The Importance of Food Quality

July 17, 2021 7 min read

The Importance of Food Quality

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.   

What Does Research Say About Weight Loss? 

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. 

Why is Quality of Food Important to Weight Loss?

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. 

Why is Quality of Food Important to Overall Health?

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.  

  • Inflammation - Ingredients in processed foods such as industrial seed oils and food additives can be very damaging to the cellular integrity, and in turn, our bodies as a whole.  Seed oils (i.e. corn oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, etc.) provoke gut inflammation and enhance the growth of intestinal pathogens.  As for food additives, such as artificial sweeteners, they have been linked to many gut dysfunctions and inflammation.  Different ones have been shown to increase intestinal permeability, provoke inflammatory responses in the gut, and stimulate the growth of harmful gut bacteria (SOURCE).
  • Hormonal Balance - Hormones within our bodies function, in large part, via ‘receptor sites’ on cells.  We want these receptor sites to be healthy and available, but with high amounts of Omega-6 in the diet, often from industrial seed oils in packaged foods, we see altered hormone receptor function. Too much Omega-6 compared to Omega-3 negatively influences prostaglandin production, which are important hormones to moderate healthy hormone function.  We recommend getting more Omega-3’s from cold water fish and shellfish, as well as supplementing with it! Getting in other whole foods with fiber, particularly vegetables and different forms of fiber also helps with hormone balance, because fiber is essential for binding to excess hormones to excrete them from the body.  
  • Sleep Quality - One of the biggest regulators of quality sleep is our blood sugar.  If we have big highs and lows throughout the day resulting in extreme hunger, shakiness, and tiredness or 'crashes', we often see individuals wake up at night as well.  If you eat inconsistently, imbalanced, or are big on sugar, you likely have disrupted sleep, or lower quality and less restorative sleep compared to individuals eating a diet high in fiber, protein, and whole foods.  We recommend eating regularly throughout the day, every 3-5 hours, include whole food carbohydrates at dinner, and include fiber and protein at all major meals to help set yourself up for a better night of sleep.  Because as we all know, poor sleep doesn’t cater to great eating habits either!  
  • Nutrient Density - Nutrient density refers to the concentration of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and compounds) and essential amino acids in a given food.  These are things which cannot be created by the body and must be obtained from food.  Whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, animal proteins, beans, and dairy products are all the main sources of nutrient dense foods we can consume. The human body requires over 40 different micronutrients for normal metabolic function.  Our food is already lacking nutrient levels compared to 20-30 years ago, and the rise in processed food is driving the lack of nutrients in our diet even more.  We need nutrients from whole foods to avoid nutrient deficiencies, and in turn, other chronic disease or health issues.  

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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