I want to tell you about a nutrition strategy I use that can be very effective for losing fat. It’s also simple, straight forward, and I call it “Lean and Green”.
What I mean by Lean and Green is that dinner is comprised of lean meats, vegetables (they don’t all have to be green), and healthy fats. Grains, processed carbs, and beans (starchy carbs in general) are not eaten. It’s basically how we as humans used to eat 10,000 years ago before the advent of agriculture. And yes, we were lean, mean, fighting machines back then. Do you need to avoid starchy carbs to lose fat? Absolutely, not, but doing so can help limit calorie intake.
Here are some examples of Lean and Green meals:
• Big salad with vegetables (basically any vegetable of your choice, you can get creative), grilled chicken (or any lean meat of your choice), and dressing (just be mindful 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 110 calories, and a couple tablespoons of the average dressing has around 100 calories).
• Salmon with string beans and asparagus
• Top Sirloin steak (preferably grass fed, has 1/3 the saturated fat) with spinach
I know your mouth is starting to water right now…ok, maybe it’s not, but I think you can develop an appreciation for going Lean and Green, especially when you start seeing the inches coming off.
My favorite Lean and Green meal is definitely salad with veggies and a lot of lean meat. I find it very satisfying and I crave the fresh taste of lettuce and especially crunchy peppers (I used to hate all vegetables and never ate salad until my late teens). One lean meat I really enjoy is 96/4 organic ground beef that I buy at Trader Joes for only $4 per pound. That’s an awesome deal and it only has 2.5 grams of saturated fat per 4 ounces.
So why can this Lean and Green strategy so effective? There are few key reasons:
1) Less Carbs – The vast majority of us eat far too many carbs in general, so our insulin levels are constantly elevated. Insulin is a storage hormone that whisks excess glucose out of our bloodstream into fat cells (assuming our glucose storage tanks – our muscles and liver – are full). Insulin is released when we eat carbohydrates, especially starchy, sugary, and processed carbohydrates. By limiting carbohydrate intake at night, we are in effect controlling the insulin our bodies release.
2) Veggies are “free” food – Vegetables are the perfect food for fat loss because eating them is like “free” food. What I mean is that the amount of calories a vegetable contains is usually burned off during digestion. So it’s really like you’re eating food that provides no calories. In fact, some vegetables like lettuce require your digestive system to burn more calories than the lettuce contains! This concept is known as negative calorie balance. To top it off, veggies contain ample amounts of fiber, which help you feel more satiated. Needless to say, if you are trying to lose fat, veggies should be an important part of your nutrition strategy.
3) Less Calories – The overall calories you consume in a day are usually less when you cut out starchy carbs at night. Most people have their largest (and unhealthiest) meal at dinner, right before going to bed. This may not be a good idea because eating too much right before you go to sleep can affect quality of your sleep and is associated with weight gain.[Available at: http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20090903/eat-late-put-on-weight. Accessed February 10, 2013.] If you go Lean and Green, then you are looking at 300-500 calories depending on how much healthy fat you have and how much meat you consume. That’s a solid range.
This type of strategy is also used by natural bodybuilders and fitness models, but it’s known as “carbohydrate tapering”. The idea is that our bodies are best able to utilize carbohydrates for energy in the beginning of the day, so as the day wears on, less carbs should be consumed to allow for maximum fat burning. There is no research to my knowledge that proves this approach actually works better, but the idea is that by limiting carb intake, you are limiting calorie intake. In addition, most carbs that people eat are generally the empty calorie variety.
I’m not suggesting you have to cut carbs at night in order to lose fat and that all carbs are bad. In fact, I prefer a moderate carb diet to a low carb diet. While low carb diets have been proven by mountains of research to lead to faster fat loss, they’re also notoriously difficult to maintain (there’s the catch!). So people who go “on” low carb diets inevitably gain the weight back when they go “off” the diet. That’s why I call Lean and Green a “nutrition strategy”, something to have in your bag of tricks.
I find that eating a lean meat/fish with vegetables and salad can be filling and satisfying if a variety of vegetables are used. That is exactly what I had for dinner this evening and I was not at all hungry. So far I feel pretty good. If I crave sweets, is it OK to have some fruit at the end of the meal?
In response to Mary’s question, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having fruit at night and it’s a lot better than eating candy. It’s not exactly in line with the “lean and green” strategy, but this strategy is not for everyone. I’m hoping to add a post eventually about how different sugars (fructose, sucrose, and galactose) affect your blood sugar levels differently.
I just wanted to thank you for your meal suggestions. I feel very good this morning and was not starving when I woke up. Thanks.
Good pointers, thanks
Great point about veggies being a free food. When I fill up on those, I’m not nearly as tempted by the crap I used to eat. Good post!
Greens are the key. Nice point about 10,000 years ago.
Viva la Resistance!
Your Lean and Green guidelines will be on my mind, and conscience, as I make food choices daily. I plan to reduce my nighttime carb consumption and increase consumption of these nutritious postings!
What would be your advice to someone who doesn’t cook much at all and instead relies heavily upon the microwave for heated meals? Also, when eating out, what are key/good questions to ask the server when ordering a dish? Thanks!
Those are both awesome questions. I jotted them down and will address them in a separate blog post in the future so stay tuned! As I will discuss in more detail, the only “cooking” I do is with a foreman grill and a microwave. If something takes me more than 5 minutes to prepare, I’m not making it. Will give you a lot of easy cooking ideas soon and will teach you how to navigate eating out effortlessly!
ALL great points! Instead of salad dressing I use a TINY bit of olive oil and then fresh lemon juice.. just thought I’d share. Your tips for avoiding carbs and limiting calorie intake just before bed really DOES make a difference.
I have been adhering to the “lean and green” strategy and have noticed that my skin looks better.
Very interesting post! I do think that whole grains are very important. Quinoa, for example, is loaded with fiber, and has high levels of potassium, B vitamins, and minerals. It has more iron and protein that any other grain. In fact it is a complete protein which is great for vegetarians. Amaranth and buckwheat are also great options.
This is a great and easy-to-remember nutrition plan. But, I’m always confused about what carbs are okay, and which are not. Do you have any suggestions to help sort this out? Thanks!
I’m going to go into way more depth about what carbs are good choices in future posts, but in general, the less processed a carbohydrate the better (i.e. brown rice vs. white rice, or multi-grain bread vs. white bread) and the less simple sugar, the better. Grains in general are a solid choice.
great article. the site looks FANTASTIC
I’m definitely on-board with most of what you wrote but I have to say I kind of disagree with the steak. Whenever I eat meat (especially as I’ve gotten a little older), it leaves me feeling bloated, sluggish and “irregular” in my elimination. Plus, I’ve heard that it’s not the best source of protein. I’d rather eat chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna or egg whites for my protein source. And an added bonus, my skin looks brighter and clearer whenever I steer clear of red meat. But make no mistake, I did like your article.
So how much carbohydrates should a 5’3 , 15 year old a week?
So much carbohydrates should my brother Tim eat since he is 17 and 5’8?
I thought eating whole grains was good everyday because, in the food pyramid article it states that you should whole grains daily so are whole grains bad to eat daily or should?
@Seb – tough to answer, at such a young age, I would just focus on eating whole foods and see how much your body wants to eat. Your body should tell you how much food it wants through hunger as you are still growing. For most adult men who are attempting to lose fat, somewhere around 150 grams is usually a sweet spot, and for building muscle it can be considerably higher around 250-300 grams. Whole grains can be ok, I need to tackle it in another post. The issue with grains is that some can cause gastrointenstinal issues (stomach cramping, diarrhea etc.). Gluten free grains tend to be the easiest on the stomach.
edit: how much should carbohydrates should Tim eat a week since he is older/ taller then me!
I’ve been incorporating this “lean and green” a lot more, and it really helps. The first seven weeks I lost 22 lbs., but the last 3 weeks I’ve lost 16 more…a faster rate than before. Even if I’m still hungry after…like today, I had three ounces of salmon steamed with Chinese 5 spice, plus small steamed asparagus spears and steamed whole mushrooms. I still felt a tad hungry, even after water and waiting. So I steamed more asparagus and mushrooms. Whoo! Another killer 65 calories! Ha! Ha!
38 lbs. in ten weeks, veins starting to show in my arms, a line starting to go down the middle of my abdomen, and most importantly, better functional strength and no pain at work.
Marc, builtlean KICKS GLUTEUS! Literally!
[email protected] – those are very impressive results and your pace of fat loss is on the very high end of what I’ve personally seen. Congrats!
I’m up to 41 lbs. lost now, and your site has made all the difference, from motivation to information!