Like most physicians, I used to advise over weight patients to follow the American Heart Association's low-fat guidelines, but most of these patients continued to gain. After years of research, I discovered that most diets fail because they don't take into account the hormones that regulate appetite and control weight.
The body contains more than 100 hormones, substances that regulate bodily functions. People who maintain an optimal hormonal balance are more likely to maintain a healthy weight than those who count calories.
Overall, I have found that the diet that is best for hormone optimization has 40% carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains)... 40% fat (saturated fats from dairy products, coconut and palm oils, and monoun saturated fats in olive oil, avocados and nuts)... and 20% protein (eggs, fish, shellfish and poultry, plus red meat in moderation).
Many people are surprised that I recommend eating saturated fats. Probably the single greatest nutritional myth of past decades has been that saturated fat is unhealthful. Eating foods rich in saturated fat boosts the production of anti-aging hormones, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
The important hormones* for weight control and how to regulate them...
Up to 75% of American adults produce too much insulin. This increases appetite and leads to obesity as well as diabetes.
What happens: A low-fat diet with excess carbohydrates causes the pancreas to overproduce insulin. Excess insulin increases fat storage and makes it extremely difficult to lose weight.
Solution: A diet high in natural foods (whole grains, vegetables, fish, etc.) with a minimum of processed carbohydrates. Also helpful: One to two tablespoons of brewer's yeast daily. It's high in chromium, a trace mineral that reduces blood sugar and improves glucose tolerance. Better glucose tolerance reduces the amount of insulin that is produced by the pancreas.
Levels of glucagon (glu-ca-gon) rise when insulin is low. Unlike insulin, which transports the sugar in blood into the body's cells, glucagon pulls sugars out of storage to provide energy. It melts away fat in the process.
What happens: Glucagon and insulin can't be present in large amounts simultaneously, because they have opposing actions. If your insulin levels are high, your levels of glucagon will always be low.
Solution: Limit yourself to three meals a day. It was once thought that "grazing" (having frequent small meals) would help people lose weight. This style of eating promotes weight gain because it elevates insulin and depresses glucagon.
The hormone leptin is secreted by fat cells and is the main hormone that controls satiety, the feeling of fullness after eating.
What happens: People who produce too little leptin-or, paradoxically, too much tend to gain weight because they're hungry all the time. A diet high in processed foods, particularly those that contain trans fatty acids or high-fructose com syrup, causes the body to burn fewer calories and store fat even in the presence of leptin.
Solution: A diet high in natural fats, such as the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, along with whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
About 25 million Americans suffer from hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland. This lowers the body's metabolism and can lead to obesity even in people who don't eat very much.
Hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease that requires medical care, but it can be exacerbated by a poor diet.
What happens: People who follow a low fat or low-carbohydrate diet often develop low thyroid hormone levels. So do people who eat mainly processed foods. Iodine from excess salt blocks enzymes that produce thyroid hormones.
Solution: Use sea salt instead of regular salt. It contains less iodine. Eat sea vegetables (such as wakame and nori) at least twice a week. They contain just enough iodine to help you maintain optimal thyroid function. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables-they enhance the body's production of thyroxine, the active form of thyroid hormone.
Human growth hormone (HGH)
HGH is produced by the pituitary gland to promote the growth and repair of muscle tissue.
What happens: People who don't produce enough HGH tend to have less muscle and more body fat. Excess body fat further depresses HGH.
Solution: As with glucagon, HGH rises when people eat less frequently. Eat just three meals a day. Also helpful: Eat eggs, poultry or fish most days. These foods increase HGH. Get a good night's sleep. Most of the body's HGH is produced during sleep.
Cortisol is a stress hormone because it rises during times of stress. In our high-stress society, virtually everyone has elevated levels of cortisol.
What happens: It promotes the storage of fat, particularly the dangerous visceral (belly) fat.
Solution: Maintain your emotional equilibrium with activities such as yoga and meditation. Also, people who eat natural foods and avoid processed foods tend to have healthier cortisol levels.
Men start producing less testosterone at about age 20, while women have a sharp drop in estrogen and progesterone as they approach menopause. It's not a coincidence that most people start to gain weight when levels of these hormones decline.
What happens: Declines in sex hormones are a natural, age-related phenomenon. But excessive drops in these hormones usually are caused by too much sugar in the diet and lack of natural fats, such as butter, along with lifestyle factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
Solutions: Men and women can improve their hormonal profiles by exercising regularly... not smoking... and drinking alcohol only in moderation (no more than two drinks daily for men and one for women). Also important: Drink less coffee. Caffeine lowers testosterone.
Women can maintain a healthier estrogen/ progesterone balance by eating high-quality proteins and fats (from eggs, butter, whole milk and poultry) at least once a day. The same foods will help increase testosterone in men.
DHEA is the "precursor" hormone produced by the adrenal gland that the body uses to manufacture other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone.
What happens: People who drink too much coffee or eat margarine or other foods that contain trans fats tend to have lower levels of DHEA. Processed carbohydrates, including white bread, also can cause DHEA to decline.
Solution: Avoid processed foods, and eat some saturated fat most days of the week. This will help increase the body's production of DHEA.
10 steps to the perfect 10
To optimize your hormones and lose weight...
40% carbohydrates: Vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains
40% fat: Saturated fats from dairy products, coconut and palm oils and monounsaturated fats in olive oil, avocados and nuts
20% protein: Eggs, fish, shellfish, poultry and red meat, in moderation
• Limit yourself to three meals a day (avoid snacking)
• Have one to two tablespoons of brewer's yeast daily.
• If you have low thyroid, eat sea vegetables twice a week and choose sea salt over regular iodized salt.
• Reduce stress with yoga and meditation.
• Get regular exercise.
• Limit alcohol and caffeine, and don't smoke.
• Get a good night's sleep.