With the turn of the New Year, many of you may be reading up on the latest weight loss trends, which run the gamut from super low calorie diets and part-time fasting to the confusing battle between paleo and vegan eating plans.
In response to passing fads, for many years, health professionals have maintained that weight loss is a simple equation of calories in versus calories out but recent research is clouding that notion.
Quite surprisingly, the biggest blow to the calorie counting camp is that we may not fully understand the real caloric value of the foods we eat. A food’s calorie content is determined by something called a bomb calorimeter, where foods are burnt up to measure the energy (calories) released.
The assumption here is that a human body harnesses the energy from foods just as completely, which may not be true. While highly processed food such as juice or pastries might be very digestible, whole foods may offer the body a bigger challenge. Research done on almonds found that because of the difficulty (that’s a good thing!) digesting plant foods, their real calorie content is actually 32% lower than the lab values indicate.
In addition, several factors determine our body’s energy (calorie) needs from day to day. Our activity levels are always changing, making it hard to estimate our exact needs. Our genetics, our current metabolic state and even the type of foods we choose to eat influence hunger and our ability to store or release energy. What’s more, the type of bacteria we have living in our gut may be influencing our appetite and our ability to retrieve calories from our food more than we ever expected. So playing the numbers game is tough.
A more realistic path to a healthy weight? Instead of living with a calculator in your pocket, fill up on plant foods. Eating whole plant foods – fruits (not juice), vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains – helps you manage your weight in a few ways.
1. Plant foods feed the growth of beneficial bacteria that may be associated with lower weights.
2. Plant foods help lower inflammation, which contributes to insulin resistance and weight gain both through boosting beneficial bacteria and the anti-inflammatory phytochemicals they contain.
3. Plant foods help fill you up because of their fibre and water content. In fact, filling your plate 50% with fruits and vegetables at every meal is a surefire way to reach a healthy weight.
4. Unprocessed, high fibre carbohydrates such as beans and vegetables help keep your blood sugars stable, limiting blood sugar crashes that spike hunger and cravings.
This year, focus not on the calorie content but the type of foods you are eating. Snack on raw nuts and fruit instead of 100 calorie snack packs. Double the volume of vegetables in a recipe to fill you up, not out. Swap half the meat in a recipe for beans to providing filling fibre. The more you fill your plate with plant foods, the more you can eat to appetite while fostering stable blood sugars and a healthier gut flora.