The Slow-Carb Diet

I first heard of the slow carb diet through author Timothy Ferriss’ blog and then in his latest book The Four Hour Body. It is similar to the paleo diet and has one feature that is notable and loved by the adherents of the diet: the cheat day.

This cheat day allows you to eat just about anything you want and in any quantity. In other words, you binge like crazy. We will talk more about this feature of the diet later. Let us first briefly outline the diet.

Ultimately the diet is pretty simple. It is broken down into a few rules that are easy to remember. There are definitely specifics to these rules and other clarifications to be made, but the simple rules are a great starting point for the diet and easy to recall.

The first rule is to avoid white colored carbohydrates. This includes food that could be white but is not necessarily at the moment. For instance, you should avoid white rice and brown rice (brown rice could be processed into white rice. The foods to avoid include rice (as previously mentioned, even brown), all bread, cereal, potatoes, pasta, breaded fried food and tortillas. Avoid other white foods not mentioned and you should be ok.

One caveat mentioned in regard to avoiding white foods, is that it is ok to have them within 30 minutes of a resistance training workout.

The second rule is to eat the same meal again and again. While this may sound boring, we tend to do this a lot anyway. How often do you eat the same breakfast, lunch or dinner? This rule takes a habit most of have just a bit further. One plus to following this rule is ease of food preparation. You can cook off large batches of food to save time down the road. You can also purchase some foods in bulk.

The third rule is a reminder to not drink your calories. Drinking a lot of water is a must (as we all should be no matter the diet), and consuming unsweetened tea, coffee or other low or no calorie drink is fine. Things like regular soda and fruit juices are not ok. Beer and white wine are banned, red wine is ok. Zero calorie soda is ok, but you should limit it to 16 ounces or less a day.

The fourth rule is to avoid fruit. Tomatoes and avocados are ok. Did you know they are fruits? They are. You should note that while tomatoes are scientifically fruit, chefs consider their flavor profile more similar to vegetables. Therefore, chefs think of them as veggies. Avocados are just awesome and deserve to be eaten every day.

The fifth and final rule is to take one day off per week. This is referred to as a cheat day. You can literally eat however much and whatever you want. Sounds nice, huh?

The purpose of this diet as outlined by Mr. Ferriss is to promote fat-loss. This diet is meant to be a lifestyle though and not a two or three month thing. This is a great way to think about diets in general. Your diet, a healthy one whatever it may be, should be a part of your long-term lifestyle. Do not think that you can diet for a few months of the year and be thin for the rest of the time without any dietary discipline. This is where so many fad diets and even traditional diets fail.

The details of the slow-carb diet are available in The Four Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss. Check it out if you want to learn more, or do a Google search on the diet and you will come up with further information.

The Stereotypical American Diet

I thought it would be interesting to go over what the stereotypical American diet is according to young people from around the world. My lovely girlfriend is currently working with students from across the globe (ages 14 to 30), and the topic, with all the stereotypes, has come up several times.

I thought a lot about what my stereotypes were regarding what Americans eat. After reading this post, consider what your stereotypes are regarding the American diet and why this is so. Also consider how your diet compares to what people around the world think you would typically eat. Is there something wrong with the American diet, or does the rest of the world have it wrong? These are interesting questions to consider.

The stereotypical American diet according to teens and young adults from around the world is easy to summarize. They think we eat a whole lot of hamburgers, hot dogs and pizzas. They also believe that we eat fast food all the time and avoid vegetables. Many foreign students noted the lack of rice and abundance of potatoes on our dinner plates. And of course ice cream was mentioned a lot, but I have a feeling that these students are enjoying a heap of American ice cream during their study time in the States.

There are several stereotypes put forward by the foreign students that I hold. I do think Americans eat a bunch of pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs. More than we ought to. In fact, I know that most of us eat too much meat. Unless you are trying to bulk up, the large amount of meat we consume is just not necessary. One serving of meat clocks in at 3 ounces. You may go a bit higher for chicken and even higher for fish. But three ounces is not actually that much. It is all you need though.

One thing that they have not mentioned is the variety of food you can get in America and particularly from restaurants. I have been to few countries that offer the excellent variety of cuisine from around the world that you can find in a decent sized American city. We really are lucky to have such a variety of people sharing their culinary traditions with us and chefs that are experimenting and pushing the boundaries of cooking.

One thing that is not apparent to these visiting foreign students is the healthy eating trend that has been growing over the past few decades. It is so much easier to find whole grain, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options now. Local farmers markets are also exploding and there are even a few people who are advocating gathering the edible weeds that are growing around your neighborhood. I believe this healthy eating trend will eventually change the American diet stereotype. That is a tall order with the exporting of our fast food chains though.

This writing has me thinking about a great photo essay titled What the World Eats done by time magazine on what foods families consume in a typical week. The photos are great and it is fascinating to compare and contrast eating habits from around the globe.

So how do your eating habits match up with the stereotypical American diet? Perhaps you are doing well. If you are not, don’t worry. You can always make a change for the better. If you are interested in the paleo diet, you can read my paleo cookbook review to see if you would like to pick up a copy of your own. Happy eating.

The Japanese Diet

The Japanese have been called the healthiest people in the world, and much of that has been attributed to their diet and lifestyle. While we in the west may not be able to emulate the Japanese lifestyle, we can learn to incorporate some of the dietary aspects that researchers say contribute to incredible health and well being of the Japanese people.

The World Health Organization has reported that the average life expectancy for Japanese men and women is 79 and 86 years respectively. For Americans it is 75 and 80 years. And importantly, the Japanese typically get about 75 of those years free of health conditions and disabilities. Living a long time is no fun if your quality of life is poor.

The Japanese have the lowest obesity rate in the developed world. This is not attributed to strictly to their genes either. Japanese that change to a western style diet tend to put on weight quickly (in case you are wondering, Japan’s obesity rate is 3% versus 32% for America; for another diet focused on maintaining a healthy weight, check out the Paleo Cookbook Review).

One facet of the Japanese diet that can be adopted by westerners is the large breakfast. The Japanese often eat large breakfasts that include eggs or fish, miso soup, vegetables, rice, fruit and green tea. Studies have shown that eating a large breakfast causes you to eat fewer calories throughout the rest of the day.

Another trick of the Japanese diet involves portions and advice you have likely heard before. Food is served on small plates or bowls in Japan. This helps keep portions minimal. It is no secret these days that keeping portions small is a great way to promote healthy eating and lose weight. Research has shown that we will eat more when served more whether we want to or not.

One lifestyle and dietary tradition the Japanese follow that most Americans have trouble with is taking your time while eating. While dining, Japanese slow down and savor every bite. This allows time for the brain to catch up to the stomach. Unfortunately it takes some time for the full signal to kick in to your brain. Us fast Americans can devour quite a bit of food in that time. Those extra calories really add up over the years. A Japanese person eats approximately 25% fewer calories per day than an average American.

For those of us who just can’t slow down, there is another reasonable solution. That solution is to replace calorie dense foods with less calorie dense foods. We are talking gram for gram here—the same weight but fewer calories. So get rid of those cookies and potato chips and replace them with fruits, vegetables and broth type soups. And guess what? Those last three foods are all found in the Japanese diet in high quantities.

There are a few types of foods that the Japanese eat often that westerners should take note of. One is rice. A small bowl of rice is served with almost every meal and it is prepared without oil or butter. This rice is low calorie and helps take up space that westerners like to fill with much less healthy foods.

The next food type the Japanese love is vegetables. They eat a rainbow of vegetables often. This is exactly what we all should be doing—eating a colorful and bountiful variety of vegetables. It is not uncommon to find four or five different vegetables served in a Japanese meal. This is awesome. We should be so lucky to make this happen.

The Japanese eat a lot of fish and a lot of the right types of fish. The fish they eat has good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Since they’re eating all that fish, they have less time for red meat. And while red meat is delicious, it does have a whole lot of saturated fat.

Finally, the Japanese diet contains a good amount of soy products and the deserts are often fruit based. When they are something sinful, the portions are tiny. Also, a cup of green tea, or any tea for that matter, is a great way to end a meal and relax.

Some of these changes are easier to make than others. They are all changes worth making though. With a commitment to health, you’ll find that changing your habits for the better feels great and is not that difficult.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet started getting a lot of attention in the 1990s and it hasn’t really let up since. The diet is promoted as heart healthy by doctors and dietitians and is often recommended to those with high risk factors for heart disease.

The Mediterranean diet is the diet traditionally followed by people living in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Some sources place an emphasis on a few countries and regions in particular including southern, coastal Italy, Crete, and some parts of Greece. UNESCO’s recognition of the diet in November 2010 throws in Spain and Morocco as well.

Proponents of this diet note that the traditional practitioners of the Mediterranean diet get a good deal of regular physical activity. I wish I could quantify “a good deal” and what exactly that physical activity was. Sorry that I can’t at the moment, but we can assume it involves maybe 2 to 4 miles of daily walking and various chores associated with keeping up the farm and home.

The food pyramid for this diet has four parts. The top consists of limited amounts of meats and sweets. The next tier down is poultry and eggs. After that, we have fish and seafood. And finally, we have a base consisting of lots of fresh, leafy green veggies, as well as other types, minimally processed breads, rice, oats and such, fruits, tubers, nuts seeds, legumes, herbs, and spices. The diet also consists of drinking plenty of water and a glass or two of wine a day (usually with meals). Of course the wine part is optional. The diet’s main source of fat comes from olive oil.

The following is nice rundown of the diet:

  • Get your food from an abundant amount of plant sources. These include fruits and vegetables along with potatoes, breads, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Remember, the less processed the better and seasonal, fresh, locally grown foods are awesome.
  • Olive oil is the main fat in the diet. Replace other fats like butter with this.
  • Total fat is from less than 25% to over 35% of energy. Saturated fat should be no more than 7 to 8 percent of calories.
  • Cheese and yogurt are eaten daily but in small to moderate amounts.
  • Low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry are eaten. Research suggests that you should emphasize the fish over the bird. Eat up to seven eggs a week and that includes those used in cooking.
  • Fresh fruit is the typical desert. Stay away from the sweets. Eat them now more than a couple of times a week.
  • Eat red meat only a few times a month.
  • Exercise regularly. Be active.
  • A glass (for women) or two (for men) of wine is normal on the diet, but don’t start consuming alcohol if you don’t already. And remember to drink responsibly.

The Mediterranean diet food pyramid has recently been updated with the addition of herbs and spices. This is for two reasons: for taste and for health. Feel free to investigate herbs and spices on your own. They are essential for every kitchen and can really liven up your cooking. I’ll be doing a separate post on them later anyway, so go ahead and look for that too.