So which is it?
It depends on your goal. If your goal relates to body weight and adjustments in that, ie losing weight or gaining weight, then your main focus needs to be the quantity of your food. No matter how high quality your food is, in terms of nutrients, no matter if you ate only chicken breasts, potatoes, vegetables, pasta, lean meats, fruits and veggies, if you overate your calories for a given day, week, month or year. Because, if you overeat calories, you will gain bodyweight.
If you don’t eat fewer calories than you burn, then you will not succeed in losing body weight over a period of time. Now, because this is specifically for bodyweight, this doesn’t necessarily correlate over to health that much. With regards to being a healthy human being, having a balanced nutritional intake is important.
Making sure that you eat plenty of vitamins and minerals, plenty of protein, plenty of variety of fibre and fats, is going to be an important thing in order for you to maintain good health. You could be a thin human being because you are managing your calories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a fit and healthy, vibrant human being.
We also need to note that our quality of food can directly affect our quantity. Eating more junk food, for example, foods that are high in trans fats, like fast food, packaged foods, processed foods in particular foods that are high in fat and high in sugar, these foods are very high calorie. They are not full of nutrients, not like chicken, other lean meats, fruits and vegetables, they are not completely void of them but they tend to be low in useful nutrients and are very easily overeaten.
Our brain actually wants more of them, as explained in the book ‘The Hungry Brain’ by Dr Stephen Guyenet, he has been a guest on my podcast, so please go and have a listen if you’re interested in the science around this. Our brain gets a much bigger dopamine response from eating high-calorie foods, because our brains are wired for survival and calories are needed for survival.
What this means is that we get a response to a reward mechanism when we eat high-calorie foods, which reinforces the behaviour of eating them. We seek these foods out more readily. They’re readily available all the time. We get inundated by advertisements for them all the time. They tend to be lower in cost, they’re very delicious, very tasty, they make us feel good. That means that they’re easier to overeat and our body seeks more of them.
If more of our diet consists of high-calorie foods, and this has been proven in research over and over again, then we are more likely to overeat, which is going to directly affect our calorie intake and make it harder not only to lose weight but harder to maintain body weight as well.
So I’m not saying that we need to get rid of all of these foods completely. I’m a big advocate of the 80/20 rule in regards to nutrient-dense, high-quality foods versus nutrient lower junk foods. In this way, you’re still able to get plenty of these foods within your diet to satisfy your desires, your cravings, your needs, but your diet is mostly comprised of nutrient-dense foods like meats, nuts, fish, fruits, vegetables and fibrous whole-grain carbohydrates.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the key to finding the best balance between the quality of your food and the overall quantity of your food.