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Itua Iyoha: The ‘Whole Foods’ Secret to Achieving Your Optimal Weight Without Dieting

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Itua IyohaThe first part of this series covered the benefits of a plant based diet. {Click here to read it if you missed it}

Have you ever tried to lose weight? It’s not the most fun thing in the world. Calorie counting, portion control, drinking meal replacement shakes and green smoothies, following fitfam diets and meal plans… And then after you’ve struggled to do everything the diet books tell you to do, you jump on the scale and the needle has barely moved. Why is it so hard?

If I asked you what the best way to lose weight is, chances are you’d say something along the lines of ‘eat fewer calories’, ‘eat less carbs’ or ‘fat-burning exercises’.

Our understanding of the link between nutrition and weight loss is heavily influenced by what the media celebrates as the ‘perfect diet’ depending on what happens to be the current trend. A decade ago low fat was all the rage; then it was high protein. At some point the Mediterranean diet became the holy grail, these days it’s low carb-low sugar. But the truth is that, fad diets are not going to help you lose excess weight and keep it off in the long run, because none of them addresses why we gain weight in the first place.

There are 2 reasons we find it so easy to gain excess weight and find it so hard to lose it:

Eating processed food
Much of what we classify as food these days age isn’t really food; it’s empty calories. Wheat flour, cooking oil, high-fructose corn syrup, white sugar, packaged fruit juice…these highly refined ‘foods’ feature prominently in the things we regularly consume as staples – bread, Indomie, spaghetti, and so on. But the body cannot recognise these highly refined substances as the original food they came from. They register as pure calories, so your body is unable to tell you when you are full based on the quantity you eat. It then becomes very easy for us to eat far too many calories from just a small portion of food.

Unnecessary focus on macronutrients
Conventional dietary advice typically demonises one macronutrient – e.g. carbs or fat – and promotes high intake of others – e.g. protein. But this is a very unhealthy and unnatural way to eat. We end up eating too much of one nutrient and not enough of another, which creates a nutritional imbalance in our bodies. For example a plate of cauliflower rice and chicken might sound like a healthy meal, but it lacks the carbohydrates that fuel the brain. And a bowl of granola with skim milk is high in fibre but lacking in fat. It’s very difficult to maintain this way of eating long term as we are never properly nourished and satisfied. The body is essentially in starvation mode, using its fat stores to feed itself. Eventually when we stop eating this way, all the weight we managed to lose comes rushing back as the body tries to replenish the stores.

The healthy, sustainable solution to weight loss is a whole foods, plant based diet.

A whole foods diet includes all the foods you’re familiar with, but in unrefined/minimally refined form and nutritionally balanced. It mostly consists of starchy food, along with vegetables and fruits. Starchy foods are the bedrock of this diet because they naturally contain the ideal balance of macronutrients. Our bodies mostly run on carbohydrate, with smaller requirements for protein and fat. The recommended daily intake of macronutrients is about 70% carbohydrate, 11% protein, 15% fat and 6% fibre. This is roughly the macronutrient ratio typically found in whole starchy foods such as legumes, seeds, tubers and cereals. These foods also contain small amounts of essential micronutrients, which are supplemented by the fruits and vegetables that also form part of this diet.

Because a whole foods diet provides nutrients in the amounts and proportions that are required by the body, there is no need to store excess fat. This is why you can literally eat yourself to a healthy weight by following the whole foods diet. Over time the excess weight just falls off and stays off, even with minimal exercise. But, in order to get the benefits of eating whole foods, you must combine the whole foods philosophy with the plant-based philosophy (covered in the first article of this series). Apart from promoting disease in the body, animal products are so calorie dense and fibre deficient that the body does not handle them well. It is extremely easy to overeat with a diet high in meat, cheese, milk, eggs and so on, unless you restrict your portions and caloric intake. But of course, this is not sustainable. With a whole foods, plant based diet you are free to enjoy delicious good food, free of guilt and restrictions.

As this is not a fad diet but rather a way of eating, there is no meal plan you must follow…no diet book you must buy. All you need to do is to follow some basic guidelines in the beginning; eventually you’ll get used to it and it will come naturally to you.

So how can you go about reaping the benefits of a whole foods, plant based diet? In the last part of this series I’ll share tips on how one can adopt this style of eating in Nigeria.

Itua (the Naija Vegan Chef) is a passionate food lover and nutritional health enthusiast. She advocates a whole foods, plant based diet for its amazing health benefits and the freedom to enjoy good food without guilt. Find delicious plant-based recipes made for Nigerian tastebuds on her blog,www.naijaveganchef.com.

10 Comments

  1. Laila Donohue

    May 31, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Reducing weight is not difficult if you have the correct support and knowledge , i was searching on-line and came upon this site and got to know that many had success in reducing weight, i am seeing awesome results too, here is that site, hope it will help those who really want to lose weight

    besstfatloss.weebly.com/

  2. Weezy

    May 31, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Hmm. I agree with you that whole foods and more plant-based is the way to go. This has been argued by Mark Bittman for instance. However even he does not advocate 100% plant-based – its more like 70%, and his dietary advice is crafted for the American diet which has a stronger reliance on protein than the Nigerian diet.

    There are two issues I see here. First, diets work best when they take account for the environment in which the person is in. I’m genuinely curious as to how you recommend a person based in Nigeria, who is not poor but not wealthy, get their protein requirement on a regular basis, without any meat. What foods should they buy in the market and by the roadside that are 80-100% protein, apart from eggs? Eating eggs for every meal will get old quickly. Plus eggs are expensive. You say this is not a fad diet, but yet it is unclear how a complete overhaul of what people eat (stop meat and dairy) is sustainable, particularly if it means introducing new food products that average Nigerians don’t know how to cook or integrate into their taste buds.

    Second, I don’t think you should use the FDA guidelines as the standard recommendation. From what I have seen, researchers and the more respected nutrition experts advise high protein, low -medium fat, low -medium carbs. There is some variation among experts, but almost uniformly most would agree that 70% carbohydrates is too much. The FDA recommends 300 grams, yet researchers and nutritionists have complained that this is too much for Americans. Carbohydrates are typically what is making one gain weight. If you want a flat stomach, you reduce carbs. If you want to increase strength and muscle, you increase protein.

    Honestly, if you can outline a whole foods/ plant – based meal plan that consists of what is available in a Nigerian market or roadside fruit stand (occasionally supplemented by supermarket products, but not entirely), and provides no more than 50% carbs, then you have converted this skeptic. Would like to see you address this.

    • Weezy

      May 31, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      Actually, the plant-based diet does not even include eggs. Hence my question about what proteins you recommend that are available in the typical market and a re affordable.

    • wendy

      May 31, 2016 at 8:55 pm

      i believe in balance and common sense… i don’t go with the Fad. everyday white man wake up and come up with what suits their need ..I am not in support of not incorporating meat or sea food into your diet but you can get protein from the following:

      ground Nuts
      beans
      soya beans
      peas

      these are the ones that I know of. there might be some available foods hig in protein in naija that I don’t know about…

    • Itua

      June 1, 2016 at 7:53 am

      Hi Weezy, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you agree that whole foods, plant based makes sense. Even though Mark Bittman may not encourage 100% plant foods, I can assure you it’s not unhealthy at all. Lots of people have been eating that way for decades with no nutritional deficiencies; I myself have been doing so for almost a year. Either way, that’s not what I’m suggesting. Plant based only implies around 90% of calories from plants. This is already close to what a majority of Nigerians eat, as meat is still quite expensive for a lot of people. So it’s far from impossible or difficult.

      You seem to have fallen into the same trap I highlighted in the article – overt focus on macronutrients. Proteins are not difficult to get, as nearly all plant foods contain sufficient protein. So if you are not undernourished (as in consistently eating less than 2000 calories a day) and eating a variety of foods, you are bound to get enough protein. You can’t avoid it. Even people who eat raw food only (fruits, vegetables and nuts) are not protein deficient. You really don’t need foods that are 80-100% protein. As I showed in the previous article, many people now exceed their protein requirement as we have started to eat a lot more meat than our grandparents.

      I’m not sure who these respected sources are, but I can tell you categorically that a high protein, low carb diet is very unhealthy. One of the major proponents of this diet, Dr Atkins, was overweight and had problems with heart failure. The diet was popular at some point but has now been discredited. There’s a lot of confusion in the diet and nutrition world because so much ‘research’ is sponsored by food companies. You can even find ‘research’ saying that bacon will help you lose weight. This is why a healthy dose of skpeticism and critical evaluation is needed when looking at dietary advice. Also no number of research papers can trump personal experience.

      I cant emphasise this enough – carbohydrates do not make one gain weight. As stated in the article, refined food and nutritional imbalances due to focus on macronutrients are responsible for this. Any refined nutrient – refined carbs, pure fat or pure protein – will cause weight gain. CoIf you try eating a whole foods, plant based diet for a month and end up gaining weight, then by all means go back to counting calories.

      I’ll put a sample meal plan in my last article of this series. I hope it will convince you to ditch calorie counting and protein hunting 🙂

  3. Weezy

    May 31, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    You are correct that beans and nuts could be the source of protein. The problem is that they are also a source of carbs – they are not high protein in the way that meat and eggs are. So if you eat more beans and nuts, and remove meat/eggs, you also have to be aware of whether you are not mistakenly increasing your carbohydrates.

    I’ve been trying to lose a few pounds for some months, so the struggle is real. Counting calories has really opened my eyes. For instance,
    3 oz of beef contains 0 carbs, 22 grams of protein
    1 egg has 1gram of carbs, 6 grams of protein
    Chicken too has zero carbs, and maybe 40 grams of protein

    1 cup of peanuts has 24 grams of carbs and 38 grams protein
    1 cup black eye beans has 27 grams of carbs and 45 grams protein
    1 cup soybeans 56 grams of carbs and 68 grams of protein.

    A person that is trying to maintain their figure would not just be replacing animal products with legumes, they’d also have to watch their consumption of yam, potato, cassava, rice, etc. If you eat beans with palmoil and put garri on top for lunch, prepare for that to be your biggest meal of the day. No pounded yam for dinner.

  4. I am a fan

    June 1, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Thank you so much for these articles. I have learned a lot and will incorporate all you have suggested in my weight loss plan. I await the final part.

    • Itua

      June 2, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      This makes me happy, I’m glad you found them helpful! 🙂

  5. Taraade

    February 19, 2019 at 10:50 am

    I’m interested in eating healthy and had a look at your food time-table.

    Where can i get chickpeas and mushroom to buy. As a health enthusiasist that people are fo[[owing, could you please make out some healthy recipes for us to follow. Let us also know where we can get to buy the foods from as most people are new at this.

    Thank you

  6. Posu Marvellous

    February 19, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    Cool

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