A low carb high protein diet for weight loss can be healthy, natural, and nutrient-dense. It can be a highly effective way to burn stored fat and maintain muscle, say researchers. And, if done right, it can keep you feeling satisfied, help lower your blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, and even help prevent rebound weight gain in the long run.
In the first of this two-part article, you were introduced to the five keys to a healthy low-carb, high-protein diet for weight loss, as designed and tested by researchers at the Functional Medicine Research Center near Seattle. Their diet emphasizes certain foods and nutrients that can help maintain muscle mass while promoting fat burning and is based on the following keys:
- Limiting carbohydrates
- Increasing protein
- Restricting unhealthy fats and enhancing omega-3/omega-6 balance
- Increasing fiber
- Increasing phytonutrients
In Part 1, we took a closer look at the first two keys. Now let’s look at how the right kinds of fats, fiber, and phytonutrients are also keys to healthy, natural weight loss.
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Restricting Unhealthy Fats and Enhancing Omega-3/Omega-6 Balance
The third key to healthy weight loss is not about limiting total fat; a low-fat diet is not the best approach, according the Functional Medicine researchers. Rather, they emphasize the fact that dietary fats are an integral part of an effective approach to healthy weight loss.
What matters most is the type of fat: omega-3 fats, olive oil, coconut oil, and fat from avocados, nuts, and seeds are the healthiest fats. Cold-pressed oils like olive, sesame, walnut, macadamia, grapeseed, and flaxseed are preferred, along with virgin coconut oil, light coconut milk, olives, or fresh avocado. Refined vegetable oils which are high in omega-6, animal fats, and trans-fats should be restricted.
Monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish, nuts, and seeds, and medium-chain fatty acids like those found in coconut oil, all have health benefits linked to healthy weight control. For example, getting enough of these healthy fats, especially the omega-3s, is necessary so that cells are more sensitive to insulin. Improving insulin sensitivity helps to increase overall fat burning and can help burn abdominal fat in particular.
Another benefit of omega-3s is that they help reduce inflammation. Inflammation and abdominal fat go hand-in-hand, fueling each other and disrupting metabolism. The ability of omega-3s to decrease inflammation is optimal when you simultaneously limit your omega-6 intake, which is why most vegetable oils like soy, canola, and corn are restricted.
Optimal fat intake for healthy weight loss consists of 3-6 teaspoons of healthy fats per day, along with one serving of nuts/seeds daily. You’ll also be getting some fat from your animal protein sources if you follow the protein recommendations above and eat a maximum of 2 full servings of animal protein and one or two snack-size servings of animal protein. In addition, the researchers recommend a fish oil supplement high in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for everyone as part of a daily supplement program.
The next key to healthy weight loss is to increase fiber. The typical American diet is virtually devoid in high fiber foods that contribute to a healthy digestive system, say the researchers, who cite research suggesting that up to 90 percent of adults in the U.S. fail to consume the daily adequate fiber intake.
In addition to improving the health of your GI tract, fiber also helps keep the overall glycemic load of your meals lower, meaning you won’t experience as much of an increase in blood sugar and insulin levels after eating a meal containing more fiber. Fiber also helps keep you feeling full and satisfied and it supports healthy cholesterol levels.
This need for more fiber is particularly great when following a low-carb, high-protein diet for weight loss. To help you get adequate fiber, the Functional Medicine researchers’ healthy weight loss plan includes 6 daily servings of vegetables and 5 oz. of fresh greens—plus 1 serving of nuts and seeds daily along with 1 fruit serving of fruit every other day. You can also add a natural fiber supplement, such as psyllium seed husk, oat bran, glucomannan, or ground flax seed to this plan if desired. At least one soft, but formed, bowel movement every day is optimal.
The final key to healthy weight loss is to boost your phytonutrient intake. Phytonutrients are protective chemicals in plants that are not yet considered essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals (which are also critically important). But the research on phytonutrients has exploded over the past decade and it is now known that they support the body in multiple ways, profoundly influencing what happens all the way down to the cellular and even the genetic levels. In other words, phytonutrients help influence which genes get expressed, or turned on and off. They have also been found to help support your body’s crucial antioxidant functions, keep your DNA stable, and help your cells communicate ways that alter your metabolism.
Eating greater amounts of plant-based foods rich in phytonutrients may help protect you from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, and has been associated with increased health and longevity. Since you’re not eating grains, legumes, or much fruit on this weight loss plan, most of your phytonutrients will come from vegetables. The researchers recommend at least one vegetable of each color should be eaten each day when possible, and they remark that darker colored vegetables are generally higher in phytonutrients.
What to Expect After 3 Months on Healthy Weight-Loss Plan
At the Functional Medicine Research Center, the men and women who followed a healthy weight loss plan like this and a basic exercise plan (10,000 steps a day using a pedometer) for 12 weeks lost a significant amount of weight and changed their body composition by decreasing fat mass while increasing muscle mass. They also had improvements in cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and insulin levels.
How to Achieve Long-Term Success with Weight Loss
This healthy weight loss plan will help you obtain a healthy weight in a manner that preserves your muscle mass while burning fat to help ensure long-term success. The Functional Medicine researchers recommend following this program for three to six months, depending on your weight-loss goals, and then transitioning to a Mediterranean-style, low glycemic eating plan for weight maintenance for six months. After that, if more weight loss is needed, you can do another three- to six-month cycle of the weight loss program. This type of cyclical weight loss also helps ensure long-term success.
Questions About This Weight-Loss Plan?
Now that you’ve seen solid evidence supporting a doable weight loss plan that really works, what is holding you back from getting started today? You can create delicious meals with the many great choices of carbs, protein, and fat available with this weight loss plan. It even makes it less likely you will gain back all the weight you have worked to lose. Has a healthy version of a high-protein/low-carb weight loss plan worked for you? What questions do you have about this particular plan?
Originally published in 2013, this blog has been updated.
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