While prosing the New York Times online this morning, I came across an article titled “Counting Calories? Your Weight-Loss Plan May Be Outdated.” Although the article did not necessarily talk about the drawbacks of calorie counting, it did provide further proof that the quality of food is an important factor in overall health.
Sure, the fact that consuming healthy food is linked to overall health is nothing new. But if we all accept that as a general truth, then why are so many people turning away from from fresh vegetables, vibrant fruits, and hearty grains in their whole form in favor of processed food touted as “low-“this and “low-” that with only this many calories. Nevermind the fact that marketing often stretches the truth (or has sketchy regulation) and that listed calorie counts are often wrong. And let’s just pretend the ingredient list on the back of that package in aisle 4 isn’t sending your head spinning from looking a lot more like a chemical formula than something to eat. But can you really deny that the instant you finish your first 100-calorie pack of a sorry excuse for cookies, you’ll already be digging into your next? (And no, it doesn’t usually stop there.) Surely you know they will do nothing to satiate your hunger and dissolve your cravings, much less provide you with the adequate nutrition you need to live your active and vibrant lifestyle. As you look at your favorite pair of jeans longingly, bowl of slimy Shirataki noodles in hand and grumbling tummy jolting you back to reality, you wonder, “Is there anything that will?”
As Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of this study said in an interview,“What you eat makes quite a difference. Just counting calories won’t matter much unless you look at the kinds of calories you’re eating.” The study goes on to cite the correlation between weight loss and the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In fact, “weight loss was greatest among people who ate more…nuts (source).” Turns out high-fat nuts (which, mind you, are high in quality vegetable fats) actually aid in weight-loss and -maintenance rather than weight-gain because of the satiety they bring. Basically, high fat food ≠ being fat. Huh.
Although I am not a medical professional, from my research and personal experience I fully support the implications of this study concerning the benefits of eating whole, real foods. I am not at all concerned with losing weight, but instead with gaining and retaining health.
I will stay fuller longer from a bowl of quinoa, veggies, and tofu rather than a frozen Lean Cuisine-esque meal. Likewise, a fresh, crunchy apple keeps my sweet tooth at bay whereas a 100-calorie pack of cookies just leaves me an with even bigger craving. And that’s just talking calories.*
There is virtually no comparison nutrient-wise. Unprocessed, fresh foods provide my body with everything from high-quality protein, fat, and fiber to calcium, iron, and vitamin A. (And as proof, I’ve even had my fair share of orange “glow” in my hands thanks to lots of Beta Carotein.) They supply me with the fuel I need to keep my body energized and support my active lifestyle. Sure, I could just take handfuls of vitamins and supplements a day without regard for my dietary choices, but that’s just not the same.** Getting nutrients directly from plant-based food insures the body’s ability to break it down efficiently while satiating hunger and providing other nutrients as an added bonus. Plus I would much rather enjoy a colorful vegetable stir-fry than gulp down pills. But that’s just me.
Although I tout the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet, I have not always lived my life according to that philosophy. My early years consisted of a diet rich in plain noodles, cheese pizza (I like this now), and chocolate. And who could forget those years of low-fat Pringles, boiled chicken, and 100-calorie packs galore (hence why I have a strong aversion for them now). Gag. Clearly I’ve had my far share of, um, interesting dietary choices. Therefore, I am not trying to judge anyone else’s choices or make them feel bad about certain products, habits, or inclinations. I do, however, want to help others live their best lives possible.
I’ve honestly never felt better or happier than I have since transitioning to a whole foods vegan diet (which also went hand-in-hand with my practice of yoga and search for overall wellness). Veganism is by no means the only route to live healthy though. I believe that making conscious healthy choices and eating real food will make a difference in the long run, vegan, vegetarian, or otherwise. Remember, no step is too small, and every moment is another chance to make a difference in your overall well being.
I also realize that most of my readers probably have a similar philosophy regarding food, so this post may be like preaching to the choir. Regardless, I wanted to share some of my views on the topic and hope that it will provoke something in you. Whether that be a memory, question, rebuttal, or simple reminder, I hope it will get your mind going and maybe even facilitate discussion.
Everyday I am humbly thankful for the immense happiness and health I now feel. It is my greatest wish that you will live happy and health lives, too. You deserve to persue your happiness; you cannot control others, but you can control how you react and what you do.
Have a lovely day!
*Calories are not a concern for me. Although I try to balance my diet and stay nutritionally well-rounded, I do not focus heavily on calorie-count (but do use it for a basis of comparison along with nutrient density). For those that it may concern, you can lose, gain, or maintain weight on a unprocessed, whole foods, plant-based diet. In fact, when I had a stress-related weight loss, I was eating a heavily-processed, meat-centered diet (much to my chagrin). Only when I switched to a plant-based diet was I able to gain the weight back while building by body back in a healthy, strong way. Currently I am maintaining my “happy weight.”
**Although it may sound like I am opposed to supplements and vitamins, that is not the case. I believe that getting nutrients from food is the best way to go but recognize that not everyone is able to do so. Vegans specifically have trouble getting Vitamin B-12 (other than in Dr. Mozaffarian
nutritional yeast), and oftentimes people on the run or in remote areas have trouble eating a varied diet. I Dr. Mozaffarian
take a raw vegan vitamin B-12 supplement and calcium. I also frequently use Vega’s Whole Food Optimizer (vanilla chai is my favorite flavor) as a protein-powder and nutrition booster. My doctor and I have discussed taking a multi-vitamin, but at this time, she does not think it is necessary.
***I am very excited about the new study’s release and its highlight through the mass media of the New York Times. I hope that this article will spread the word about the importance of quality food. However, I want to mention my disagreement with Dr. Mozaffarian’s assertion: “There are good foods and bad foods (source).” I do not like to look at foods as being “bad,” and tend to favor more of a “everything in moderation” mentality, especially when encouraging others to eat more healthily. Well, maybe not everything in moderation, but I certainly do not agree with assigning labels to food that would cause anxiety, guilt, or stress over food.