Instead of focusing on cutting calories, eat less processed foods

By MISSY CORRIGAN
Posted 8/9/18

"You are what you eat. You are when you eat. Eat this one food every day. Never eat this particular food again." Most of us hear this from experts on social media giving tips to help lose weight or prevent weight gain. While we may focus on making …

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Instead of focusing on cutting calories, eat less processed foods

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"You are what you eat. You are when you eat. Eat this one food every day. Never eat this particular food again." Most of us hear this from experts on social media giving tips to help lose weight or prevent weight gain. While we may focus on making one change, there is actually a combination of factors that have influenced the obesity epidemic including how much we eat, what we eat and whether we are active. However, researchers are focusing their efforts on the quality of our food having the greatest impact on our waistline and the scale.

Calories in our food supply have risen by as much as 800 calories per person per day since the 1980s, which means we may be consuming an extra 300 calories a day than we did nearly 40 years ago. As the calories in our foods started to go up, so did the rate of obesity. Since then, researchers, dietitians and scientists have been trying to identify the specific issue. Is it the consumption of carbohydrates or fats that lead to weight gain? Or is it the ultra-processed foods that fill our grocery store aisles?

We eat out more, have less control over what is in the foods we are eating and have easy, convenient foods right at our fingertips that are not necessarily healthy. Food companies want consumers to buy their products, so they use ingredients such as salt, sugar, fat and additives to improve the taste of their foods. Over the decades, we have been introduced to more refined foods including cereal bars, chips and different types of sodas. Researchers theorize that it is the effects of consuming an ultra-processed diet that has led to the obesity epidemic.

A typical processed diet looks like this: breakfast - pancakes with syrup, sausage, juice; lunch - ham sandwich with cheese on white bread, potato chips, soda; dinner - cheeseburger, French fries, sweet tea; snack - ice cream. Average intake for this is 2,860 calories, 5,912 milligrams of sodium, 435 grams of carbohydrates, 261 grams of sugar, 87 grams of protein and 105 grams of fat.

In comparison, an unprocessed diet looks like this: breakfast - eggs, oatmeal with blueberries and almonds; lunch - grilled chicken, sweet potato, small salad, apple; dinner - beef tender roast, couscous, roasted vegetables; snack - raw veggies and hummus. Average intake for this is 1,640 calories, 1,378 milligrams of sodium, 205 grams of carbohydrates, 53 grams of sugar, 97 grams of protein and 50 grams of fat.

With the increased production of soybeans and corn in the '70s and '80s, the price of them went down, making it easy for food companies to make convenient yet inexpensive processed foods. These processed foods contain more carbohydrates and fats in them than unprocessed foods, automatically increasing daily intake of these nutrients and their calories. Rather than focusing on reducing calories, challenge yourself to eat less processed foods and consume more natural foods that can support better health and even weight loss.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.