Why is quality more important than quantity when it comes to your eating habits?

When it comes to managing your weight, we all know there is a link between calories and weight, and most of us accept that there is a mathematical formula of ‘calories in vs calories out.’

Theoretically though, this would mean that you could consume a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and still maintain the same weight as you would if you ate the same number of calories from lean proteins, healthy green vegetables and healthy fats. However, all calories, are not created equally and the quality of calories is as important, if not more so, than the quantity.

Aside from the obvious health benefits of eating in line with the second option, such as greater vitamin and mineral consumption and a better general quality of food, there are other factors at play that make this mathematical equation a little more complicated.

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While it’s true that ‘a calorie is a calorie’, researchers in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health have demonstrated that quality is just as important as quantity when it comes to your weight. [1]

The study was conducted over two decades and followed more than 120,000 healthy men and women. Results showed that it wasn’t just the number of calories, but the quality of calories consumed, that led to weight changes. Calories from processed foods higher in starches, fats, refined grains and sugars were more responsible for weight gain than calories obtained from other sources. Furthermore, there were a group of foods that were actually associated with having a balanced diet; vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yoghurts.

The findings demonstrate the importance of making wise choices when it comes to the quality of food consumed.

The role of genetics and lifestyle

Both your genetic makeup and the environment around you can influence how many of the calories you consume and use as energy, and how many are stored. Your physiology affects how quickly you can burn calories and your resting energy expenditure, as does the combination of foods you eat. These factors are determined in your genes from the moment of conception and will continue throughout your life. Harvard Medical School states that there are more than 400 different genes associated with the causes of weight gain. [2] These genes play various roles from increasing appetite to determining metabolism and controlling, or causing, food cravings.

While genetics are the internal factors causing changes to your body, environmental influences are the external factors – stress levels and habits such as watching television rather than exercising all play a role in leading a healthy lifestyle. Even sleep assists in maintaining a healthy weight; too little sleep disrupts the hormones that keep hunger and appetite under control.

Ultimately, there is a strong link between the quality of the food you eat when managing your weight. Although watching the number of calories you consume is a good way to ensure you maintain a healthy weight, the importance of food quality cannot be overstated. A healthy diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, nuts, healthy fats and lean protein is going to put your body in a far more effective state to manage your weight.

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