Paleo, keto, intermittent fasting, and IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) are common examples of how people describe a “healthy diet”. Sure, these types of diets have a reputation for helping people achieve incredible results, but what many people don’t realize is that these types of “diets” aren’t diets at all. I would actually consider them dieting styles because there’s one hugely important factor they’re lacking—food quality. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, don’t worry—In this article, I’m revealing everything you need to know about food quality so you can make your diet preference work for you, not against you.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why is food quality important in your diet?
- What determines good and bad food quality?
- Benefits of incorporating high-quality foods into your diet
- Tips for choosing the best quality foods for your diet
WHY IS FOOD QUALITY IMPORTANT?
The quality of the food we eat is largely responsible for the quality of how we go about our day-to-day lives. What do I mean by this? Well, think of the food we eat the same way we use gasoline to fuel a car. Cars require certain types of fuel in order for it to run properly. Large trucks may require diesel fuel while luxury sedans and small hybrids need premium or unleaded. You wouldn’t put diesel fuel into a Toyota Prius would you? No way! And do you think a Ford F-250 would make it down the highway hauling a trailer if you forgot to change the oil or filled it with unleaded? Think again! Your body needs food and exercise to function properly the same way your car needs the right fuel and maintenance. Sure, you can stuff it with chips, pizza, and cookies and see results as long as it fits your “macros” (more on this later), but you won’t see the performance or aesthetic results you’re hoping for. In short, food quality is important if you want to see optimal results.
GOOD QUALITY VS. BAD QUALITY FOOD
By now, you may be wondering what determines good quality food from bad quality food. It all comes down to two things—calories and nutrient density.
- Calories—Calories are still the biggest determining factor for body composition and performance. A calorie is actually a unit of energy and they’re found in the foods and drinks that we eat. They provide our bodies with the energy we need to not only go about our day-to-day lives, but also fuels us for high-level activities, like running, swimming, hiking, and weight lifting. Calories are made up of three macronutrients, carbohydrates, fat, and protein, and each contain a certain number of calories per gram that contribute to your total caloric intake.
- Nutrient Density—Nutrient density, on the other hand, identifies the amount of beneficial micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in a food in proportion to it’s calories. Foods that are nutrient-dense are typically low in calories but offer a high amount of micronutrients.
So how do these relate to food quality? Well, calories refer to the quantity of food we eat whereas nutrient density refers to the quality. Good-quality foods give you the vitamins and minerals your body needs to not only function, but thrive, while minimizing your calories and keeping your appetite at bay. This inevitably leads to better results. But, it’s important to remember the quantity AND quality are both part of the nutrition continuum.
BENEFITS OF HIGH-QUALITY FOODS
Below are a few possible benefits you can expect when you include high-quality foods into your diet:
- Gives your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive, not just function
- Improves digestion and nutrient absorption
- Reduces inflammation
- Improves hormone balance
- Improves energy levels and mood
- Increases physical performance
- Improves rest and sleep quality
TIPS FOR CHOOSING HIGH-QUALITY FOODS
So, how can you go about choosing quality foods along with quantity? Here are a few tips to help you prioritize food quality when you’re at the grocery store.
- Shop the perimeter—The simplest route to take is to shop around the outer aisles of the grocery store. This is where you’ll find fresh produce like fruits, veggies, and protein (AKA nutrient-dense foods) so load up on this stuff! Also, there’s no harm in grabbing some frozen fruits and veggies when needed. Just make sure to grab some that don’t contain additional ingredients. Keep in mind that your food choices don’t necessarily have to be organic in order to be ‘clean’ or healthy but you may want to check out the Dirty 12 and Clean15 lists if you’re curious which foods are most susceptible to pesticides.
- Look for short ingredient lists—If you’re grabbing convenient, packaged foods, be sure to look for those with single-item ingredient lists or ingredient lists that are as short as possible. And, if at all possible, avoid anything that has an ingredient list that’s a mile ling with a bunch of words ya can’t pronounce. Just say no! I typically steer clear of palm, canola, and other pro-inflammatory vegetable oils, corn syrup, cane sugars, gums, and most artificial sweeteners.
- Invest in quality animal products—In my opinion, animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs are worth spending a little extra money for grass-fed, cage-free, antibiotic-free, wild-caught, and free-range. If you’re like me, you’ll likely notice a distinct difference in texture and taste in many of these higher-quality animal products. Remember that when you ingest these animal products, you’re also ingesting what they’ve
- Assess your pantry—Sometimes, in order to start eating higher-quality foods you need to audit your current eating habits. Start by taking a look through your cupboards and fridge to see where your food quality is. A rule of thumb: 80-90% of the time, fill your meals with the non-processed or single-ingredient foods and the other 10-20% add in some of the less nutrient-dense foods.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON FOOD QUALITY
It’s important to remember that quantity and quality are equally important to the nutrition continuum and a healthy diet. Prioritizing food quality can make a substantial difference in your life, but I understand how intimidating nutrition can be for a lot of people. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Grown Strong’s founder, Lauren Fisher, to create the Grown Strong Nutrition Guide. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to start eating with confidence. We explain the three “pillars” of finding success with proper nutrition, how to calculate your calories based on your body composition and goals, and we do a deep dive to understand how you can use the three macronutrients (carbs, fats, and proteins) to reach your desired goal. As an added bonus, we’ve even included 20 incredibly delicious and easy nutrient-dense, high-protein recipes to help you start prioritizing food quality to reach your goals. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be overly-complicated or unenjoyable anymore… Download the Grown Strong Nutrition Guide and learn how you can make healthy eating a part of your daily routine, finally reach your goals, and feel better than ever!