The vast majority of postpartum women will not return to their pre-pregnancy weight without the help of proper nutrition. This article will explain why extreme diets don’t work and why the Glycemic Index may be the best long-term solution for postpartum weight loss.
Don’t Go To Extremes
There are thousands of “diets” on the market, yet the question still remains: how can we achieve weight loss in the healthiest, most permanent way? Restricting calories too much can shut down metabolism and cause us to gain weight in the long run. Eating “Fat free” can make us hungry all the time and deprives the postpartum body of key nutrients. “High protein/no carbohydrate” diets are unhealthy and can put our bodies at possible risk of liver and kidney damage.
We know going to nutritional extremes doesn’t work. Alas, we come back to the age-old method of balance. How we balance carbohydrates, fats, and proteins can make all the difference.
Research shows that unsaturated fats are better than saturated. And proteins such as chicken, fish, and even beans far outweigh red meat as a healthy choice. What about carbohydrates? Which carbohydrates work best for weight loss and energy? Choosing the correct carbohydrates in balance with healthy proteins and fats will help you achieve the healthiest form of weight loss for the postpartum period and beyond.
The Hormonal Response To Food
When we eat, our bodies digest and convert foods into usable forms of energy. The main unit of energy for the body is a sugar called glucose. When people talk about blood sugar levels they are referring to how much glucose is in the bloodstream at a given time.
A stable blood sugar level is important for health and our bodies stimulate hormones to regulate it. If we have too much sugar in our blood, a hormone called insulin is released. Insulin will bring our blood sugar back to an acceptable level, however it also encourages our bodies to convert the excess sugar to fat.
According to Joyce and Gene Daoust, authors of 40-30-30- Fat Burning Nutrition, “It is important that an individual’s blood sugar level does not rise too high or too quickly because, if it does, the body reacts by alerting the pancreas. The pancreas then detects the excess glucose and secretes the hormone messenger, insulin, to correct it. Increased levels of insulin force your body to burn glucose for energy and store any excess away as glycogen or fat.”
Essentially, insulin promotes the storage of fat in our bodies. To burn fat instead of store it, we should limit the amount of insulin in our blood. The way to do this is by keeping our blood sugar levels from getting too high, too fast. How do we control our blood sugar? Fortunately, there is a tool that will make our job easier.
The Glycemic Index (GI)
The Glycemic Index is a numerical rating scale that measures how fast a particular food can raise blood sugar (glucose) levels in our bodies. At the top of the scale is pure glucose with a rating of 100. All other foods are ranked in a hierarchy along the scale. Foods that break down (convert into glucose) slowly have a low Glycemic rating. Foods that breakdown quickly have a high rating. The Glycemic Index (GI) values of different foods are extremely important, because the speed at which foods are converted into glucose not only affects our insulin levels, but our appetite, cholesterol and blood fats as well.
To Lose Weight, Eat Foods With A Low GI Value
It’s that simple. Choose low Glycemic foods and your body is less likely to convert them into fat. For example, you’ll notice that eating a cup of All Bran cereal (GI = 51) will sustain you longer than a cup of corn flakes (GI = 84). As you can see, Corn Flakes elevate your blood sugar faster than All Bran.
An apple (GI = 38) will keep you full longer than a piece of watermelon (GI = 72). Because the apple converts to sugar in the blood slowly, your insulin levels will be much lower than if you ate the watermelon. You will also get more sustainable energy over a longer period of time from the apple.
The Glycemic Index and Appetite
Controlling food portions and appetite becomes easier when you understand how the GI of certain foods affects your body.
Typically, high GI foods stimulate appetite by making blood sugar rise and fall quickly, thus creating a feeling of constant hunger. For example, a slice of white bread has a high GI, because it’s starches release and digest quickly. When blood sugar rises and falls rapidly, the body is stimulated to eat again. Candy, potatoes, honey, and other refined (processed) grains will have the same affect.
To reduce appetite, eat low GI foods such as beans, vegetables, fruits, and certain whole-grains. They release at a slow, steady pace, keeping you full, energetic and away from the refrigerator! Although most carbohydrates are naturally low in fat, those carbohydrate foods with a low GI index also have more fiber. Low GI foods release energy in the body at a much slower rate, helping you avoid “peaks and valleys” and maintain a steady energy level.
More ways To Reduce GI
Other factors, such as the way foods are prepared can affect the GI. Coarsely ground flour in bread tends to release at a slower rate than extra fine flour. Old-fashioned oatmeal made with fiber-rich rolled oats and natural sugar has a lower GI than the instant version. Even cooking spaghetti less can decrease its Glycemic Index, making the carbohydrate molecules release at a slower rate. In general, the more a food is cooked, the faster it releases sugars and the higher GI it will have.
The same goes for raw fruits and vegetables. The crunchier, the better! It takes the body longer to release and digest raw vegetables, thus converting to sugar slowly and keeping us full longer.
Combining high GI foods with low GI foods will also reduce the speed at which sugar is released in your blood. For instance, if you ate a rice cake (GI = 99) you would have an insulin spike because the rice cake is converted into sugar very fast. However, if you had a tablespoon of peanut butter (GI = 15) with your rice cake, the total GI of the meal is only 57. Yes, the peanut butter adds more calories to the meal, but because you have less insulin in the blood those calories are more likely to be burned instead of being stored as fat.
It’s important to note that portion size is a big factor. This article assumes you are not overeating. When you take in way too many calories than you need, your body will certainly store fat. However, if they are low Glycemic calories you would store less fat than if they were high GI calories.
Putting It All Together
Here’s a formula for new moms who desire weight loss and high energy. Try to balance all your meals with:
40% of calories coming from low GI carbohydrates
30% from lean protein
30% unsaturated fat
The above ratio has been shown to keep your blood sugar at an optimum level for burning fat instead of storing it. Since protein and fat have naturally low GI’s your carbohydrate choice will be the biggest factor in the total GI of your meals.
A Sample Day Of Balanced Meals with a GI below 50
Breakfast: Low fat cottage cheese, peaches and raw almonds
Lunch: (water packed) Tuna salad sandwich (Mayo, celery, sweet pickle relish and lettuce), grapes
Snack: String cheese and an apple
Dinner: Grilled salmon, vegetables (Onion, green pepper, zucchini) and salad with low fat dressing, an orange
The great thing about the Glycemic Index is it’s easy to learn. It’s the perfect tool for busy new moms. Instead of wondering what to eat, you’ll start making smart food choices around low GI foods. Once you combine the power of the Glycemic Index with regular exercise you’ll watch those postpartum pounds melt away in no time.