Whether it is high-protein, low-carb or gluten-free, the world of healthy eating and dieting can be confusing.
When it comes to weight loss, some people swear by calorie counting, while others choose to cut out fatty foods.
So what is the best way to help you lose weight in the long term?
The difference between cutting calories and cutting fat
Leanne Elliston, a dietitian at Nutrition Australia, explains that energy from food comes in the form of three main macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrate.
“Fat contains the most calories per gram than any other macronutrient, so often by cutting back fat in the diet (if it is already high in fat) you will cut a large number of calories,” she says.
Meanwhile, a low-calorie diet would take into account the calories obtained from all sources of macronutrients.
“You can still have a high calorie diet even if you don’t eat much fat, for example, by drinking lots of soft drinks,” Elliston explains.
A calorie or kilojoule is a unit used to measure the amount of energy in an item of food or drink. When we eat and drink more calories than we use up, our bodies store the excess as body fat, which over time, can lead us to gain weight.
The ’average’ adult needs to consume around 8,700 kilojoules (roughly 2,000 calories), although this depends on your activity level, gender and age.
So can cutting down on calories help you lose weight?
“It can be useful to get an idea of the calories you are consuming especially from snacks and drinks as often that is where we over-consume hidden calories,” Elliston says.
“However, it is easy to get caught up in counting calories and lose sight of nutritional quality of foods,” she adds. “In general, it is best to focus on the nutritional value of foods rather than the calories it contains.”
She advises eating a diet that aligns with the Australian Dietary Guidelines — making sure you incorporate all five food groups and eat enough vegetables. She also recommends not consuming too much food which is high in saturated fat, added sugars or salt.
Cutting down on fat
Elliston says it’s not as simple as “cutting out all fat”, as not all fats are bad for us.
“We still need some healthy fats (such as monounsaturated fat and omega 3 polyunsaturated fats) in our diet, so it is not wise to completely cut out all fat,” she explains.
Foods that contain healthy fats include avocado, nuts and olives, which contain other essential nutrients.
“The best advice is if you are going to cut down fat in your diet then focus on saturated fats as these are the most unhealthy, often found in highly processed foods and the ones we tend to overconsume. Particularly the type in fatty meats, deep fried products, biscuits and pastries,” she says.
Although there are many low-fat alternatives available, from yoghurts to ice cream, it’s worth checking the ingredients as manufacturers sometimes add extra sugar or food additives to boost taste and texture.
Healthy way to lose weight
According to Elliston, it is best to focus on the whole food rather than its fat, carb (sugar) or protein content.
“If a food provides nutritional value in the form of vitamins, minerals, antioxidant and fibre then it is going to be good for us,” she says.
The healthiest way to lose weight is to eat healthy foods, avoid consuming empty calories and do more physical activity, Elliston explains.
“Monitor waist circumference instead of weight so use your trousers as a guide as to if you are losing weight in the right places.”