Is this a “good” food?
Is this a “bad” food?
Can I eat that?
Are carbs bad?
Is that “healthy”?
Have you ever asked yourself or said these things aloud?
In this blog we will be breaking down our nutritional hierarchy looking at whole foods, our philosophy around food, and how we are team #nobadfoods.
So often we get asked.. “what should I eat”?!
If you’ve ever seen the notebook, and remember Noah yelling “what do you want” and Allie replying adamantly “it’s not that simple” and think to yourself “YES! That is me when I am trying to decide what I should eat”…
Because, truthfully, when you focus on a few key things… It really is simple!
We recommend MOST of your foods be comprised of WHOLE FOODS.
Check out this handy list of whole food examples:
It is known that humans are healthier when they consume more whole foods and fewer refined, processed ones (3,1)
This is probably because the greater the degree of processing, the higher the likelihood that a food:
- Has lost nutritional value, such as fiber, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and zoonutrients (3).
- Has gained additives, preservatives, fillers, sugar, sodium, unhealthy fats, and/or refined starch (3). These additives are incredibly inflammatory to our bodies, and may contribute to metabolic diseases and alterations in our microbiome (4).
Here is an image that shows you the varying degrees of processing that a food can undergo, this may further help you understand what a TRUE whole food is:
Let’s look at the potato: all three of these are potatoes, yet due to the processing and manufacturing of the potatoes, the plain baked potato contains more micronutrients and fiber than the highly processed tater tots. In addition to the difference in nutrient content, the calories in each option is quite different.
Which option do you think you are more likely to overeat?
A few things that may contribute to over-eating when looking at this comparison:
> Flavour Profile- Manufacturers…. We are on to you!!
– If your taste buds are going wild, chances are 2 of these three things are involved: sugar, salt, or fat. When looking at a plain baked potato, none of these are present. Yet, when we process into a tater tot, we have added a ton of salt and fat (often highly inflammatory fats) (3). Because of this, this food has become what is called “hyperpalatable”(3).
– Hyperpalatable foods are designed by the food industry to make us overeat them! Isn’t that rude?! They target us by how they design these foods, aiming for what they call the “big 5”
– Foods that fulfill the “big 5” are (3):
- Calorie dense- usually high in sugar and/or fat.
- Intensely flavored—the food must deliver strong flavor hits.
- Immediately delicious- think “love-at-first taste” experience.
- Easy to eat—no effortful chewing needed!
- “Melted” down easily—the food almost dissolves in your mouth, thus easy to eat quickly and overconsume.
> Convenient/Easy to Eat- North America is all about that “grab and go” after all…
o Which takes more effort to eat… a baked potato, or tater tots? A baked potato requires a knife, a fork, and often is associated with a sit-down meal. Tater tots on the other hand are designed to be eaten by the handful, making them an easier option to mindlessly consume.
o Highly processed foods are often cheaper (3). Why is this? Remember, highly processed foods are FULL of fillers and additives to increase shelf life and make them highly cravable. Artificial flavouring agents are cheap and won’t change the texture of an item (3), thus making these often the cheaper option… hello Dollar menu burgers!
>Low Volume- Highly processed foods don’t take up much physical space.
– Refer to the baked potato/tater tot image, the same number of calories from tater tots is less volume than a baked potato of equivalent calories would be.
So why does this matter?
Why should we focus on making the majority of our food choices whole, minimally processed foods? (Hint, more on why we use the word MAJORITY later… #nobadfoods).
As depicted above, highly processed foods lead to overconsumption of calories. As we discussed in our energy balance blog (checkout here!) a surplus of calories will lead to weight gain, while a reduction in calories will lead to weight loss. Being overweight/obese is linked to a variety of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal injury, cancer, and liver disease (1). In addition, being overweight is associated with a decreased quality of life (1,3,4), and at YQL we are all about IMPROVING quality of life.
So now that we know some of the downsides of highly processed foods… what are the benefits of minimally processed foods?
Minimally-processed whole foods are also often rich in fiber and protein—two nutrients that help increase satiety (3)! If you want to learn more about the benefits of fiber and protein, checkout our macronutrient blog HERE. Because they are highly satiating and help prevent overeating they naturally reduce calorie intake!
Did you know satiety can be measured?
Checkout this image depicting which foods are most satiating (2)!
What did you notice from looking at this image?
High volume whole foods such as potatoes, popcorn, fruit and protein sources (like fish, steak, etc) ranked incredibly high on the satiety index in comparison to processed foods like white bread, cake, or croissants. Being satiated means we are SATISFIED… why wouldn’t we want to choose foods that satisfy us?!
Now… we know there can be some confusion about well-known “health” foods such as rice cakes, beef jerky, and nut butters… the takeaway message is to determine whether the particular food in question is MADE up of whole food ingredients. This is where READING the ingredient labels become particularly helpful. In the image below, the “Nutritious Convenient foods” are made of nutritious ingredients but are packaged for our convenience, this would fit the 80% whole foods criteria.
A special note on fruits and veggies…
Among the variety of whole foods, fruits and veggies deserve special mention because they have many health-promoting qualities, such as being rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients (3,4,5). We have just begun to brush the surface into research on the many benefits of fruits and vegetables, but what we do know is that these foods can help prevent health problems such as diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure (3,4,5)!
So we now know how important fruits and vegetables are… so for all of you who are thinking “my greens supplement counts right?”.
When it comes to the supplements, they are exactly that- meant to SUPPLEMENT our diet. Always think “whole foods first” then add in supplementation where needed. A greens powder does not offer the other benefits that WHOLE FOODS offers such as fiber, satiety, and the fact that whole foods do not undergo processing. This is NOT to say that green’s powders are not beneficial, there are times when they definitely can be (such as during a calorie deficit when micronutrient intake may be lower due to decreased calories). BUT, for the majority of the time… whole foods FIRST.
Ok, ok, ok.
We get it, whole foods are good.
Does this mean I should ONLY eat whole foods?
Not necessarily….. the key to approaching food choices is multi-faceted and is not as simple as “good” or “bad”; “on-limits” or “off limits”. Food is not something to be feared- we eat for many reasons:
For cultural traditions
Therefore, we advocate our food quality be approached as 80-90% whole foods for the many reasons listed above- increased health, better satisfaction with choices, optimal digestion with 10-20% “treat” foods that we enjoy in moderation (1,2,3,4,5).
When we make food choices, we want to examine the CONTEXT in which we are making them.
Are we having a delicious cupcake because it is our birthday and our loved ones made this for us? YUM!!!
Or are we stopping at the bakery on the way home from a stressful day of working and turning to processed foods to make us feel good and cope with our emotions? Hmmm… maybe a walk or calling a friend to chat about the stressful day would have been a better option.
How eating whole foods aligns with intuitive eating…
One thing we work closely with our clients on during coaching is intuitive eating. At its core, the principles of Intuitive eating align with eating what makes your body feel its best. This includes both physically and psychologically. Would someone feel good in both of those domains (physically, psychologically) if they only ever ate plain baked potatoes, chicken and broccoli? Most likely not. Would they feel their absolute best and live their best life if they only ate birthday cake and oreos? Also no…
We strongly believe that in order to be successful in your intuitive eating journey, understanding what foods are made of (carbs, proteins, and fats) and how they nourish your body can be extremely beneficial. One tool to achieve this is tracking your food for a period of time to learn about your food choices, habits, and how your body FEELS when you eat a certain way.
Think of yourself as a scientist and be CURIOUS about your body. Through taking this approach, we can be more compassionate in analyzing our choices and approach them from a place of objectivity, rather than judgement.
It is through noticing these behaviours that you can create positive change in your life. For example, do you notice you turn to more highly palatable foods when you are stressed? Hmm… maybe we should evaluate coping skills!
Do you find you enjoy the convenience of highly processed foods…? Might be time to evaluate different meal prepping strategies that could work for you!
Think you have some behaviours in your life currently that are not serving you? Head over to our habits blog to see how you can change your behaviours for the better! The Power of Habits Blog
There are no “good” foods, there are no “bad” foods… fearing foods does not align with a healthy relationship with food. Rather, we should be educated on food, and through this education be empowered to choose foods that serve us and our goals and help us have the highest quality of life. By living life this way… we can achieve food freedom!
All the love,
Robyn and Megan.
- Abdelaal, M., le Roux, C. W., & Docherty, N. G. (2017). Morbidity and mortality associated with obesity. Annals of translational medicine, 5(7), 161. https://doi.org/10.21037/atm.2017.03.107
- Holt, S. H., Brand Miller, J. C., Petocz, P., & Farmakalidis, E. (1995). A satiety index of common foods. European journal of clinical nutrition, 49(9), 675-690.
- Maciel, R., Bowman, A. (2021) The 5 universal principles of good nutrition, according to science. Precision Nutrition. Retrieved from: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/principles-of-nutrition
- Thompson, H. J. (2020). It Is Really Simple: Foods and Human Health, The Whole Story. Nutrients, 12(7), 2102. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu12072102
- Wang X, Ouyang Y, Liu J, Zhu M, Zhao G, Bao W, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 2014 Jul 29;349:g4490.