Updated: Nov 14, 2019
All foods are made up of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and/or fats, as well as micro nutrients. The optimal contribution of each of these to our nutrition, particularly for fat loss, has been the subject of much debate. While this controversy rages, what we do know is that we need all of these macronutrients to function at our best. Cutting out whole food groups only leads to a monotonous diet that is hard to stick with in the long term and risks deficiencies in certain nutrients.
A balanced approached is undoubtedly the best option, with each meal providing all macronutrients. Two key words to choose foods wisely: quality and quantity.
Quality and Quantity
The key to successful fat loss lies in applying these words to each and every meal and snack. We speak with our clients about the quality of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in your nutrition to ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs, while the quantity of each food group is the key to successful fat loss.
There are no good or bad foods. Any food can be included in your nutrition plan, provided it is the appropriate quantity to ensure that your overall consumption of food is nutritious and within your targeted energy level.
Food Groups (At a glance)
1. Vegetables & Fruit
All vegetables (including potatoes and sweet potatoes) and fruit.
2. Carbohydrates-rich foods
Including grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, legumes (beans and lentils) and their products such as Breads and Bars.
3. Protein-rich foods
Including meat, poultry, game, seafood, fish, eggs, dairy foods and soy products. Legumes can also be included here where part of a vegetarian meal.
4. Fat-rich foods
Including oils, organic butter, nuts, seeds, nut butters and avocado
5. Occasional foods
These foods may not be the best choices in helping you to reach your fat-loss goals, but by including your favourites in small amounts you increase your chances of long-term success.
Remember, it’s all about balance; So simply get the quantity right. This category includes chocolate, confectionary, alcohol, cakes, biscuits and energy-dense desserts.
We discuss the best quality options of each of these groups to benefit client health as well as any effect on improving body composition.
Food Groups (Comprehensive)
Group 1: Vegetables & Fruit
This is the base of the transformation food pyramid for two reasons: first, these foods have a low energy density, meaning that of you make them the basis of every meal you will succeed in lowering you energy intake. Second, these foods are rich in macronutrients vital to health and keep you looking, feeling and functioning at your best – these include vitamin, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. This is the one food group that you can indulge in – the more variety the better. Everybody should aim for at least seven a day, including two to four fruit and five or more vegetable portions every day.
Group 2: Carbohydrate-rich foods
Carbohydrates include both sugars and starch, and are abundant in the plant foods that make up an important part of our diet.
Note: Health recommendations around the world pushing low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets have resulted in many people overeating the wrong kinds of carbohydrate-rich foods.
Processing and refining of grains not only results in a loss of nutrients, but also affects the way they are metabolised and processed by the body, substantially changing their effect on our health and, the most recent evidence suggests, our body-fat levels.
We will learn more about the Glycaemic Index (GI) later on, but for now know that in general, low-GI foods help you to eat less, have smaller effects on your blood sugar levels and may help you to burn more and store less body fat. For this reason the carbohydrate -rich foods recommended are whole-grain, low-GI choices that will fill you up, provide sustained energy release, helping you to feel more active and exercise to the best of your ability, and maintain body fat loss.
To ensue your fat-loss success, it is crucial that you keep within your targeted potion serves of carbohydrate-rich foods and aim for the best carbohydrate quality in your eating plan. This will reduce the glycaemic load of your diet.
There are times of course when you simply have to make the best choice available, or one of your favourite foods may not be on the ‘smart choice’ list. The other foods listed are also low in fat and are good choices, but without the added benefit of having a low GI. You can include them in your plan, as long as that you spread your carbohydrate serves out across the day rather than having a big carbohydrate load all at once.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Snack foods
There are numerous low fat snack bars on the market and they can be useful when you need a quick snack on the run or something you can put in your gym bag for after your workout. However, despite their low fat status, many are in fact not low in energy. They are packed with carbohydrates, usually from sugar and syrups in order to replace the lost flavour from the fat and can be surprisingly energy dense.
In addition, these products tend to contain rapidly absorbed carbohydrates and therefore have a high GI. Eating too many can therefore hinder your fat-loss progress. You can choose to count snack foods as a carbohydrate serve, but on most days aim to choose from the ‘smart choices’.
Group 3: Protein-rich foods
We’ll learn more about proteins function in the body and how it can help you to lose body fat later. For now, aim to get a protein-rich food into each meal; this will help you to achieve a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat, which will in turn satisfy your appetite, keeping you fuller for longer. We do not recommend low fat products; you are better of going for full fat. Research has shown that saturated fats aren’t so bad for us after all therefore you do not have to avoid fatty cuts of meat.
Your portion size of protein-rich foods will vary depending on your targeted serves. Everyone should include at least one protein serve at each meal and two serves at a main meal. For those on higher energy levels, particularly men, you may be aiming for as many as four protein serves at a main meal. E.g. 150g grilled steak.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Legumes
Since legumes are excellent sources of both carbohydrates and protein they can be counted as either carbohydrate-rich or protein-rich food. If you are following a vegetarian-eating plan, legumes will always count as your protein serves – use all your carbohydrate serve allowance from other sources.
E.g. ½ cup steamed rice with ¾ cup chickpeas in a vegetable curry = 1-2 carbohydrate serves and 1 protein serve. If you’re eating plan includes meat and/or fish, only count legumes as your protein serve in a solely plant-based meal. Otherwise, count legumes as a carbohydrate serve E.g. 1: ¾ cup mixed beans in a salsa with a 75g grilled salmon steak = 1-2 carbohydrate serve and 2 protein serves. E.g. 2: ½ cup of lentil soup with two slices of whole-grain bread = 1 protein serve and 2 carbohydrate serves.
Group 4: Fat-rich foods
The years of low-fat advice have led some of us to be ‘fat phobic’ where we try to eliminate all fat sources from our diet. Others have abandoned the fat message and ignore the fat content of a food or meal. The real answer to the fat question lies somewhere in between. Think again about quality and quantity.
We need small amounts of fat in our diet to supply essential fats for various functions in the body, but also to transport fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants from the digestive organs into the body and then to the cells where they are needed. Focus therefore, on including healthy fats in your diet and reducing your intake of the less healthy fats such as trans fats.
We will learn more about these fats later, but for now the Food Groups Serves table will tell you how many serves of fat you should aim for per day. The serves need not be consumed in one go; you may want to use a half serve of fat at one meal/snack and use the other half elsewhere.
Group 5: Occasional foods
There are no good foods or bad foods, but certainly some foods have fewer healthy properties than others. The foods listed here are usually energy-rich, but not nutrient-rich, and hence they are not the best choices, particularly while you are trying to cut your energy intake down to lose body fat.
For 8 Week Challenge Clients: The foods listed under ‘occasional foods’ are predominantly sources of fat and carbohydrates, such as chocolate or potato chips. To include them in your eating plan, simply deduct 1 carbohydrate-rich serve and 1 fat-rich serve for each treat. Since there foods have fewer nutrients than the better choices, keep them for an occasional treat rather than a daily occurrence.