The definition of a low-calorie diet is based on a lower calorie intake than necessary and is used to lose weight from fat mass. Does it make you lose weight? It has a slimming effect, especially if boosted by the gym, swimming or other sporting activities.
What to eat and what to avoid? The low-calorie diet essentially consists of the same macronutrients (from fish, eggs, rice, fruit in small quantities…) present in the Mediterranean diet.
For it to work, have health benefits and avoid unpleasant side effects (low blood pressure, tiredness, insomnia, nausea, headaches, water retention…) it must be balanced. No to crash diets.
It must be prescribed by the doctor if pathologies are present (gout, diabetes, renal insufficiency…).
It can be high in protein (increases the proportion of meat, fish and legumes), low in sodium (for hypertension), low in lipids (for high cholesterol and triglycerides), low-carb (for diabetics) or carbohydrate-free, ketogenic (if fats predominate, widespread in bodybuilding for muscle definition), vegetarian or vegan.
The low-calorie diet can be followed without risk in pregnancy and breastfeeding, if prescribed and monitored by the nutritionist, in the over 50s and in menopause.
Low-calorie diet: what is it?
The low-calorie diet is a diet based, by definition, on a diet that provides fewer calories than are consumed to carry out daily and extraordinary activities.
We must not think that only sporting activity and efforts to lift loads for different purposes lead to energy expenditure. A large part of the metabolic reactions that take place in our body, and of which we are not even aware, consumes calories. Except that, usually, these are insignificant values compared to those of a tiring trek.
In general, a “caloric deficit” is defined as the difference between the number of calories one needs and that associated with the food introduced. The higher it is, the greater the tendency to lose weight, all other things being equal. This is the concept that underlies low-calorie diets.
Low-calorie diets are characterized by a greater consumption of foods containing proteins and fats than those composed of carbohydrates.
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The scientific foundations
When setting up a diet, the calorie deficit represents a fixed, reference element around which the daily menus are developed. If it is high, the regime will be more restrictive but will generally allow for more ambitious results to be achieved.
With more moderate values, the diet will be less tiring to maintain, but the goals will consequently have to be less demanding.
It is up to the individual characteristics and the number of kilos to be lost to plan more or less heavy restrictions. It goes without saying that any food scheme aimed at weight loss must have limitations. But the extent of these constraints must also be calibrated on the basis of the psychological characteristics of those who must adopt the diet.
When we feel hungry, the stomach cramps and the feeling of appetite that we experience are the expression of a series of events that the body has put in place because of a lack of food.
In restrictive contexts, hormones are released, defined as orexigens, which signal the lack of nutrients to the brain. Thus occurs a cascade of biochemical events that leads the body to draw on fat reserves.
The difference with other diets
The main difference with other diets is represented by the simplicity of the foundations on which it is built.
It is a food scheme which, in general, only takes into account the caloric balance, saying little about the quality of what you eat and the food associations that can be made at the table. But, as we know, nutrition is a complex concept, which cannot be confined to the mere energy intake associated with food. And it has psychological repercussions that cannot be underestimated.
There are therefore variations of the low-calorie diet that take these factors into account.
The ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet, for example, is a type of highly low-calorie diet that introduces food in such quantities as to always respect precise proportions.
The percentage of carbohydrates is drastically reduced to about 10%, compared to the 45-60% provided by the SINU (Italian Society of Human Nutrition) indications. Proteins are slightly increased. The fat intake reaches 60% of the calories introduced.
This regimen makes it possible to use the reserves of adipose tissue for energy production. The consequence is the production of ketones, a condition called ketonemia: hence the definition of ketogenic diet.
Compared to a generic low-calorie diet, ketogenic is a real treatment, which must be followed by a specialized professional and adopted for limited periods of time. It is also indicated, with some limitations, in cases of obesity and drug-resistant epilepsy. Unlike common low-calorie diets, it is not indicated during pregnancy.
The ketogenic diet is a low-calorie regime followed by many sportsmen who practice bodybuilding, for its contribution to muscle definition.
Other low-calorie diets
Unlike the low-GI diet, which works for food groups but not necessarily for energy intake, the low-calorie diet requires calculating calories.
The low-fat diet is not necessarily low-calorie and is prescribed to treat conditions such as hyperlipidemia, i.e. high blood cholesterol and triglyceride values.
The low sodium diet, on the other hand, is indicated to assist in the treatment of hypertension.
Diabetes and metabolic syndrome require the implementation of hypoglucidic, low carb eating patterns.
Low-calorie diet: how to make it balanced and what to eat
Using spices in the kitchen allows you to reduce the amount of seasoning to the full advantage of taste and health. Most of these ingredients, in fact, contain essential oils rich in antioxidant elements, substances that support cells in the fight against aging and degeneration.
Another recommendation to remember at the beginning of a low-calorie diet concerns whole foods.
Dietary fiber is not only useful for regulating the intestines, but it is one of the fundamental foods of our friendly bacterial flora. The good bacteria, which live in our intestines and help us keep it clean and reduce fermentation, also feed on fiber.
Introducing an adequate amount of fiber in the diet therefore means strengthening the microbial system which also allows us to have a pleasant flat stomach. Yes, therefore, to whole grains, unless conditions advise against them.
Fruit in the low-calorie diet
Fruit is an ambivalent food. Rich in mineral salts and vitamins, tasty and pleasant on the palate, it could be a pillar, for example, of the summer diet.
But, in reality, it contains many sugars: it is therefore relatively caloric and, moreover, if ingested in excess it can cause fermentation. Better to limit their consumption, choosing fruits with a low sugar content, such as apples and berries. Instead, fruit juices should be completely eliminated.
Low-calorie diet: proteins and dairy products
Proteins are an essential component of a low-calorie diet. But lean sources, such as chicken, turkey and fish, should be selected.
Better to limit the consumption of dairy products and reserve it for less fatty elements, such as skimmed milk and fresh and low-fat cheeses (cow’s ricotta, mozzarella, feta).
Cheeses, especially if aged, are foods extremely rich in salt: they are therefore not recommended due to their effect in terms of water retention and negative contribution to the onset of hypertension.
Low-calorie diet: rules for weight loss
Remember that light foods are not always healthier than their “normal” versions. They are often subjected to treatments that profoundly alter their composition in micro and macronutrients.
For the results of the diet to be stable over time, it is important that weight loss is accompanied by the acquisition of a mentality more geared towards the pursuit of well-being. From this point of view, the choice of quality foods, with as few artefacts as possible (perhaps in smaller portions) represents an orientation to be favoured.
The importance of hydration
To reduce your calorie intake and train your taste towards new flavours, you can try enjoying coffee, tea and other drinks without sugar. Alternatively, if it’s really not your thing, resort to an artificial sweetener only occasionally: better to direct the choice towards a natural product such as stevia.
Drinking adequate amounts (neither too much nor too little) is important. A glass of water when feeling languid helps to rebalance the hydro-salt balance, giving an immediate feeling of well-being, and to calm hunger pangs.
The low-calorie diet can be followed anytime, anywhere. It is not necessary to suspend it if you go out to dinner with friends: just learn to choose the right dishes.
Even happy hour can be compatible with a diet of this type. An aperitif that can be included in the scheme of a diet aimed at weight loss could, for example, consist of a centrifuge accompanied by some natural nuts (cashews, almonds), some pumpkin or sunflower seeds and celery sticks.
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