Except you work on the puzzle in a house haunted by gremlins who amuse themselves at times by undoing some of what you’ve done.
I’m neither a cynic, nor a believer in spirits. I do, however, believe in the aforementioned analogy.
After all, many Americans do see the cost of good health – which is mainly a matter of eating wholesome foods daily, doing aerobic and weightlifting workouts regularly, and making sleep a priority – to be steep enough so that they refuse to pay it. Additionally, many who willingly foot the bill become so overwhelmed fitting together the many seemingly dissimilar pieces that they give up trying.
What’s more, those who willingly pay and make progress frequently reach a point where it’s a one-step-forward-two-steps-backward process. Almost as if their efforts really are affected by gremlins.
That last situation is the one you often encounter in the attempt to lose unwanted weight and keep it off. While it may be of little solace to know these same gremlins have undermined millions of other American diets, you may take comfort in knowing there’s a guy in Australia, professor David Raubenheimer, who works on evicting the gremlins who undo dietary puzzles.
Along with five colleagues at the University of Sydney, Raubenheimer published a paper in this month’s issue of Obesity that suggests the key piece to the obesity puzzle – one that the 70 percent of adults Americans who weigh too much would certainly love to solve – is a single macronutrient. But it’s neither carbohydrate nor fat.
It’s the third one, the one that rarely receives any blame for the fact that the adult obesity rate in the United States is now just a tenth away from 42 percent.
Yet it’s not because you eat too much of it.
It’s because when your body doesn’t receive enough of it, it signals for you to keep eating, not necessarily protein, but more of what you typically eat. For too many, that means highly processed foods.
Not only are highly processed foods (aka ultraprocessed foods) calorically dense and usually loaded with bad fats and nutritionally void carbohydrates, but they also tend to lack protein. This creates – according to the researchers’ analysis of data accrued in the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey – a “macronutrient imbalance” that keeps you from feeling filled up and “drives energy overconsumption.”
This overconsumption was most evident in the 9,341 people who participated in the study whose first meal of the day tended to be low in protein. Compared to the others surveyed, they ate more highly processed foods throughout the day and had an overall higher caloric intake in later meals.
Now I singled out Raubenheimer from his research team because of what comes next. Besides being a researcher of some note, he seems to be, at least on one occasion, clairvoyant.
In April 2014, the journal Nature published an article he cowrote that predicts the conclusion of the November 2022 University of Sydney study. “The paucity of protein relative to fats and carbohydrates in processed foods drives the overconsumption of total energy as our bodies seek to maintain a target level of protein intake.”
Moreover, when Medical News Today interviewed Raubenheimer in regard to the 2022 study, he acknowledged that a high intake of fiber may offset the overeating that results from a lack of protein – and provided a pithy and profound eating strategy that should work for anyone: Target foods that come from fields, not factories.”
All this is good for you to know – and great for me – for it all supports the way of eating I’ve been advocating for more than 25 years.
To make each meal you consume primarily protein and complex carbs high-in-fiber along with a minimum of simple carbs and fats.
(Important side note: Not all fat is bad for your health. But if you’re trying to lose weight or keep lost weight from returning, the fact of the matter is even the healthiest of fats are twice as calorically dense per gram than protein or complex carbs.)
To place all that’s come so far into perspective, let’s go back to that prodigious puzzle now available through Costco and imagine you’ve purchased one titled Optimal Eating.
And just like the actual puzzle Costco offers, you receive 60 individually bagged puzzles, 60 puzzle reference posters, and a legend showing the placement of each smaller puzzle to create the monstrous one.
But one of the smaller puzzles has already been done for you – thanks to Raubenheimer and dozens like him. It shows that not all calories are equal.
And those that come from protein and complex carbohydrates best satisfy your appetite and your body’s needs.
In short, eating meals replete with both protein and complex carbs starts to solve whatever dietary puzzle you choose to purchase.