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Does Food Quality Matter?

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: 

  • Pesticides
  • Hormones
  • Antibiotics
  • GMOs (genetically modified foods)
  • Corn
  • Sugars – all kinds, including artificial sweeteners (more on this in an upcoming blog post)
  • Artificial ingredients
  • Toxic ingredients and chemicals
  • Vegetable oils
  • Highly processed foods
  • Anything that is not recognizable in the ingredients or you can’t pronounce 

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: 

  1. Quality foods are higher in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which will subsequently boost your immune system and keep you looking younger, warding off illness and signs of aging. 
  2. Such foods have higher amounts of fiber, which will keep you fuller and more satisfied for longer, and help keep you more regular digestively. 
  3. They reduce your risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. You’ll have better and more stable blood glucose levels (preventing you from crashing and then potentially binging throughout the day). And the increased antioxidants help your body combat cancer cells and the like. 
  4. They prevent the loss (or support the gain of) of muscle mass, can promote more fat loss, and can improve physical performance. Many people experience weight loss as they eliminate unnecessary sugars and refined carbohydrates in favor of more nutrient-dense foods. 
  5. They have fewer preservatives, chemicals, and other additives, which will help keep you energized, more focused, mentally clear, and improve productivity. 
  6. Micronutrients help you keep your hormones in a healthy balance.

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! 

 

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