As a nutritionist in NYC, I am a firm believer that in order to lose weight, you need to cut back on your caloric intake. But just abiding to the “calories in, calories out” train of thought can lead to not-so-healthy food choices. So this leads me to a question – when it comes to weight loss, does it really matter what kind of food you are choosing as long as you stick to your calorie goal? Of course we all know that natural foods are much healthier than processed. But are all calories created equal? Read on to get the low down on how food is handled in the body.
The Twinkie diet worked … right?
Compare a processed food such as baked chips to a portion of nuts (or any other natural food). If they both have 160 calories, does it really matter which one you choose if you are trying to lose weight by counting calories? Perhaps not. Last year, a professor at Kansas State University made the news by losing 27 pounds on the Twinkie Diet (if I had to follow that diet, I would have chosen Funny Bones!). He basically ate 1800 calories a day consisting of Twinkies, Little Debbies and other junky snacks … and still lost weight. That is because he was consuming fewer calories than the 2800 calories that his body needed to maintain weight. So does this mean that you can lose weight by eating junk food and processed foods … maybe, but maybe not!
Not so fast
Before you put your local fast food restaurant on speed dial, consider this “food for thought.” When we eat, our bodies have to digest the food. This act of eating and digesting the food actually burns calories and is called the thermodynamic effect of food. It is comprises about 10% of our metabolism. It takes less energy to digest carbs or fat as compared to protein. But guess what foods are really easy to digest and burn minimal calories in the process? Processed food! A recent study compared the following 2 meals: a sandwich on whole grain bread with real cheese compared to a sandwich on white bread with processed cheese. The results showed that 50% fewer calories were burned when digesting processed foods versus natural foods. This can really add up if your diet includes a lot of processed foods. Voila – easy fat storage!
In my experience
I see how processed foods affect my clients. Number one, processed foods tend to make you hungry quicker due to the rapid rise and fall of blood sugar. I have also seen diets high in processed foods impede weight loss. For example, I had a client who was on a low calorie diet, but was depending on energy bars for 1-2 meals a day as well as other processed foods for snacks during the day. Once we changed her meals to more natural foods (i.e. salad with lean protein), she felt better and was able to start losing weight.
Americans eat too much! Our calorie intake has increased by 523 calories in the 28 years. In addition to eating too many calories, we are also eating too many processed foods. Of course as a nutritionist, my major concerns with these processed foods is the lack of overall nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and disease fighting phytochemicals as well as excessive amounts of sodium, sugar and perhaps trans fats. Processed foods can increase risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. And now newer research is showing that processed foods may be affecting your weight. So choose natural foods as often as you can and save the processed food for an occasional treat!
For more weight loss tips and nutriton info, check out my nutrition blog City Girl Bites