Total calories consumed is the most fundamental variable to be considered when striving to lose weight. Quite simply, you can’t lose weight unless you consume less calories than you burn. However, does it really matter where those calories come from? If you indulge in your favorite foods (ice cream & cookies, for example), but stay under your maintenance level in calories, will you still see weight loss?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. Mark Haub, a nutrition professor at Kansas State University, experimented on himself with what he called the “Twinkie diet.” Every three hours he ate a Twinkie (or other Hostess/Little Debbie snack), consumed one protein shake a day, and occasionally vegetables—all totaling no more than 1,800cal per day. (Although the bulk of his diet came from the junk food). The result: Haub lost 27 pounds in 8 weeks.
Strictly in terms of weight loss, all calories seem to be created equal.
However, there is more to this equation than weight loss alone. If all we’re after is the number on the scale to decrease, then this approach may work. On the other hand, if changes in body composition (ratio of lean body mass to body fat) is the goal, then the source of the calories begins to matter. Consuming more nutrient-dense foods can provide a number of benefits. For example, a diet higher in protein will help you preserve muscle tissue while losing body fat.1 As a result, you can become stronger, with a higher metabolism and less body fat, compared to losing both body fat and muscle tissue on a low-protein diet.
What are some other benefits to consuming nutrient-dense foods in place of junk foods to fulfill your daily caloric requirements?
More energy (less crashes)
The notion that a “calorie is just a calorie” can be beneficial when it comes to learning how to incorporate your favorite foods back into your diet (on special occasions). However, consuming nutrient-dense, wholesome foods such as: fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains will allow you to make positive changes to your body composition and other health markers. These foods should undoubtedly make up the majority of your day-to-day diet.
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