This week, there was a study that I came across in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association). Essentially, this study focused on encouraging individuals to consume more whole foods instead of processed foods without necessarily focusing on calorie counts to lose weight. If you’d like an excellent summary of the study, the New York Times did a write-up that can be found here.
This post is not a study summary or to debate the study itself. However, there are a few points that I would like mention within the study that I feel should be examined carefully.
First and foremost, the headline at the New York Times might imply that calories don’t matter. As such, I want to point out an important detail in this study that tends to be glossed over. Both groups who were encouraged to eat more whole foods actually consumed fewer calories overall during the course of the study. Remember, even if you’re consuming the healthiest diet in the world, if you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning, you are going to gain weight. Thus, that title might be a little misleading.
The other minor point to this study is weight lost. Over the course of a year, the individuals on the low-carb, whole food diet lost thirteen pounds while the individuals on the low-fat, whole food diet lost eleven pounds. While this is a definite improvement over gaining weight, I meet very few people in my practice who would be satisfied with a ten to thirteen pound weight loss over one year.
The study also spent eight million dollars to validate what the Obesity Medical Association has been preaching for years.
All that being said, the study does prove an excellent point about the necessity of consuming whole foods for your health. Consumption of whole foods decreases your intake of processed foods, decreases your sugar intake and gives you more control over your carbohydrate consumption among a host of other benefits.
Now, as I tell my patients, there are no “bad” foods. It’s the context you’re consuming the food in. If you’re stuck in a natural disaster, a pack of Twinkies or a Snickers bar might save your life. They have a long shelf life and are very calorie dense. They’re great to keep you from starving to death.
However, if you’re trying to lose weight and improve your health and longevity, those options are definitely not going to be your best choices.
So assuming that we are focusing on improving our health, we need to look to consuming non-processed whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Here, the focus is minimizing the processing that is involved in the food you’re consuming. An apple is completely unprocessed and unrefined. Natural, unsweetened applesauce is moderately processed whereas Applejacks cereal is a highly processed food that contains dried apples and apple juice concentrate. See the picture?
Now, I thought I would change up this week’s article and include a short worksheet. This worksheet will get started on thinking about whole foods that you can add (or consume more often) to your diet. This worksheet consists of both questions to assess your current preferences for certain whole foods as well as options and suggestions to get you started with consuming more whole foods on a regular basis. I don’t want you to think of the example foods mentioned here as an exhaustive list, but rather as places to begin. As long as you have checked the nutritional value of a certain fruit, vegetable or protein source to ensure it is appropriate for your calorie and macronutrient needs, weighed and measured it appropriately, feel free to experiment.
WHOLE FOODS WORKSHEET
What are your 3-5 top favorite fruits?
How often do you eat fruit per week?
Out of the following low-calorie fruits, which ones would you like to try to consume more of? (If these are already some of your favorite fruits, congratulations!)
What are your top 3-5 favorite vegetables (If you can’t say that you have a “favorite” vegetable, list vegetables that you like or tolerate well.)
How often do you consume vegetables on an average week?
Which of the following vegetables would you be interested in trying or consuming more of?
- Turnip greens
- Green Beans
- Brussel Sprouts
- Butternut Squash
- Bell Peppers
- Turnip Roots
Rank the following starch sources in order of personal preference.
Important Note: Starch sources, unfortunately, do have a negative impact on blood sugar levels and are best kept to an absolute minimum, despite some sources indicating that they are “whole foods.” But keep your ranking in mind. If you are ever caught in a situation that you cannot avoid starch sources, aim for the starch sources that you are least partial to. This will allow you to rely less on your willpower to avoid the “temptations” of overeating a more appealing starch source.
Meat and Protein Sources
What are your favorite kinds of meat or protein sources?
Out of the following lean/lower calorie cuts of meat, which ones would you be willing to try to consume more of?
- Pork Tenderloin
- Skirt Steak/Flank Steak
- Fish (tuna, salmon, mahi-mahi are all great places to start)
- Shellfish (Caution: in supermarket shellfish, always double-check sodium content. Often shellfish are brined to extend shelf life which can lead to a high sodium content. If you are lucky enough to live near a body of water, try to obtain fresh shellfish wherever possible)
Also remember that vegetarian protein sources can be excellent additions as long as their amino acid composition is complete and fills your personal macronutrient requirements. There are very few downsides to these types of protein sources.
The following foods, in comparison to others, are more calorie dense. However, if measured and/or weighed carefully, they can certainly be a part of a healthy diet:
- Olive Oil
- Hard cheeses (not processed cheese products like Cheese Whiz or American cheese slices)
- Greek yogurt
- Milk (We prefer Fairlife brand as their milk is ultra-filtered to concentrate protein content and decrease carbohydrate content)
- Whole, old fashioned oatmeal with no sugar added
- Low sugar, natural nut butters
- Nuts (almonds and pistachios will be your lowest calorie options here)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Quinoa and other whole grains
If you are looking to expand your diet of whole foods outside of fruits and vegetables, these options might be a good place to start. If you are already consuming some of these foods, simply be sure that you are weighing and measuring them appropriately.
Your assignment for this week is to complete your worksheet. After completing the worksheet, visit your local supermarket, grocery store or farmer’s market. Take some time to really familiarize yourself with the produce section. You never know what you might discover that you like.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Even with as long as my family has been playing around with produce, we’re constantly discovering new things to try. If you’re skeptical of a certain fruit or vegetable, snap a picture of it and search it on the Internet once you’re home. Check the nutritional value, then dive into ways to prepare it. Often you can find great ideas and substitutes like this. And remember–have fun with it!