Eat steak to lose weight and don't bother counting calories, expert says

EATING steak can help you lose weight – and you shouldn’t bother counting calories, an expert has said.

For decades experts have said slimming down is about reducing your calorie intake.

But focusing on how your food is cooked or prepared is the key to staving off fat, Dr Giles Yeo, a geneticist at Cambridge University, revealed.

Dr Yeo, who has been researching obesity for more than 20 years, told The Times calories as a way to manage weight is “based on lousy science”.

He said: “While calories are a useful measurement, they are of very limited use when it comes to health and weight loss.

“Calorie values are based on 120-year-old science and don’t take into account what happens to food when we eat and cook it.”

Instead, Dr Yeo says it’s not how many calories a food has that is important, but its “caloric availability”.

This is how much of the food is actually absorbed and stored in the body.

It is altered by the way the food is prepared and cooked, and later digested, Dr Yeo explains in this new book, Why Calories Don’t Count (Orion).

The further away a food is from its natural raw state, such a slow cooked, stewed, reheated or blended, the more “calorific” it is.

“To lose weight and stay healthy, what we should be looking at is not how many calories are in a food, but the quality of that item,” Dr Yeo said.

“If it’s processed or altered in any way, then the body will absorb more of the calories it contains.”

GO BLUE

A great example of Dr Yeo’s science is beef.

He says it's higher in calories when minced and cooked in a spaghetti bolognese or chilli con carne than a rare steak.

“Mincing meat and then the process of cooking it alters the collagen protein it contains, making it easier to chew and digest,” Yeo says.

Because it is easier to digest, the body is able to store it as fat more easily.

“You can cook a steak medium rare in four minutes,” Dr Yeo said.

“Compare that to minced beef added to a lasagne or bolognese that has been cooked for a long time, then possibly frozen and reheated, which means by the time you eat it the dish will have been heated through three or four times, increasing the caloric availability on every occasion.”

Dr Yeo suggests cutting back on red meat anyway to twice a week. The NHS says to avoid eating any more than 70g in weight per day.

Generally Dr Yeo says to eat around 64g of pure protein per day as the “sweet spot” for weight loss.

That’s not the raw weight of the food, but how much protein it contains. For example a typical 150g cooked chicken breast contains around 35g of protein.

Protein is not only filling, warding off hunger, but it takes longer to digest than fat and carbs. That’s true for meat and veggie options like lentils and chickpeas.

“For every 100 calories of protein we eat, our bodies only ever use 70 of those calories and the remaining 30 are given off as heat,” Dr Yeo said.

“It’s incredibly important in terms of caloric availability and weight loss, but only up to a point.”

YOU CAN EAT CARBS 

But carbs are not the enemy – as if often portrayed in dieting.

Go for wholegrain carbs, like brown rice, oats and whole wheat bread and pasta while avoiding white carbs and things like pastries, cereals and cakes.

Wholegrain carbs have twice the thermic effect of eating them than processed versions of the same food, research has suggested.

The thermic effect is how much energy it takes for your body to chew and digest food. 

The higher it is, the less able the food is to seep into the bloodstream and provide calories and sugar to the body.

STICK TO RAW

Instead of watching how many calories are in your foods, a good rule of thumb is to focus on foods in its natural state, Dr Yeo said.

For example, although a green smoothie is the epitome of “health”, a fruit platter is better.

When you eat an orange, your mouth and jaw have to chew it, your body digest it and then excrete it after.

By comparison, there is barely any effort in drinking orange juice, therefore it “almost immediately enters the bloodstream, providing a greater number of calories and raising blood sugar”, Dr Yeo said. 

Fibrous vegetables are also a top choice for weight loss – not simply because they are healthy, but because they are so hard to digest.

Dr Yeo said: “A simple way to look at it is if you eat 100 calories worth of sugar, your body will probably absorb 100 calories.

“But if you consume 100 calories worth of sweetcorn, you only need to peek into the toilet bowl to see that you’ve absorbed nowhere near the 100 calories as you will see much of the sweetcorn has been excreted.” 

To get the full benefits of a high-fibre veg diet, Dr Yeo eats meat-free two days a week – and suggests you do too.

“You can eat a lot on a plant-based diet without absorbing a huge amount of calories,” he said.

Dr Yeo was asked by producers of the BBC’s Trust Me, I’m a Doctor to switch to a plant-based, vegan diet for 30 days.

He said: “The thought of it terrified me, but I was in my mid-forties and had a slightly wobbly belly, so I wanted to try it.”

He lost 4kg (10lbs) over the 30 days, his trousers didn’t fit and he had no vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

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