There has been one debate that has continued to persist in the diet world for decades:
Is QUALITY or QUANTITY more important when it comes to nutrition and weight loss?
As always, there are a lot of ‘it depends’ around this topic. You can find research that supports both ends of the equation, and we are going to state that both matter quite a bit when it comes to weight loss, but the bottom line is that quality of food simply cannot be ignored if you want to have a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
Unfortunately in today’s world, processed food is taking over. It is cheaper, it is extremely readily available, and let’s be honest - food companies make anything that comes in a package or a bag pretty darn delicious and hard to resist. To be blunt, processed food is addicting, and the food companies want it to be that way so we keep buying the products. I mean, who can honestly just have a serving size of chips and salsa or TWO Oreos?
Although, we have to start looking at what food is doing to our bodies beyond just the scale, and see the long-term effects of consuming a diet rich in whole unprocessed foods, or a diet of mostly processed, convenience foods.
Here is the thing about nutritional studies - they always need to be taken with a grain of salt. Most meta-analyses or studies around food, diet, and weight loss have quite a few flaws. They usually are not collecting data over long periods of time, they are not ensuring that subjects are complying with dietary guidelines (they often rely on client’s self-recalling what they consumed), they are often biased, and they are usually not large enough or controlled enough to ensure accuracy of data reported.
So whenever you read articles online or see a new headline on google around how a new diet shake is going to help you shed fat, heal your gut, and boost your metabolism - try to read it with a critical eye and take it with a grain of salt.
That is why we are going to share facts around how certain foods act within the body to demonstrate the importance of food quality to your health and weight loss efforts.
We get that a lot of individuals wanting to know more about food are on a journey of weight loss, and we also know that food information can be overwhelming, so we are going to share the main reasons why quality of food largely impacts the ease of weight loss efforts in ways you may not have known about!
1. Whole Foods Burn More Calories
Calories are a measure of energy, and our weight depends on a balance of energy in vs. energy out. Energy in includes foods we consume, whereas out includes things like physical activity, our basal metabolic rate, and a more unknown one - the energy used to digest our food! Turns out the amount of calories we burn digesting food can vary quite a bit. This is known as the thermic effect of food.
Ever wonder how celery has ‘negative calories’? It takes more energy to break down and absorb it than celery contains. So when it comes to weight loss, this is actually more substantial than people may realize. On average, about 10% of our total daily calorie burn comes from digesting and absorbing foods - although this percentage can vary depending on what we eat.
Protein has the highest thermic effect of food, where our body will burn 20-30% of the calories in the protein simply breaking it down. Meaning, if we consume 100 calories of protein, we burn 20-30 of those calories to digest and absorb it.
Carbohydrates use only about 5-10% of the energy and fats only about 0-3%, meaning they are the least calorie-taxing to break down and consume.
So what about the quality of food? How does that play out with this?
Well, whole foods contain a few things that the body needs and will utilize more energy to break down including fiber and micronutrients (i.e. vitamins, minerals, etc.). Honestly, processed foods like flour, sugar, and industrial oils are relatively easy and quick to digest. This is best demonstrated in a research study comparing two variations of a grilled cheese. Yes….grilled cheese!
A 2010 study took 17 normal-weight individuals, half male and half female, and had each person consume a ‘whole foods’ grilled cheese with multi-grain bread and real cheddar cheese, as well as a ‘junk’ sandwich of white bread and kraft singles (aka fake, orange cheese product) (SOURCE).
When consuming the ‘whole foods’ sandwich, individuals burned 46.8% more calories in digestion than when consuming the ‘junk food’ sandwich! If we were to spread this across the course of a day, if you were to consume 2,000 calories of only whole foods vs. junk foods - it would equate to about 200 additional calories burned PER DAY.
2. Whole Foods Are More Filling
We all know that dieting can be rough. You’re hungry, you are trying to spread meals out to not cave to the cookies at work, and you’re drinking water to keep you ‘full’. Although, what if you could be in a calorie deficit without even really trying??
Whole foods allow this to happen! We often have clients that come to us thinking that they are not eating very much, but when we break down their diet of processed foods, with just 3 small meals, they are consuming well over 2000 calories. Although, when we switch the diet up to a more whole, unprocessed foods diet, they find it HARD to eat 2000 calories worth.
This is because foods with higher amounts of fiber, water, and nutrients are actually more filling to the body than processed foods. Research continuously shows this as well - when individuals switch to consuming a whole foods diet , they naturally eat less without counting calories and cravings for foods often subside drastically.
We demonstrate this with an easy example - if we were to ask you to consume as much as humanly possible of the following two food options, which would be easier to consume more calories of?
Chicken nuggets and french fries or chicken breast and boiled potatoes?
Yeah...we thought so too. You never hear anyone say “I totally binged on apples the other day, I ate like 5 of them.” It just isn’t as likely because of how satiating and filling foods with fiber and nutrients are. So if you want to make a calorie deficit easier, switch to whole foods to improve fullness levels and to reduce cravings.
We know that this seems obvious, but there are a lot of things we may not realize that food quality impacts. We put these under the ‘health’ category, but they most definitely impact weight loss as well.
We know that eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods can be a bit more expensive and time-consuming, but the benefits far outweigh the costs when it comes to your health, your progress, and your body’s overall function!
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