Tracking food, counting macros, weighing and measuring…. Just because something might “fit your macros”, does it mean it’s fair-game? While macro-counting can be nice because it gives you flexibility to potentially still eat the foods you love and crave, it definitely doesn’t mean you SHOULD be just drinking protein shakes all day to meet your protein goals, and hit your carbs and fats by eating donuts. I can tell you, you will NOT feel very well or be very healthy if you continually do that (but, no, I’m not completely anti-donuts.)
So IS food quality important? And just HOW important are we talking?
I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this, but YES, VERY!!!
What do we mean by quality foods?
When we talk about eating quality foods, we mean eating more “real” foods, like fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts, and seeds…. and limiting/eliminating the following in your diet:
OK but WHY are these things on the above list unfavorable or “lower order”?
Because most of these things on the list aren’t natural, “real” foods. In fact, your body does not know what to do with many of them; it cannot effectively process things like the corn, artificial ingredients, and vegetable oils found in all the highly processed foods on the market these days very effectively. Plus, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, toxic ingredients, and chemicals can disrupt the natural functions of the body. When we continually bombard our body with these things, they overload the body, and you end up feeling tired, bloated, have difficulty sleeping, experience digestive issues, and so on. It’s like your body is a Ferrari, and you’re trying to feed it 87 octane gas… it’s not going to perform well or even close to its best.
OK so, what are the benefits of eating higher food quality foods?
Eating higher quality, less processed/refined foods carries the following benefits:
Yeah, “calories in vs calories out” but….. Are all calories created equal? Where does food quality fall in the mix?
Evidence shows that calories matter (simply, if you’re consuming more than you are burning, you will put on weight, and vice versa), but food quality is an equally important part of weight loss or improved body composition. Eating high quality foods in appropriately sized portions can be a great, and more sustainable nutrition strategy than solely relying on calorie counting.
Researchers in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health found that quality is very important in determining what to eat to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and that “a calorie is a calorie” doesn’t tell the whole story. While these researchers did not discount the importance of calories, instead suggesting that choosing high-quality foods (and decreasing consumption of lower-quality foods) is an important factor in helping individuals consume fewer calories. They found in their study of 120,000 people over 20 years that weight change was more strongly associated with reducing the intake of foods like refined grains, fats, and sugars (like in potato-chips, processed meats, and sugar/artificial sugar-sweetened beverages) increase weight gain. On the other hand, weight loss was associated with diets rich in vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, yogurt, and other higher-order foods.
Is organic food any healthier than non-organic (conventional) food?
The research is mixed on this, but a Harvard School of Public Health study found evidence that most organic food had significantly higher levels of certain nutrients (notably vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus), and lower nitrates and pesticide residues. In lab studies, organic foods were found to also have higher antioxidant phytochemical levels, but this hasn’t been confirmed in human studies. There are, however, clear health benefits from consuming organic dairy rather than conventional.
We would say that, if your budget allows, eating organic foods (especially the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and veggies that have the most pesticides, dairy, and meats) is preferred. If it’s not in your budget, even the conventional forms of unprocessed foods will be advantageous to your overall health!