Here's the truth: processed foods are killing us. Our bodies aren't meant to process hydrogenated oils, unnaturally high levels of salt, and a constant influx of sugar. Not only are these foods usually extremely high in calories, they're pitifully low in micronutrients.
Therefore, it should be obvious that overeating unnatural foods will create a calorie surplus but without all the helpful vitamins, minerals, water, and fiber that are present in most natural foods.
Want to know the secret to fat loss? Eat real foods. Here's why:
As mentioned above, most processed foods are extremely calorically dense, meaning that for the same amount of calories, processed foods are typically smaller. Consider the graphic below.
200 calories from various foods
It should be blatantly obvious that 200 calories worth of celery or broccoli will be much more filling than 200 calories from a muffin (a small one at that) or half a hamburger. Almost universally, hunger will come about faster after eating the processed foods after accounting for calories. It's vital to focus on low calorie, high nutrient food if the goal is fat loss.
Consider a traditional trail mix, filled with nuts, raisins, and chocolate pieces. Personally, I could eat over 1,500 calories of trail mix in an hour, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
However, eating 1,500 calories of chicken and broccoli would be a daunting task. If it were 1,500 calories of broccoli alone we're talking about over 9 pounds of cooked broccoli. 1,500 calories from broccoli and chicken could be broken down into 2 solid pounds of chicken breast and 3 pounds of cooked broccoli: a worthy challenge for even the "Man vs. Food" guy.
Take away message: it's much easier to get full on real foods for the same amount of calories.
Food synergy is the phenomenon that nutrients coming from real food seem to be much more bioavailable than if those nutrients were taken in pill form. It's a real thing and something most people don't realize exists.
When eating natural foods, there are increases in plasma levels of nutrients that are higher than can be explained by the food itself. For example, grass-fed meats have been shown to increase omega-3 levels higher than the omega-3 level in the meat could explain on its own. Real foods are almost magic when compared to pills and processed foods. Nature knows best. This is another reason to focus on natural, real foods in a successful long-term diet structure.
As alluded to above, micronutrients are what we typically refer to as vitamins and minerals. Very few processed foods have these naturally: they need to be added in. A lot of people are still under the impression that breakfast cereal is healthy. Most of it is processed wheat or rice with added vitamins and minerals. As noted above, adding in vitamins and minerals doesn't do the trick nearly as well as getting them from natural food sources.
Just as an example, a typical breakfast cereal will have 25-100% "daily value" of a particular vitamin or mineral. First, it's imperative to note that those values are woefully low, even for someone who does require 2,000 calories per day. Second, compare those typical numbers in a bowl full of cereal to 100 grams (less than 4 ounces) of beef liver:
- 522% Vitamin A
- 200% Riboflavin (aka Vitamin B2)
- 1300%+ Vitamin B12
- 730% Copper
The majority of people in the U.S. are low in at least B12 and copper, and many are deficient in Vitamin A as well. Fun fact: the Vitamin A in plants isn't actually Vitamin A, it's beta-carotene; and beta-carotene isn't converted well into Vitamin A. Thus it's also important, and likely necessary, to get Vitamin A from sources other than plants.
Real foods come with quality micronutrients by default: they don't have to be added in. Emphasize real foods and only a few minor gaps may need to be filled with supplementation.
There's the secret to fat loss: eat real foods. A very high majority of the time, if that advice is followed there is no need for counting calories whatsoever. Enjoy food... but make it real.