Always hungry? Not losing weight? According to Dr. David Ludwig, professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, you can calm your cravings and get your body back on track with a balance of healthy, natural carbs and fats, rather than faddish eating plans.
Low fat? Low carb? The answer may be neither
If you’ve spent years, or even decades, engaged in an ongoing struggle with your weight, you’ve likely tried alternately cutting fat and cutting carbs, to no avail. Either you lose weight for a while, only to gain it back, or you never see the number on the scale shift significantly at all. According to David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D, the better path is somewhere in between.
Ludwig, author of the new book “Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently,” is an endocrinologist, researcher and professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.
He says that the public has been fed two profound misconceptions about carbohydrates, starting with the first USDA Food Guide Pyramid in 1992: First, that all fats are bad and all carbs are good. Second, that all sugars (“simple carbs”) are bad and all starches (“complex carbs”) are good.
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“Grains were at the bottom of the pyramid — we were supposed to load up on that stuff, 6-11 servings a day — and fats were at the top,” he said. “Even highly processed starches were at the base of the pyramid.”
As a result, he said, we got a large amount of highly processed carbohydrates flooding into our diets — white bread, white rice, potato products, prepared breakfasts, snack foods and desserts. These foods drive weight gain by sharply raising insulin, the hormone that lets you use glucose (sugar) from the carbohydrates in the food you eat.
“The excess insulin drives glucose into fat cells, leaving too little glucose in the rest of the cells to fuel the body,” Ludwig said. “That’s why we’re always hungry. It’s a battle between mind and metabolism that we can’t win.”
In “Always Hungry,” Ludwig proposes a lower-carb, higher-fat diet for two weeks before transitioning to an equal balance of fat and carbs, with adequate protein. “For most people we can accomplish most of the benefits [of a low-carb diet] by targeting the highly processed carbohydrates and still enjoying the taste and diversity of natural carbohydrates.”
The goal? To lower insulin and calm chronic inflammation. “When that happens, the fat cells settle down. Some of these excess calories flood back into the system,” Ludwig said. “The part of the brain involved in cravings quiets down, the metabolism speeds up. You lose weight with your body’s cooperation.”
The book puts a strong focus on food quality. Healthful fats, options for both plant- and animal-based protein, and whole or minimally processed carbohydrates, including vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, some starchy vegetables, and whole intact grains.
“Whole kernel grains like buckwheat, quinoa, wheat berries have much more nutrition and they digest more slowly,” Ludwig said.
He calls this a lush way of eating, more reminiscent of the Mediterranean diet and the way we used to eat. “Good for your waist, great for your heart.”
Much of that lushness is courtesy of Ludwig’s chef and cooking-instructor wife, Dawn, who developed the book’s recipes, which were also used by the 237 participants of the 16-week Always Hungry pilot test. Not only are the recipes delicious, but they don’t require gourmet skills, a large food budget or a lot of time.
“Quick and easy, that’s my motto,” Dawn Ludwig said. “I’ve been a busy working parent for so many years, so I know that if you are a foodie and you want delicious food you have to find a way to make it work into your life.”
Most of the recipes that call for meat, poultry or fish have vegetarian modifications, something Chef Ludwig was adamant about. She said her recipes using tempeh or tofu, including Black Bean Tofu Hash, have been hits, even with those unaccustomed to using those foods.
“When you change what you eat and you make it fresh at home, it gives you the ability to love your food, not be deprived, and to lose weight,” she said. “It not only changes your health, it changes your relationship with your family, it changes how you look at food, it changes how you look at the environment. It’s the No. 1 way we can take charge of our health.”
Black Bean Tofu Hash
Makes 4 servings (6 cups)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
14 to 16 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained, gently pressed with an absorbent towel
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Dash of cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water
1¾ cups cooked black beans, drained (one 15‑ounce can)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
• Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic. Crumble in the tofu and sprinkle with the chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the water, stirring to allow the tofu to absorb the seasonings and water. Stir in the black beans and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the cilantro and adjust the seasoning to taste.
• Serve with sliced avocado, sour cream, salsa or your favorite sauce.
Tip: To turn this into a taco salad, mix 1 ½ cups of the hash with 1 cup of chopped lettuce, 1 small tomato (diced), 2 tablespoons each of salsa and cheddar cheese, and 3 tablespoons of Creamy Lime-Cilantro Dressing.
Creamy Lime-Cilantro Dressing
Makes ½ cup
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 small clove garlic
½ avocado, pitted and peeled
¼ cup packed fresh cilantro, leaves and stems coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons flax oil or extra virgin olive oil
Dash of ground black pepper
Place all the ingredients in a wide-mouthed Mason jar or cup that will fit an immersion blender without splashing. Blend using the immersion blender to create a thick, creamy sauce. Place a lid on the jar and allow the flavors to develop for an hour or more in the refrigerator. Serve immediately or use within 3 to 4 days so the avocado doesn’t turn brown.
Recipe excerpted from the book “Always Hungry”” by David Ludwig, MD, Ph.D.