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Health News
Culinary Corner
Eat small meals with ‘dense calories’
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Michael Straw is owner and executive chef of Personal Chefs of South Pasadena.
Chefs are men and women “forced” to be around delicious food all day, able to eat as much as desired, and the best part – we get paid for it. No wonder slender chefs are few and far between.

Most of us get our willpower together eventually and find a way not to eat ourselves to death.

After cooking in restaurants for more than 30 years, I’ve found some great tricks that turned into a consistent way of eating. The result is losing any amount of weight desired with minimal exercise.

The main trick is really understanding metabolism – or how our bodies convert food into fuel. To survive everyone requires three macronutrients: carbohydrates to give us the sugar our brains and muscles need, proteins for cellular growth and reproduction (athletes’ muscles get bigger by eating more meat), and fats for neuroplasticity and proper cell function.

If our body doesn’t get its proper fuel for the day, we begin to store food in the form of fat. This is because our brain doesn’t know when it will get its next proper meal. Nature made it that way so that when we haven’t had a meal in days (like back in our hunting days) we can convert fat into the needed sugar and thus keep on hunting – or shopping in today’s times.

When we decrease our carbohydrates but not the other nutrients, our fat cells begin to shrink and our pants seem to get bigger. This is the method behind all “low carb” diets on the market today. Fat weighs less than muscle so when you burn fat your clothes will get looser, but your overall weight will decrease at a slower pace. People on these diets get back into their “old pants” sooner but move the scale slower.

Next we need to understand the big trick – eating all the time! If our body thinks it will get fed all the time it will start to burn it all the time. Buffet eaters are the opposite of this: they don’t eat again for maybe the rest of the day and so their body doesn’t know when it will get fed again, so it starts to store food for emergency energy. Look at most people at buffets and you’ll understand.

The next trick is not feeling hungry with these smaller meals. The way to do that is to make sure that all of these smaller meals have a ”high caloric density.” Food we eat can be up to 100 percent useful for our bodies or almost 100 percent non-useful – or referred to as being empty calories.

White flour is the best example of the latter and also the most prevalent, as it is used in almost every fast food sandwich, pasta and pizza. It lacks in nutrients so much that we had to add or “enrich” it with vitamins years ago to pretend to make it healthy. It’s the reason we’re hungry again in two hours after eating fast food and we end up overeating.

Calorically dense foods are those that have only components in them that we will use in some way to help fuel our bodies properly. Eating these foods gives us the nutrition our brains and cells need in order to grow and function properly. Examples of these are seeds like quinoa, high omega-3 fish, lean meats, walnuts, legumes like lentils, all fruits (especially avocados) and almost all vegetables Iceberg lettuce is more than 90 percent water and will fill you up for just one hour. Whole grains are good as they make us feel fuller, but tend to be mostly fiber and have minimal nutritional value but great for good colon health.

So make a life-long plan to create a way of eating that incorporates only foods cooked from scratch, three small meals and two small super snacks, using only “dense calories” and you’ll never have to “diet” or feel hungry again.

Michael Straw is owner and executive chef of Personal Chefs of South Pasadena.
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