Opening Thoughts on Food Quality
Finding high quality food nowadays is like trying to find where Waldo is, except everyone around Waldo is offering you 1,000 bucks to just stop looking. In other words it’s hard…very hard. But ultimately, just like everything else it comes down to choices.
Recently I have been thinking about everything involved in making the choice to consume high quality foods, as opposed to standard American fare, on a consistent basis.
In Part 1 of this series I urged you all to just become aware of what you are eating and how your body responds to your current diet. If you don’t want to go back and read another article here is the most important paragraph of the preceding piece:
“All I want you to do is pay attention to how you feel before and after you eat. Become aware. The benefits to this practice are twofold. First, understanding how your body reacts to the presence or lack of certain stimuli like food, exercise, sleep, or caffeine is valuable in its own right. You can’t expect to change your body if you don’t know your body. Second, understanding where you are at currently will establish a baseline from which you can judge the success or failure of change that you make. Scientific studies need control groups and because you can’t just rope in your buddies for a double blind, placebo-controlled study, you need to be your own control group.”
With that in mind, let’s get to the good stuff (some information to help/convince you to change your diet to achieve the health and physique goals you want).
Caloric and Nutrient Density: Get more volume and nutrients per calorie
I’m going to go out on a limb and say everyone likes to eat more rather than less. So how can you still consume the volume of food you desire, but limit the nutritional damage that large quantities of food tend to bring? The key is to manipulate caloric density in your favor.
If you are not familiar with caloric density, it is defined by the amount of calories provided per unit of food. Here is an example of two breakfasts with similar caloric values, but vastly different caloric densities and therefore different total volumes of food. (High caloric density = Less food per calorie, Low Caloric Density = More food per calorie)
Breakfast A: 410 calories – 12g fat – 74g carbs – 6g protein
Breakfast B: 410 calories – 16g fat – 46g carbs – 13g protein
What’s behind each set of macronutrients?
Breakfast A: 1 pack of two Pop-Tart pastries
Breakfast B: 2 large eggs, 1 cup of oatmeal (cooked), 1 cup of blueberries, and 2 tbsp Half & Half (…for your coffee of course. Who uses milk anymore?)
If your gut reaction is to still choose the Pop-Tarts you are lying to me, but more importantly you are lying to yourself and your insulin sensitivity, which is going to leave you.
In all seriousness, I feel like there is some primal urge to consume “larger” quantities of food, and hopefully maximizing caloric density seems like both an easier strategy to improve nutrition as well as a welcomed side effect of cleaning up diet.
A less noticeable, yet equally important benefit of improving quality of your diet, especially if you chose to maximize caloric density, is augmenting nutrient density. This topic is typically roped into the discussion of the effects of whole food (less processed) vs. (more) processed food intake.
The great nutrition minds at Precision Nutrition reviewed a study analyzing the effects of calorie intake derived from whole sources vs. processed sources.
Here’s the study:
Barr SB and Wright JC.Postprandial energy expenditure in whole-food and processed-food meals: implications for daily energy expenditure. Food Nutr Res. 2010 Jul 2;54. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v54i0.5144.
The reviewers concluded that it is possible to lose weight while consuming processed foods, but that same weight loss can be achieved while eating greater quantities of less processed foods.
“As Dr. Mark Haub showed, you can lose weight eating processed junk food. But he could have eaten a lot more whole food (that had important nutrients) and lost the same amount of weight.”
If you are keeping score at home, that is a win for higher quality foods, with the assist going to caloric density and nutrient density.
Still skeptical about being able to enjoy your cleaner diet? Do you see images of boiled chicken breasts and steamed broccoli in your nightmares? Fear not and continue reading.
It Gets Better: Training Your Palate
The palate you are born with is fortunately not the palate you die with. Your taste preference (or tolerance) can be trained.
Most of us have witnessed the phenomenon of palate in maturing children suddenly, or not so suddenly. One day all out war is declared against that which is green and fibrous on the plate, the next day a peace treaty is drawn up and both parties begin working on a solution. Soon enough vegetables become a trusty satiating ally, part of every meal. (Did that analogy go on too long?)
I was never a big produce consumer, but now, you would be hard pressed to find a fruit or vegetable that I don’t like, except eggplant. And no, eggplant parmesan doesn’t count as a vegetable.
To give you a more realistic demonstration of palate evolution Yoni Freedhoff of weightymatters.ca embarked on an experiment to retrain his palate to enjoy, or at very least, bear the taste of coffee. In the end it took him about 60 cups (or 1,800 sips as he estimates) to accomplish his palate adaptation.
He goes on to emphasize the importance of training children’s palates to appreciate the many flavors, bold and subtle, of more natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and meats that aren’t chicken nuggets.
Though the palate of a kid is more trainable that that of an adult, hold out hope as you sit down to your next clean meal that your bowl of berries will soon taste like skittles. Don’t take my word for it, though. Here is an awesome quote from Andy Belatti, a knowledgeable and rational nutritionist putting out fantastic content on his website smallbites.andybellatti.com.
“Allow taste buds to reprogram and recover from a constant barrage of chemicals and you’ll be surprised, for instance, at the slightly sweet taste of raw almonds, or just how extremely sweet a ripe banana can be.”
Phasing Out and Replacing
Feeling overwhelmed? Wondering where to start or how you can start?
One thing at a time.
When it comes to changing the way you eat, you are affecting lifestyle. That is a delicate thing to mess with. Drastic changes will usually lead to equally drastic failures.
My advice is to first, identify one thing you currently consume which you know isn’t good for you. It might be your late night ice cream, your morning bowl of lucky charms, or your mid afternoon Twix bar. In case you were wondering, there is no debate about the place a Twix bar has in a nutrition plan, and no we can’t take a minute to chew it over with a Twix.
Take that vice food and find a less calorically dense and more nutrient dense food to replace it with. Instead of ice cream have some Greek yogurt with almond butter mixed in. Switch the lucky charms for some oatmeal and blueberries. Swap a Twix for some cashews, because cashews might just be nature’s candy.
Once you are comfortable with the recent switch-a-roo, move onto the next vice. Repeat the process until you, or your trainer/nutritionist are happy with the quality of your food intake. Stop the process if you are feeling like a hippy.
Leading by Example
No one wants to be a dietary pariah. Forgoing indulgence when surrounded by other human beings is a challenge. If you cannot verbally sway your peers to join you in your nutritional reform, it’s okay. Your actions will speak louder than your words.
For example, my family unit was once a candy buying, burger eating, and soda guzzling machine. I was included in that mess. Every weekend our shopping cart would have at least 10 two-liter bottles of soda, Jimmy Dean breakfast sausages, and bags upon bags of M&M’s.
Then came a time when I, and only I, decided not to partake in the slow dietary suicide taking place every day in our house. I asked for vegetables. I ceased my M&M consumptions and refrained from sipping on the bubbly (soda has bubbles too).
My dad, my sister, and mom continued with their usual habits. My logical reasons for cleaning up my diet, when verbalized to the other members of my family, never sunk in.
Fast-forward 3 or 4 years of consistent healthy eating, and our shopping cart now consists of meat, vegetables, eggs, fruit, and some dairy. Literally. That’s it. The switch didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen because I yelled or screamed. It happened because they saw the changes in my life that have happened partly because of my attention to nutrition and my overall awareness of healthy practices.
If you decide to change the quality of food you are eating the first few steps might be taken alone, but persevere, watch your support grow, and hopefully watch the quality of your life improve little by little.
Training the palette: http://www.weightymatters.ca/2011/08/are-you-setting-your-kids-up-for.html
Whole Food vs. Process Food: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/digesting-whole-vs-processed-foods