Beating the Winter Cold and Boosting Immunity

Winter is the time of the year that is dreaded by most. It’s dark in the morning, dark at night, the days are short and it’s cold, and more than likely you or someone in your family will get sick at some stage. Ensuring your diet is on point is essential to staying on top of colds and flus that are going around. If you stay well nourished by eating well; exercise and sleep well, you will be on the right track to stay healthy.

Individuals who live in poverty and have limited to access to good food are malnourished and more vulnerable to disease and infection. The same is true in the Western world – if your diet is lacking in variety and micro- or macronutrients, you a likely malnourished, just not in the same way as those in poverty, however, this still leads to a decreased immune system. If you think that your diet is insufficient in one way or another, talk to your Dietitian and they can guide you as to how to boost things up, or a quality multivitamin is a good place to start.

Fruit and vegetables are the key during the colder months. These are the foods that are packed full of vitamins and minerals, which assist in keeping you healthy. And while there isn’t a plethora of delicious berries, stone fruits and melons like there are in Summer, it is still just as important to ensure you have your 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables a day.

Foods that can help to boost immunity:

  1. Citrus foods – there’s no coincidence why oranges, mandarins, lemons and limes are in season during Winter. It’s like the world knows that this is the time of the year that these foods are needed in the diet. Citrus along with red capsicum are a great source of vitamin C, which is thought to boost the production of white blood cells, helping to fight infections. Vitamin C is not stored in your body, so you need to have some everyday to help keep your immunity up.
  2. Garlic – has been known for centuries to assist with immunity and fighting colds and flus. The compound allicin, present in garlic can help to fight infection from both bacteria and viruses.
  3. Ginger – reduces fevers, soothes a sore throat (along with lemon and honey) and can assist with removing mucus from the chest.
  4. Yoghurt – a good source of probiotics, which helps to put good bacteria, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterial, into the gut. This good bacteria has been linked to shortening the severity and duration when taken regularly. If you are not a fan of yoghurt a probiotic containing these bacteria strains will also be effective.
  5. Vitamin D – people with low vitamin D levels are more susceptible to getting sick. If unsure of your vitamin D levels, it’s worth getting them checked. Where we live, in order to get adequate vitamin D from the sun in Winter you need to spend 60 minutes with bare arms and legs in the sun each day between the 11am and 3pm – for most people this is unrealistic, mainly because it’s too cold and very few people have the time to spend lounging in the sun everyday. Good food sources of vitamin D include mushrooms, oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) and cereals and dairy that are fortified with vitamin D.

Aside from eating well, exercise is a great way to stay healthy and not only keep you warm in Winter, but also assist with improve immunity. The fresh air is good for the body and a welcome change to being inside with minimal fresh air circulating, harboring bacteria and viruses. Exercise releases endorphins, so if nothing else, it will make you feel good and increase your energy levels, so rug up, get out there and get moving.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Any soup is going to help to warm you from the inside out and help to soothe a sore throat, but the key to keeping your immunity up is vegetables, so make sure that any soup you have is packed full of veggies and has a good source of protein – chicken, meat, fish, legumes, lentils or beans.


  • 1 whole chicken or a combination of thighs and breast
  • 3 stalks of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 packet of frozen spinach or 3 cups of fresh
  • 1 small head of broccoli
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced
  • Any other veggies you have lying around
  • 1 x 400g tin of brown lentils
  • 1 tbs turmeric
  • 1 tbs curry powder
  • ½ cup chopped basil leaves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ¾ cup roughly chopped parsley leaves
  • Salt and pepper


  1. To make the chicken broth, place the whole chicken in a large pot and cover with boiling water and cook until chicken is cooked. If time poor, you can use store bought chicken stock.
  2. Remove chicken from the water and chop or shred into pieces, set aside.
  3. In another pot, heat 1 tbs olive oil and add chopped onion, garlic, carrot, celery and thyme and cook stirring for 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add the liquid the chicken was cooked in and bring to the boil. Add the turmeric, curry powder, basil, oregano, cayenne pepper and parsley and reduce to a simmer, cooking until the vegetables are cooked.
  5. Add the chicken back into the pot along with the lentils, mushrooms, spinach and broccoli and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
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Mediterranean-style diet when eating gluten free

There is increasing evidence emerging to suggest that the Mediterranean-style diet is the world’s healthiest. It is comprised mainly of plant foods with an emphasis on healthy fats, unsaturated rather than saturated, helping to prevent against heart disease. Really, it is the basics of healthy eating balanced out with some olive oil and red wine.

In fact, there is plenty of research to suggest that it is one of the most suitable diets for individuals with Coeliac disease or who is following a gluten free diet, as it is a great way to supply some of the nutrients lacking in a standard gluten-free diet.

Because grains play a large role in the Mediterranean diet, and many common grains contain gluten, it can be tricky to get this balance right. There are many grains that can be included in place of wheat, rye and barley containing grains, it’s just a matter of knowing what they are and how to cook them.


What does the Mediterranean Diet consist of?

  1. Consuming grains in the whole, unprocessed form. Some common gluten free grains include quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, corn, rice, sorghum and teff.
  2. Including nuts, legumes, lentils and beans is a good way to fill out meals and to replace the common grain with something equally as filling and tasty. These legumes also contain more protein than other common grains and are a good source of fibre.
  3. Use olive oil daily and limit use of butter and lard. It is high in monounsaturated fats and contains antioxidants, which proved protective properties assisting with improved cardiovascular health.
  4. Herbs and spices are used liberally to enhance the flavour in dishes, allowing for less salt to be needed for flavour.
  5. Cheese and yoghurt are eaten often providing a good source of calcium.
  6. Fish and shellfish are consumed regularly, providing a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids.
  7. Red meat is consumed less, in small portions, with white meat such as chicken being consumed more moderately as it has a lower fat content.
  8. Eggs are included regularly providing a good source of quality protein.
  9. Fruit is consumed in moderate amounts, while other higher sugar containing sweets and desserts are limited and consumed in small amounts.
  10. Wine, particularly red wine can be consumed in moderation – one drink for females and two for males per day, with water being the main fluid source, providing hydration.
  11. Portion and moderation are two of the key elements to the Mediterranean diet.

The evidence suggests that the Mediterranean diet can improve the nutritional status of individuals with Coeliac disease without increasing weight. It can also improve iron status and absorption through the increased consumption of legumes, lentils, spinach and chickpeas, especially when they are paired with Vitamin C containing capsicum and tomato.

Health Benefits of a Mediterranean diet:

  1. Reduces risk of heart disease, decreasing bad cholesterol, triglycerides and improved blood vessel health.
  2. Reduces risk of cancer and Parkinsons disease and Alzheimers disease.

How to include gluten free grains on a Mediterranean diet?

  • Use quinoa in place of cous cous, mix with some roast vegetables and serve with some fish or use to make a tabbouleh
  • Use gluten free wholegrain crackers as a base for hommus
  • Use gluten free oats and top with nuts, seeds and fruit
  • Use brown rice to mix through a salad
  • Stuff capsicums or eggplants with millet and veggies
  • Replace normal pasta with gluten free pasta
  • Use tinned salmon or tuna to make fish cakes and use mashed potato to hold the mix together in place of flour or breadcrumbs
  1. M Barone, N Della Valle, R Rosania, et al. A comparison of the nutritional status between adult celiac patients on a long-term, strictly gluten-free diet and healthy subjects. Euro J Clin Nutr(2016) 70, 23–27.
  2. G. Mancini et al. Systematic review of the Mediterranean diet for long-term weight loss. Am J Med (2016); 129(4): 407-415.
  3. Sofi, R.Abbate, G. Franco Gensini, A. Cassini. Accruing evidence on benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet on health: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr (2010); 92(5): 1189-1196.
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GI vs GL and weight loss

What is Glycaemic Index?

Glycaemic Index (GI) measures the carbohydrate quality, meaning how much a carbohydrate food will affect blood sugar levels. GI is a ranking from 0-100 which tells us how quickly carbohydrates are released into the blood stream.

  • Low GI = 55 or less
  • Moderate GI = 56-69
  • High GI = 70 or more

Low GI carbohydrates are more slowly broken down and metabolised and are more slowly released and have a lower effect on blood glucose levels (BGL’s). Look out for the Glycaemic Index Foundation logo to assist with identifying some Low GI products.

Examples of low GI foods: wholegrain breads, oats, apples, legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans, yoghurt

High GI carbohydrates are broken down and released into the blood stream very quickly and therefore raise BGLs much higher and more rapidly. In the 2 hours after consuming a high GI meal, the body stimulates insulin release and stimulate storage of glycogen and fats.

Examples of high GI foods: white bread, refined cereals, most potatoes, most processed snack foods, rice crackers

There are several factors that influence the GI of a food including the type of starches and sugars in the food, and how it has been processed or cooked. the amount, if any, of fat, protein or fibre in the food as well as the acidity of the food can help to slow the digestion and stomach emptying reducing the foods impact on blood sugar levels. This means that is not often that easy to guess a foods’ glycaemic index.

What is Glycaemic Load?

Glycaemic index tells only part of the story. What it doesn’t tell you is how high your blood sugar could go when you actually eat the food, which is partly determined by how much carbohydrate is in an individual serving.

  • Low GL = 10 or less
  • Moderate GL = 11 – 19
  • High GL = 20 or more

Glycaemic load examines the total impact of a carbohydrate food on postprandial blood glucose levels as it takes into account the amount (in grams) of carbohydrate in a food.

Glycaemic Load = (GI x grams of carbohydrates available in food) /100

For example: Watermelon has a high glycaemic index (80). But a serving of watermelon has so little carbohydrate (6 grams) that its glycaemic load is only 5.

In comparison, a small potato has a GI of 80 and it contains 15 g of carbohydrate. Therefore, its GL is 12. Meaning the baked potato will have more than double the effect on blood glucose levels than watermelon.

How can these concepts assist with weight loss?

Low GI and GL foods can assist with weight control as they will help to keep you full for longer, manage appetite and lead to consuming less overall energy.

Low GI and GL diets have also been shown to reduce fasting insulin levels, improve insulin resistance and B-cell function. A low GI has been found to be more effective for weight loss in obese people, with hyperinsulinemia (high fasting insulin levels) compared to a high GI, energy-matched diet.

  1. The University of Sydney. About Glycemic Index: measuring the GI. October 12, 2015. Available at: Accessed 17/1/17.
  1. Ludwig DS. The glycemic index: physiological mechanisms relating to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. JAMA. 2002;287(18):2414-2423.  (PubMed)
  1. Esfahani, A., Wong, J.M.W., Mirrahimi, A., Villa, C.R., Kendall, C.W.C. (2011).The Application of the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load in Weight Loss: A Review of the Clinical Evidence, Life, 63, 1, 7-13.
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The truth about protein

Protein is a macronutrient that is an essential building block for muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, and blood. It is commonly found in animal products such as meat, fish, chicken, egg and dairy products, as well as other food sources such as legumes, lentils and nuts.

Most individuals require around 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight; however, this may vary depending on your training or exercise levels and whether you have certain health conditions such as kidney impairment.

Most individuals can meet their protein requirements without needing to supplement with protein powders; however, these may be beneficial for athletes or body builders who struggle to consume enough protein through actual food sources. For individuals looking to lose weight, it is usually best to avoid protein shakes and stick to real food protein sources. This will also help create more bulk or volume in your meals.

Relatively high protein diets are becoming popular for achieving weight loss and weight maintenance. The reason being, high protein meals contribute to a greater sense of fullness during consumption and increase satiety between meals. It does this by slowing the rate of passage through the small intestine and stimulates the release of gut hormones which promote the feeling of fullness or reduces the feeling of hunger. This is beneficial as it can help prevent overeating and may reduce total calories consumed across the day.

Furthermore, the body uses up more energy (burns more calories) when it comes to digesting and breaking down protein foods as opposed to fats and carbohydrates. This is referring to the thermal effect of food.

High protein food sources include:

  • Red meat (100g cooked) = 32g protein
  • Chicken breast (100g cooked) = 30g protein
  • Salmon (100g cooked) = 30g protein
  • Tuna (85g tin) = 20g protein
  • Chobani yoghurt (175g tub) = 10-15g protein
  • 1x egg = 7g protein
  1. Johnstone AM. High-protein diets for appetite control and weight loss – The ‘holy grail’ of dieting?. ‎Br. J. Nutr. 2009 March;101(12):1729-30.
  2. Barr SB and Wright JC.Postprandial energy expenditure in whole-food and processed-food meals: implications for daily energy expenditure. Food Nutr Res. 2010 Jul 2;54.
  3. Johnstone AM. Safety and efficacy of high-protein diets for weight loss. Proc Nutr Soc. 2012 May;71(2):339-49.
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Microbiome and Weight loss

The microbiome is a collection of bacteria that lives in the digestive tract that is critical to health and well-being. A symbiotic relationship exists between gut bacteria and host, where they both benefit from one another. The gut microbiota can contribute to insulin resistance, low grade inflammation, fat deposition and therefore indirectly participate in the onset of obesity and metabolic diseases.

The microbiome is established shortly after birth and determined by many different environmental factors, including natural vs caesarean birth. By the age of 2-5 most children have a full adult ‘set’ of gut microbiota, which weighs about 2kg!

A healthy balance of gut bacteria is crucial to health and well-being. If an imbalance is present, individuals can be more susceptible to illnesses and have issues managing weight. A balance includes diversity. The more diverse your gut microbes are, the more likely you will be healthy, however, the more sparse or limited your gut microbes are, the more likely you are to be unhealthy or overweight.

Studies in mice have shown that when gut bacteria from genetically engineered obese mice were fed to germ free mice, these germ free mice put on weight over a two week period, despite eating less. This bacterium has been identified as firmicutes, which is efficient at extracting energy from food and fibre, and also increased the absorption of fat. This shows that the presence of certain strains of gut bacteria, can determine the likelihood of someone being overweight or of a healthy weight.

While it is very important to ensure that we have adequate ‘good’ gut bacteria in our digestive tract, it is just as important to make sure that we feed these bacteria adequately. This is done through the consumption of prebiotics, non-digestible carbohydrates that trigger the growth of good bacteria. Foods that are high in prebiotics include onion, garlic, leeks, artichokes, stone fruit, watermelon, dried fruit, barley, rye, wheat based products and legumes.

Top rules for improving gut health:

  1. Eat as many wholefoods as possible.
  2. Eat fermented food – yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut all contain good bacteria needed for the gut.
  3. Decrease alcohol and sugar. Avoiding these for two weeks will improve gut performance and weight loss.
  4. Eat fibre rich food after a junk meal. Fruit, veggies and wholegrains help to replenish good bacteria that have been wiped out.
  5. The Mediterranean diet is the best diet for gut health and weight loss.
Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature; 444. 1022-3.
Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Mahowald MA, Magrini V, Mardis ER, Gordon JI. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature. 2006;444:1027–31
Musso G, Gambino R, Cassader M. Interactions between gut microbiota and host metabolism predisposing to obesity and diabetes. Annu Rev Med.
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Rapid Weight Loss vs. Slow Continuous Weight Loss

Weight loss protocols can only be considered successful if they deliver consistent results over the long term-a goal which is often elusive, so much so that the term ‘yo-yo’ is used to describe the perennial weight loss/weight regain battle common in obesity. A successful weight loss diet produces a loss of 10% of more of initial body weight maintained for at least one year.

Slow continuous weight loss has been shown to result in continued weight loss and long-term maintenance; however, this only occurs if the subject is able to maintain the changes to diet and physical activity.

On the other hand, rapid weight loss (RWL) diets show greater initial weight loss as well as larger total weight loss long-term. Initial RWL is related to more positive quality of life changes which can serve as motivators and reinforces of health habits and behaviours.

What is a Rapid Weight Loss diet?

Rapid Weight Loss is usually achieved using a Very Low Calorie or Energy Diet (VLCD or VLED). These diets are usually ketogenic as they contain very low levels (20-50g) of carbohydrates. This leads to the production of ketones as the body switches to primarily burning fat as its fuel source rather than glycogen. This metabolic condition is called ‘nutritional’ ketosis.

Ketones are a by-product of this process and assist in the weight loss process by its effect on appetite control hormones leading to appetite suppression.

Ketogenic diets also work to reduce fat-storage and enhance fat-breakdown, improve the body’s ability to burn fat as a fuel and increases the metabolic cost on the body as it has to produce new glucose and the increase amount of energy used to breakdown proteins.

Adequate protein intake is important when following these diets to prevent loss of fat-free or muscle mass. Greater percentage of muscle mass loss during weight loss have been associated with weight regain

A recent study that looked at subjects following VLED ketogenic and non-ketogenic protocols for six months followed by a Mediterranean diet for six months saw no weight regained in the six-month period. The evidence is now showing that VLEDs result in greater initial weight loss and along with an active weight-maintenance program including nutrition, behavioural therapy and exercise results in greater total weight loss and improves long-term weight maintenance.


  • *Paoli, A., Bianco, A., et al (2013). Long term successful weight loss with a combination biphasic ketogenic Mediterranean diet and Mediterranean diet protocol. Nutrients 5, 5205-521
  • *Vink RG, Roumans NJ, Arkenbosch LA, Mariman EC, van Baak MA. The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight regain in adults with overweight and obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2016 Feb;24(2):321-7. doi: 10.1002/oby.21346.
  • *Paoli, A., Ketogenic Diet for Obesity: Friend or Foe?, Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2014 Feb; 11 (2): 2092-2107.
  • Bueno N.B., de Melo I.S., de Oliveira S.L., da Rocha Ataide T. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. Low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br. J. Nutr.2013;110:1178–1187. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513000548. 
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Plant-based food benefits for weight loss

Most weight loss programs that focus on increasing plant based foods often have very successful results. Many of these foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables, are very low in calories allowing individuals to achieve the caloric restriction they require, without necessarily reducing total food volume.

Plant-based foods are also an excellent source of dietary fibre. When digested, certain fibres can bind with water to create a gel, which helps slow down the time it takes for food to pass through the body. This can also decrease the rate of glucose (sugar) absorption and may blunt the response of insulin. As a result, this can contribute to a greater sense of fullness while eating and increase satiety between meals, thus hopefully preventing overeating. Studies have found that diets high in dietary fiber are also typically lower in fat and energy density, both of which are helpful for preventing weight gain.

Furthermore, plant-based foods are an important prebiotic (food) for the healthy bacteria that live in our gut. By increasing the amount of prebiotic plant based foods in our diets, we may be able to favorably alter our intestinal microflora. Recent studies indicate that intestinal microorganisms play an important function in maintaining a healthy body weight and can determine the amount of calories a person may absorb from the food they eat.

Helpful tips to increasing plant-based foods in our diet include:

  • Snacking on raw vegetables in between meals. You could include a low fat dip such as salsa, beetroot, tzatziki or hommus.
  • Making sure at least half of your plate contains vegetables or salads.
  • If you can’t change the recipe to include more vegetables then have a smaller portion and serve with a side plate of salad or veggies.
  • Think of different ways to have your veggies to keep them interesting eg. Salads, roasted, stir-fried, veggie dips, soups, juices.
  • Add legumes and beans to your salads for extra fibre and low GI carbohydrate source.
  1. Slavin J., Green H. Dietary fibre and satiety. Bull. 2007;32:32–42.
  2. See comment in PubMed Commons belowBarczynska R, Bandurska K, Slizewska K, Litwin M, Szalecki M, Libudzisz Z, et al. Intestinal Microbiota, Obesity and Prebiotics. Pol J Microbiol. 2015;64(2):93-100.
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Pros and cons of the ‘top 5’ diets

All diets have positives and negatives. Some are better suited to some people and others to other people. The best diet is one that is individually designed and tailored to your needs, set out by a dietitian.

Paleo diet

The paleo diet resembles what was eaten by our ancestors in the paleolithic period, hundreds of thousands of years ago. It involves removing all processed foods from the diet and eating similarly to how cavemen did. The diet removes all grains (refined and whole), legumes, dairy and sugar.


  • Removes processed foods, which can assist in weight loss
  • Includes a large amount of fruits and vegetables.
  • Emphasises whole foods, lean meat, fruit and vegetables and healthy fats.


  • Removal of food groups – grains are an important source of carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and dairy is an excellent source of protein and calcium.
  • There is no scientific evidence to support this way of eating.
  • There was no one paleolithic population.

5:2/Fast diet

5:2 involves restricting calorie intake to 25% of your needs (500 calories for females and 600 for men) for two days of the week and eating normally for the rest of the week.


  • Can improve blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.
  • More mindful eating throughout the whole week


  • Adherence
  • Risk of over eating on non-fasting days

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is known as the ‘world’s healthiest diet’ and involves eating primarily plant-based foods, using healthy fats such as olive oil rather than saturated fats. It also includes limiting red meat to no more than a few times per month, fish and poultry twice per week and drinking red wine in moderation as well as exercising regularly.


  • Reduces the risk of heart disease and LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
  • Easy to stick to.


  • Too much of a good thing (alcohol and good fats) can be detrimental if over-consumed.

Low Carb Diet

A low carb diet comes in different levels and varying degrees of restriction. In large it involves decreasing grains, starch and sugar and increasing protein and fat. It has shown to be effective in short term studies but after six months, adherence declines.


  • Beneficial in individuals with Type 2 diabetes.
  • Rapid weight loss initially (water weight).


  • Adherence – hard to stick to long term.

Ketogenic diet

A ketogenic diet is a very low calorie diet that results in rapid weight loss due to the body not having enough carbohydrates to burn as its predominant fuel source. This results in fat being burned, producing ketone bodies, reducing hunger.


  • Effective for a short term rapid weight loss.
  • Increased fat loss.
  • Decreased chance of weight cycling than other diets.


  • Lethargy initially
  • Fruity ‘bad’ breath
  1. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, ‘The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight management: a randomised controlled trial’, October 2014
  2. Jӧnsson T et al. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovascular Diabetology 2009;8:35
  3. Sumithran, P., Prendergast, L. A., Delbridge, E., et al. (2013). Ketosis and appetite mediating nutrients and hormones after weight loss. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 67, 759-764.
  4. Mellberg C et al. Eur J Clin Nutr 2014;68:350-7
  5. Seimon RV, Roekenes JA, Zibellini J, Zhu B, Gibson AA, Hills AP, et al. (2015) Do intermittent diets provide physiological benefits over continuous diets for weight loss? A systematic review of clinical trials. Mol Cell Endocrinol 418: 153–172. pmid:26384657 doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2015.09.014
  6. J. G. Mancini et al. (2016). “Systematic review of the Mediterranean diet for long-term weight loss.” The American Journal of Medicine.
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Improving metabolism with diet

Many people blame a ‘slow metabolism’ for their inability to lose weight, or on the other hand those that are able to maintain a healthy weight must have a ‘fast metabolism.’

Metabolism refers to all the chemical processes that allow your body to convert food into energy and allow it to live and function. The amount of energy (calories or kilojoules) your body burns is affected by your metabolism. A more relevant term when we talk about ‘metabolism’ is metabolic rate.

Your body’s metabolic rate is made up of three components.

  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR) – the amount of energy (kJ) you burn at rest and the minimum amount of energy you need to exist. BMR includes the energy the body uses to keep all its systems functioning correctly. This makes up ~50-80% of your body’s total energy use.
  • Energy used during physical activity – dependent on how active you are. In a moderately active person doing 30-45 minutes of moderate activity a day, this will be ~20% of your energy use.
  • Thermic effect of food – The energy needed to eat, digest and metabolise food. Contributes ~5-10% of the body’s energy use.

Basal Metabolic Rate

As the BMR makes up the majority of the body’s total energy use and is influenced mainly by your body composition. Muscle requires more energy to function than fat so those with a high muscle mass will have a higher BMR. This is why men, who generally have more muscle mass than women, have a higher BMR.

BMR is affected by:

  • Height – the taller you are, the larger skin surface for heat loss.
  • Growth – during pregnancy and childhood.
  • Fever and stress.
  • Higher muscle mass.
  • Smoking and caffeine.
  • Environmental temperature – both heat and cold raise BMR.
  • Fasting.
  • Starvation.
  • Sleep.

Strategies to optimise BMR

Make sure you eat enough protein and spread it throughout the day

Optimum protein intake will assist in maintaining or even building muscle mass. Your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein at one time so to get maximum protein absorption, it is important to include some good quality protein-based foods spread throughout the day.

Exercise regularly and include some resistance training

To maintain and build muscle mass, you need to use your muscles! All kinds of exercise will be beneficial to support muscle maintenance; however, resistance training ultimately leads to stimulating muscle growth.

Stay away from fad diets and don’t skip meals

Fad diets, starvation and fasting all work in one way – the restrict the energy (kJ) that you consume; however, if you are not getting enough energy or protein throughout the day to maintain your body processes, your body and your BMR slows down to conserve energy. Long term, restricted energy intake can lead to muscle breakdown. Loss of lean muscle = slower metabolic rate.

Stiegler, P. & Cunliffe, A. (2006).The Role of Diet and Exercise for the Maintenance of Fat-Free Mass and Resting Metabolic Rate During Weight Loss. Sports Med, 36,3, 239-62.
Luke, A. & Schoeller, D.A. (1992). Basal metabolic rate, fat-free mass, and body cell mass during energy restriction. Metabolism, 41, 4, 450-6
Van Gaal, L.F., Vansant, G.A. & De Leeuw, I.H. (1992). Factors determining energy expenditure during very-low-calorie diets. Am J Clin Nutr, 56,1 Suppl, 224S-229S
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Body types, body composition and diet programming

There are three general categories of body types: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.

Our body type is largely determined by our genetics; however, years of proper nutrition and training can change one’s appearance. Often people can be a mix of characteristics, rather than just falling perfectly into one category.

Our body type can tell us a lot about how we might respond to different foods as well as our hormonal and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) characteristics.

  • Ectomorph: Usually long and lean individuals with smaller bone structures. Ectomorphs tend to be thyroid and SNS dominant, which is often linked to a faster metabolic rate and a higher carbohydrate tolerance. This group generally does well with slightly more carbohydrates in the diet, as well as a moderate protein and lower fat intake.
  • Mesomorph: Usually have a medium sized bone structure with an athletic build. Depending on exercise levels, these body types can often have a considerable amount of lean muscle mass and therefore good metabolism. This group generally does well on a mixed diet, consisting of balanced carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
  • Endomorph: Usually have a high body fat percentage and larger bone structure, often pear-shaped. They often have a greater tendency for energy storage and therefore generally do well on a lower carbohydrate diet, and higher fat and protein intake.

Our body fat percentage is also determined by our genetics, nutrition and exercise levels. For a female, a standard amout of healthy body fat may range from 20-32% and for a male, 14-25%.

For athletes, they usually have a much lower body fat percentage due to their rigorous training programs, specialised meal plans and higher metabolic rate.

If you have been struggling to lose body fat, then you may need a different approach to your diet and exercise.

  1. Kahn SE, et al. Obesity, body fat distribution, insulin sensitivity and islet beta-cell function as explanations for metabolic diversity. J Nutr 2001;131:354S-360S.
  2. Haugen F, Drevon CA. The interplay between nutrients and the adipose tissue. Proc Nutr Soc 2007;66:171-182.
  3. Koleva M, Nacheva A, Boev M. Somatotype, nutrition, and obesity. Rev Environ Health 2000;15:389-398.
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