For a long time, we have been scared of fat due to its supposed link to heart disease. But more recent nutrition science has exonerated dietary fat, and now people are starting to understand that “healthy” fats are an important dietary cornerstone.
“Thankfully, nutrition science has shown that the quality of fat is more important than the quantity,” says Elizabeth Shaw, R.D.N., nutrition communications consultant at ShawSimpleSwaps.com. While the American Heart Association recommends lowering your intake of saturated and trans fat, it suggests replacing them with unsaturated fats. An observational study found that replacing 5% of your total calories from saturated fat with unsaturated fat can actually decrease early death rates by 27%.
In other words, it’s time to stop fearing unsaturated fats, and start embracing them as a part of a healthy diet. If you’re hesitant, start by adding nuts, fish, and plant oil to your diet. “Nearly 90% of the fats found in pistachios are the better-for-you unsaturated fats—which, in combination with their fiber and protein, may leave you feeling satiated for longer,” says Shaw.
Carbs come in many different shapes and sizes. While white refined grains and sugary foods and drinks definitely play a part in weight gain, the carbs in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains often contribute to weight loss. Furthermore, carbs are the primary fuel source for athletic activity.
“Carbohydrates provide valuable energy stores for athletes, both pre- and post-workout,” says Shaw. “Carbs not only help your body create glycogen (stored energy in the muscle and liver), but also contain other important nutrients, like B vitamins.” And that’s not all: Prime sources of carbs also tend to contain lots of other healthy nutrients as well. Fruits and vegetables are potent sources of inflammation-fighting antioxidants, beans and legumes are high in plant-based proteins, and whole grains are rich in fiber. If you’re unsure how many carbs are too many, fill half your plate with fruits and veggies and stick to a quarter plate of whole grains, beans, or legumes.
If you’re running from the gym to work in the morning and don’t have time to guzzle a protein shake in the hour after your workout, don’t sweat it. “While muscle gains may be slightly higher if you eat protein immediately after exercise, research suggests that muscle protein synthesis may continue for up to 24 hours post-workout,” says Kate Wilson McGowan, R.D.N. As a matter of fact, a large meta-analysis found that the window for protein consumption appears to be greater than one hour before and after a resistance training session. So eating protein throughout the day is just as important as eating it in the hour following your strength training. Your gains will depend more on getting doses of protein throughout the day, rather than one big spike of protein immediately after a workout.
“Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple,” according to McGowan. “Your muscles can only absorb about 25 to 35 grams of high-quality protein during a meal.” What constitutes high-quality protein? McGowan suggests looking at their Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which evaluates different protein sources based on both the amino acid requirements of humans and their ability to digest them. “Animal proteins, like whey, egg, and beef, rank the highest in PDCAAS,” says McGowan. She recommends eating 25 to 30 grams of protein at least four times per day.
If you’re following the Tom Brady diet, chances are you’re scared of inflammation. While certain foods (and even carbs) absolutely do cause inflammation, others don’t. There are two types of inflammation—chronic and acute. Chronic inflammation persists over a long period of time and is linked with the development of serious diseases like cancer and heart disease. Acute inflammation occurs after a workout and is a natural process that aids in recovery.
Many carbs, like dark leafy greens and vibrant berries, actually possess antioxidants that fight inflammation. Research even suggests that diets that include whole grains can protect against inflammation. So if you’re worried about aching joints or long-term diseases, don’t forget to eat your healthy carbs.