Monday, September 24, 2012


The macronutrients: Carbohydrate, protein and fat

Which ones and how much??


There is currently a lot of debate regarding the ratio of carbohydrate versus protein that should make up our diet, especially when we are trying to lose weight (or gain muscle).  High protein diets are currently the “in thing” and everybody seems to be trying to avoid the “dreaded carbohydrate”.

Here are some facts I have gathered that help justify why the plate model  (pictured in my previous post) - ¼ of your plate low GI carbohydrates, ¼ low saturated fat protein (animal and/or plant sources) and ½ plate low-starch vegetables, is what I recommend to my clients.

The basics

Energy content of nutrients:

CHO (Carbohydrate)
Vitamins, trace elements
And minerals

So, one gram of fat contains about twice the amount of calories as one gram of carbohydrate or protein.

Also, note how high the energy density of alcohol is!

Macronutrients are broken down into energy in the following order:

1.    Alcohol
2.    Carbohydrate and Protein
2.    Fat

(note: in most circumstances when alcohol has not been consumed, protein is immediately taken up by muscles for repair and rebuilding , thus carbohydrate is the first energy source to be used.)

Evidence supporting increasing protein in the diet

A review of studies undertaken by Halton & Hu (2004) in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that convincing evidence is present to suggest that protein exerts an increased thermic effect when compared to fat and carbohydrate.  The thermic effect of a food is, in essence, the amount of energy required for that food to be digested and absorbed, plus the amount of energy required to dispose of its waste products.  The thermic effect of protein is approximately 20-35% of energy consumed, whereas the thermic effect of carbohydrate and fat is only in the range of about 5-15%. 

The same study examined the effect of protein on satiety and subsequent energy intake.  The available evidence suggested that protein rich foods increase satiety and thus decrease subsequent energy intake, at least in the short term, although it is difficult to separate these results from the effects of palatability, food mass, energy density, fibre and glycaemic index. (Halton & Hu, 2004)

Halton and Hu (2004) also noted that the studied data suggested that exchanging refined carbohydrates for protein improved blood lipid profiles, reduced blood pressure and reduced the risk of coronary artery disease.

Higher protein diets have also been associated increased lean muscle body composition when consumed in association with exercise.  Having an adequate protein intake when on a calorie deficient diet is essential to prevent muscle wasting.

Evidence against high protein diets:

Increasing protein intake leads to a greater production of nitrogen (waste product of protein digestion) and therefore urea, increasing the load on the kidneys (nitrogen is excreted from the body via the kidneys).  In patients with decreased kidney function, or at risk of decreased function, such as diabetics, this can be potentially dangerous.  High protein diets also have the potential to increase the risk of gout, due to higher levels of uric acid in the blood and to interfere with calcium metabolism, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.  (Nutrition Australia, 2006)

It is important to note that, as seen in the above table, the energy density of protein is much the same as that of carbohydrate.  If protein intake is in excess of that required for growth and repair by the body, it is simply broken down and used for energy; or, if calories ingested is greater than calories consumed, stored as fat.

Some people—such as body builders and weight lifters—adopt high protein diets based on the theory that muscle consists of protein, and that high protein intake will lead to greater muscularity. This argument is analogous to the belief that if a little vitamin A is good for you, a lot of vitamin A is even better. In fact, high doses of vitamin A are toxic (for example, excessive vitamin A intake has led to deaths in stranded Antarctic explorers who ate the livers of their husky dogs).

Similarly, protein intake above about 1.5-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight is not only pointless, but potentially harmful. (Nutrition Australia)

Evidence for restricting carbohydrate intake:

The rationale behind carbohydrate restriction is that, in response to lower glucose availability, changes in insulin and glucagon concentrations will direct the body away from fat storage and toward fat oxidation. (Westman, et al., 2007)

Recent studies have shown that under conditions of carbohydrate restriction, the body shifts from burning glucose and fatty acids for energy to fatty acids (from dietary fat and adipose (fat) stores) and ketones (from dietary fat, protein and adipose stores).  Glucose dependent tissues (i.e. red blood cells, retina, lens and renal medulla) receive glucose through gluconeogenesis (glucose production at the liver) and glycogenolysis (release of glucose from muscle glycogen).  Even if no dietary carbohydrate is consumed, it is estimated that 200 g/day of glucose and be manufactured by the liver and kidney from dietary protein and fat. (Westman, et al., 2007)

Ad-libitum fed carbohydrate-restricted diets have been shown to reduce appetite, facilitate weight loss and improve markers of cardiovascular disease such as fasting triacylglycerols, HDL cholesterol and the ratio of total HDL cholesterol. Low carbohydrate diets have been shown to improve glycaemic control and insulin resistance in otherwise healthy people with Type II diabetes. (Westman, et al., 2007)

Whereas the loss of lean body mass is typical with weight loss, under certain circumstances when sufficient dietary protein is provided, a LCKD (low carbohydrate ketogenic diet) may preserve lean body mass even during hypoenergetic conditions of weight loss (Westman, et al., 2007).

The elimination or reduction of dietary carbohydrates removes many processed foods from the diet. (Westman, et al., 2007)

Evidence against carbohydrate restriction:

On a low carbohydrate diet, the body is forced to use some of its glycogen (the form of carbohydrate that is stored in the liver and muscles) to maintain a normal blood sugar level.  Some water that was stored with the glycogen is also released and excreted, adding to short-term “weight” loss, but note, this is not FAT loss! (Nutrition Australia, 2006)

Many low carbohydrate diets that restrict intake of plant foods such as certain fruits and vegetables are unlikely to supply sufficient quantities of dietary fibre and some vitamins and minerals.  (Nutrition Australia, 2006)  Plant foods also contain a myriad of other chemicals (phytochemicals) whose value to health is not yet fully understood, but restricting these foods could have more detriment to our health than we already know.  Evidence shows that increased consumption of a wide range of plant-based food sources is associated with improved health and increased life expectancy (Nutrition Australia, 2006)

Due to the elimination of food groups rich in essential vitamins and minerals, VLCKD require vitamin, mineral and fibre supplementation in order to prevent deficiency symptoms and constipation.  (Westman, et al., 2007).  Reported side effects include: constipation, headache, muscle cramps, diarrhea, weakness and skin rash. (Westman, et al., 2007)

Carbohydrate is the most direct and preferred source of glucose that not only powers our muscles, but also provides fuel for our brain.  This means that high-protein, low carbohydrate diets have the potential to interfere with the efficiency of both mental and physical work. (Nutrition Australia, 2006).

Studies on these diets have only been carried out, to date, in the short-term and longer study durations are required to determine adverse event profiles.

But what the evidence does not take into account:

Despite the evidence for and against particular macronutrient ratios, these studies all fail to take into account the psychosocial aspects of diet and nutrition; that is, how we feel about food, how it tastes and the other ways in which it is used in our lives, other than purely for an energy source.  I will not go into this in depth at this time, but we all know that there is more to eating healthy than simply knowing what to and not to eat and, as mentioned earlier, any diet that restricts ANY food group has the potential not only to be unbalanced, leading to deficiencies, but also to lead the dieter down the path of the binge-diet cycle, ultimately resulting in GREATER weight GAIN!

IN ADDITION: I do not believe that one should have to consume expensive vitamin or mineral supplements in order to fulfill their body’s requirements while putting themselves through a restrictive diet purely to be thin.  Any diet that does not provide all of the nutrients we require for our bodies to function efficiently IS NOT balanced and should not be used for long-term health (unless under specific guidance by a practitioner).

So, in summary, here is my recommendation of protein to carbohydrate ratios:

Include protein at every meal, in order to take advantage of the thermic effect of protein and its effect on satiety.  Choose lean (low saturated  fat) proteins from both plant and animal sources.  Choose protein instead of refined carbohydrates (hi GI carbohydrates, such as sugar), but do not increase protein intake to the detriment of low GI, nutrient rich fruit and vegetable intake.

Gram for gram, balance low-glycaemic index carbohydrates with lean protein sources in roughly equal amounts, but, as per the plate model, make up the majority (50%) of your plate with fresh, low starch salads and vegetables.

NEXT: Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Now that we know generally what our plate should look like and why, we will go through what are the BEST choices of foods to fit into these macronutrient categories.

Halton, T. L., & Hu, F. B. (2004). The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review. Journal of the Americal College of Nutrition , 23 (5), 373-385.
Nutrition Australia. (2006). Nutrition Australia: Nutrition Fact Sheet. High Protein Diets .
Westman, E. C., Feinman, R. D., Mavropoulos, J. C., Vernon, M. C., Volek, J. S., Wortman, J. A., et al. (2007). Low-Carbohydrate Nutrition and Metabolism. Americal Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 86, 276-84.

Everyday Foods

What sorts of foods should we be eating everyday and why?? 

The image uploaded shows a plate which has been developed by award winning Gold Coast Dietician Amanda Clark, aimed at helping people to plan their meals within their calorie target whilst meeting their body's nutrient requirements. I think it is a fabulous visual representation of the recommended dietary composition. In a nutshell, this is the dietary composition I recommend to my clients. What I will s
tart to go through now is why. Later, I will go through how to work out how much of these foods you should be eating, based on your personal physical characteristics and your goals.

I will start with macronutrient composition. The macronutrients are protein, carbohydrate and fat. I think this is the best place to start, as there is a lot of controversy surrounding the best dietary composition for weight loss and other goals such as weight gain.

Soooo. What should we be eating??

So... what should we be eating???

They say variety is the spice of life. And this is so true when it comes to eating healthy. The best way to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs is to eat as much variety in as many colours as you can!! Whenever we completely cut out any food group we create the potential for a dietary deficiency and, as discussed previously, that feeling of deprivati

Therefore, it is important that we do not label as "good" foods and "bad" foods, but instead, categorise them as "everyday" foods and "sometimes" foods.

Most people know that we should be eating nutrient dense, whole, fresh foods everyday and nutrient poor, processed, calorie rich foods only occasionally.

But... how much we should be eating and in what combination is something that can be confusing, especially with so much conflicting information out there. So, these are the issues we should be tackling first:

1. What sorts of foods should I be eating every day and why???

2. How much of these foods should I be having and why???

Stay tuned...

So... Why don't 'diets' work?????

Any meal plan we attempt to follow that cuts out whole food groups or labels specific foods as 'forbidden' has the potential to lead to an emotional feeling of deprivation and a physical craving, especially if we go cold turkey on a food that we routinely consume... Bring on the diet/binge cycle!! 

Anyone who has ever dieted knows about this one. It goes a lit
tle like this:

We start this amazing new diet which promises incredible and fast results (complete with all those testimonials) as long as we stop eating carbs (for example). So.. we dive in, head first. For the first week we go well. We drop 3 kg (probably of water) and feel so proud of ourselves!!!

But then, we get tired, light headed and emotional (angry or sad or angry AND sad)... We get that feeling of deprivation, like we are the only one in world who isn't 'allowed' to eat chocolate (for example) because we are too fat!!! We get that "why me"??

We give in and just have a little bit... it tastes sooooo good.. but then, we feel like a failure. We have stuffed the whole diet. We are stupid and hopeless. We feel that now that it is stuffed, we may as well eat the whole lot and start again tomorrow!!! We eat the lot.. not even taking the time to taste and enjoy it.

At the end of that week/month when we weigh in, we haven't reached that huge weight loss goal we aimed for, you know, the one that all those other people in the testimonials were able to achieve, so we eat for comfort... all of those forbidden foods, just because they are forbidden and we don't want to feel deprived anymore.....

Then, feeling fat... we do a google search.. and there is this amazing new diet that promises incredible and fast results, as long as you don't eat any......... Yep.. the cycle starts again..

While we are going through this horrible cycle, this is what is happening in our bodies:

We restrict our food intake by going on an excessive diet. The calorie/nutrient deprivation causes loss of primarily glycogen and water (fat loss does not happen quickly - if a diet claims to make you lose >1 kg per week you will be losing water and muscle...). This produces excellent results on the scales!!

The body goes into a state of starvation and begins to burn muscle protein for energy - there is STILL no significant fat loss. The metabolic rate is reduced due to a reduction in muscle mass.

The feeling of deprivation sets in and we binge eat. Because the body is in a state of starvation, it stores food in order to protect against future starvation.

The reduced metabolic rate means that we end up fatter than we were to start with. we feel disgusting and start the cycle all over again!

t is THIS... The dieting and the "failing" that causes weight gain.....

The answer to having a healthy, happy body, I think, lies in having a healthy, happy mind. The answer is in building our knowledge in relearning what many of us have forgotten - love for and trust in ourselves. Knowledge gives us the power to make the best decisions for ourselves. Loving ourselves no matter what is what we need to work on in order to stop us from falling into these dieting and advertising traps. Trust is what we need to try and have for ourselves and our bodies. If we listen to our bodies, they will tell us what we need. Happiness happens when we learn to listen, trust and love.

I believe that weight issues, like many issues, are usually a side effect of something that lies much deeper... If we can work on the deep things that prevent the love, trust and happiness, the side effects will slip away...

Knowledge is what I do best. So that is what I am going to share.. Trust, love and happiness are things I am still working on!!
One of he most common comments a personal trainer gets must be “I have tried EVERY diet out there and NONE of them work! Why???”, often followed by that look on the face of “I’m a failure”. Achieving and maintaining a happy, healthy body requires a multifactoral approach - a combination of healthy eating, exercise and tackling the psychological factors that make food more than just the fuel that it is for our bodies! Stay tuned as we explore diet and exercise, as well as the social and psychological factors involved in how we look and feel about ourselves. Many tips and evidence-based information to come!!!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pumpkin and Fetta Pies

These pies are delicious, light and full of nutrients!!  They would fit as a dinner or lunch into either the Wehll about 1300 or about 1500 Meal Plans.  Enjoy with a big helping of fresh salad and a side of natural yoghurt (with grated cucumber and lemon juice if you are really feeling energetic)!

Pumpkin and Feta Pie

Serves 4


Carb (g)
Protein (g)
Fat (g)
750 g
Jap Pumpkin, diced in approx. 2 cm cubes
2 tsp
Cumin seeds, whole
20 secs
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray
200 g
Light Fetta Cheese
1 cup
Fresh parsley, chopped
4 slices
Mountain Bread (I used wholewheat)


Total Per Serve


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (or 180 degrees C for a fan-forced oven).
  2. Spray a non-stick baking tin (if you’ve got one, otherwise a normal one) with olive oil spray for about 10 seconds, trying to cover the entire tray as evenly as possible.
  3. Spread the pumpkin evenly over the tray.
  4. Sprinkle the cumin seeds evenly over the top of the pumpkin.
  5. Spray the top again lightly with olive oil spray.
  6. Bake in oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until edges and bottoms are beginning to brown and the pumpkin is beginning to soften.
  7. Meanwhile, crumble the fetta cheese into a large bowl.  Mix in the chopped parsley.
  8. When pumpkin is cooked through, add it to the bowl  (including the cumin seeds) with the feta and parsley and mix until distributed evenly (keep it chunky!).
  9. Lay out the mountain bread on the bench.
  10. Distribute the mixture evenly between each of the mountain bread squares; piling the mixture right in the centre.
  11. Fold the edges of the mountain bread over to form a square or rectangle.
  12. Lightly spray another flat baking dish with olive oil.  Place the mountain bread parcels, folded side down, onto the tray.  Lightly spray the tops with olive oil.
  13. Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes, or until browning on the top and crunchy!!
  14. Serve with a big helping of garden salad and some olive oil and lemon juice or oil free dressing.