The Low Ingredient Diet

Facebook Twitter Pinterest

Some of you may remember me talking about the “low-ingredient diet” a few months ago. I got the idea from a note that Tony Horton posted on Facebook in July (2010) sometime. The note was written by someone named Scott Colby (see the note here) and talked about the idea of counting your total number of ingredients rather than counting calories. The idea is to eat as many 1-ingredient foods as possible or foods with as few ingredients as possible. When you eat whole foods like that, the idea is that you will be fuller naturally and won’t need to count calories. The article even gives nice little examples of “healthy” foods that people might eat and the amount of ingredients that would be in them. Check out what you eat if you have some Kellog’s Smart Start cereal, a lean cuisine, and a handful of wheat thins:

RICE, WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT, SUGAR, OAT CLUSTERS (SUGAR, TOASTED OATS [ROLLED OATS, SUGAR, CANOLA OIL WITH TBHQ AND CITRIC ACID TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS, MOLASSES, HONEY, BHT FOR FRESHNESS, SOY LECITHIN], WHEAT FLAKES, CRISP RICE [RICE, SUGAR, MALT, SALT], CORN SYRUP, POLYDEXTROSE, HONEY, CINNAMON, BHT [PRESERVATIVE], ARTIFICIAL VANILLA FLAVOR), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SALT, HONEY, MALT FLAVORING, ALPHA TOCOPHEROL ACETATE (VITAMIN E), NIACINAMIDE, ZINC OXIDE, REDUCED IRON, SODIUM ASCORBATE AND ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), CALCIUM PANTOTHENATE, YELLOW #5, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), BHT (PRESERVATIVE), VITAMIN A PALMITATE, FOLIC ACID, BETA CAROTENE (A SOURCE OF VITAMIN A), VITAMIN B12 AND VITAMIN D.

WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT FLOUR, UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), SOYBEAN OIL, SUGAR, CORNSTARCH, MALT SYRUP (FROM BARLEY AND CORN), INVERT SUGAR, MONOGLYCERIDES, SALT, VEGETABLE COLOR (ANNATTO EXTRACT, TURMERIC OLEORESIN). CONTAINS: WHEAT. BHT ADDED TO PACKAGING MATERIAL TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS.

Blanched macaroni product (water, semolina, wheat gluten), skim milk, cooked chicken breast with rib pesto glazed smoke flavor added (cooked chicken breast meat with rib meat, water, chicken flavor (dehydrated chicken broth, chicken powder, flavor, salt, modified corn starch, salt, spice, glazed with: water, seasoning (sugar, (dehydrated romano cheese and blue cheese {part skim cow’s milk, cheese cultures, pasteurized cow’s milk, salt, enzymes}, spices, salt, modified food starch, dehydrated garlic dehydrated onion, citric acid, (dehydrated flavorings {(modified food starch, corn syrup solids, flavor, smoke flavor, partially hydrogenated soybean oil), dehydrated flavor (maltodextrin, citric acid, gum arabic, natural flavor}, extractives of garlic, olive oil), water, red peppers, ywllow peppers, 2% or less of cream, parmesan cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), soybean oil, modified cornstarch, bleached wheat flour, basil, asiago cheese (pasteurizred milk, salt, cheese cultu
res, salt, enzymes), water, salt, lactic acid, citric acid), extra virgin olive oil, garlic puree, enzyme modified parmesan cheese (cultured milk, water, salt, enzymes), whey protein concentrate, cheese flavor (cheddar cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), water, salt, enzymes, cultures, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum), dehydrated onions, potassium chloride.

Now, most people would consider this to be a healthy day of eating. However, most people would still be hungry on this much food and would not be done eating for the day. Do you even know what half of that stuff is? Why would you want to put all of that in your body?

The article really struck me because, at the time, I was eating things like Power Bars, Zone Perfect Bars, Lean Cuisines (only occasionally), Baked Lays chips, etc. I started to really look at the ingredients more instead of just the calories, carbs, fat, and protein…and that is when I decided that it was time for a little experiment. Now, understand that it wasn’t like I was ignoring ingredients and only focusing on calories up to this point, I just wasn’t being real strict with it. I didn’t eat fried foods, stayed away from sugar for the most part, and didn’t eat enriched flour or white rice. I was a pretty healthy eater in my own opinion but it wasn’t until I read this article that I realized that the things that I didn’t think mattered too much might be holding me back.

Up to this point, I had been eating fairly strictly on a 2200-2400 calorie diet with a 20/25/55 (fat%/protein%/carb%) breakdown for quite a while and had some success doing so (both in terms of triathlon performance and weight management/loss). However, I had this nagging 15-20 pounds that I just could not lose no matter how many workouts I did.

So, it was time for an experiment:

For 45 days, I kept a detailed log of every ingredient that I ate as well as calories, fat, protein, and carbs. This was very tedious! I wanted to track all of those things so I could see what kind of a cal/fat/protein/carb breakdown I would get if I just counted my ingredients and didn’t try to really adjust my diet to get more or less food to meet the calorie quota or the nutritional percentage breakdown. So, throughout the experiment, my goal was not my calorie total but simply to eat low-ingredient, whole foods and eat until I was full or just before I was full.

Interestingly, at the end of the experiment, my average calories and percentage breakdown was extremely close to my old diet while eating many more whole foods and less processed stuff. You CAN get your nutrition from whole foods! You don’t need that processed protein bar or that lean cuisine to keep you from eating too much.

Ok, so what you probably really want to know is, what were my results, right?

Well, here they are:

Starting weight: 184 lbs
Starting BF% (according to Tanita scale): 17.5%
Starting BF% (according to Caliper method): 14%

Ending weight: 171 lbs
Ending BF% (according to Tanita scale): 14.5%
Ending BF% (according to Caliper method: 11.5%

Average number of ingredients per day: 61
Average calories per day: 2245
Average Percentage of Calories from Fat: 29%
Average Percentage of Calories from Protein: 24%
Average Percentage of Calories from Carbs: 47%

before after
Before After

NOTE: These are the first “naked” pictures that I have posted of myself since losing over 100 pounds. Pretty intimidating for me but I thought I needed to really show what eating right can do.

I don’t know about you, but I am seriously impressed!  I am not sure because I don’t have any personal experience in this realm…but I think those might be abs showing!  I was beginning to think that I did not posses any abs.  Anyway, I am extremely happy with the results and plan to continue to eat this way from now on with few exceptions.

My Observations:

1) I find it interesting and very revealing that my fat percentage went up while my carbs went down compared to my normal 20/25/55 goals from before just by eating whole foods and I lost significant weight. To me, this proves that fat is not the enemy! When you eat whole foods, you get the right kind of fats!

2) I could have done better. I still had my normal serving of ice cream on quite a few nights during this experiment. This was really my one thing that had a lot of ingredients that I allowed myself. Some of the ice creams had up to 54 ingredients. This is not something that I would recommend to anyone! If you can stay away from that too…you will do even better than me.

3) Alcohol: I had one beer on MOST nights throughout this experiment. Hey, good beer only has 4 ingredients, right? I know there are a lot of people out there that say that alcohol will kill your diet and you simply can’t drink alcohol if you want to be truly fit. Are they correct? Well, this experiment tells me that alcohol cannot single-handedly keep you from losing weight or getting fit. Could I have done better without the alcohol? Maybe so….maybe so.

4) Eating like this is not that profound or amazing of an idea. This is just eating whole foods. You may have heard the “shop around the perimeter of the grocery store” idea before…this is not much different. However, it does give you something to use to evaluate foods with…number of ingredients.

5) The common sense and well-known rules of dieting still apply here. How many ingredients do French fries have in them? Not very many. Does that mean that they are healthy and you can eat them if you want to lose weight? Probably not. Fried foods still don’t have any place in your diet. Sugar still has little to no place in your diet. Brown rice is better than white. Whole wheat is better than enriched.

6) This goes along with 5) above: Variety is necessary…you can’t just eat 20 bananas and say, “Oh, look how good I am doing…I only had 20 ingredients”. You must still strive for a balanced diet. Lean proteins, veggies, fruits, healthy fats, etc.

Now, there are some details about how I did this that I don’t want to leave out:

1) I used Shakeology as my breakfast every day. Shakeology has over 70 ingredients but they are all whole food ingredients so I did not count the 70 ingredients toward my daily ingredient totals. Agree or disagree with my decision here…but I just thought you should know that the numbers I quote above are not included. The ingredients I added to Shakeology are included in the total (peanut butter, milk ingredients, flax).

NOTE: If you want to try Shakeology for free, click here to learn how you can get a free sample.

2) During this experiment, I was mostly doing my normal workout plan for triathlon training that includes some P90X, Tony Horton One on One workouts, swims, bike rides, and runs. Normal workout durations were approximately 60-90 minutes per day and fairly intense (P90X level of intensity on pretty much all workouts).

3) I was on travel for one entire week during this experiment and I was able to maintain this diet quite well. You can find ways to eat healthy even on the road!

Want to know exactly what I ate during this diet? I will send you my tracking spreadsheet with 45 days of my diet. Just send me an email at ryan@tribasetraining.com

UPDATE:  IF YOU WANT TO LEARN HOW TO EAT LIKE THIS AND GET RESULTS LIKE THIS, Go HERE 

10 Comments

  • tom kessler

    September 18, 2010

    Great read Ryan!

    • BASEtraining

      September 18, 2010

      Thanks, Tom!

  • Kimberley Thompson

    January 5, 2012

    Great information! And CONGRATULATIONS! I would be very interested to see your log. Can you send it to me? And have you been able to keep the weight off? Are you still losing?

    Curious…

    Kimberley

  • freda Graham

    May 25, 2012

    I stumbled upon this article and was so impressed! I work out everyday but the weight doesn’t drop like it used to; that’s depressing! Reading about 1 ingred meals makes so much sense. That’s my problem, I thought. Eating processed healthy foods! Last night I started a new menu and will do like you, give it a trial period and watch what happens!!

  • Shauna Hennig

    November 28, 2012

    Awesome read. I didn’t realize how much junk we were putting into our bodies thinking it was good for us. I will definitely start this. Thanks Ryan

    • BASEtraining

      November 28, 2012

      Thanks for reading, Shauna!

  • Jodie

    May 4, 2017

    Just experienced that my fat percentage increased when looking at my caloric intake and it takes a mind shift to realize this is better than my previous “low fat” diets. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • BASEtraining

      May 16, 2017

      Of course!