Highly produced foods such as white bread, granola or dried fruit are often loaded with extra sugars and fats. This makes them more calorie dense (poor nutrient ratio and volume of food compared to calories) which often makes them less satisfying than whole-, unprocessed foods.

Think of a moment when you’ve just eaten a large bag of potato chips, or six fistfuls of gummi bears. It’s not far fetched that at most times you could go another serve of either (or both) without a second thought.

Overeating chips, candy, granola, dried fruit or pastries is common among most people. Highly processed foods such as these are less satisfying so it’s much easier to overeat them. Compare eating a bag of potato chips to eating a bag of boiled potatoes. Or having five Pink Lady Apples over five dried apples.

It is harder to overeat foods that are in more natural state because it’s your body that has to do the processing. Not a machinery that’s done it for you before you even bite into it. As food items get further processed they are stripped from their nutrients leaving you with a tasty, calorie rich, but not highly nutrient piece of food. And if they are indeed processed using extra sugar and fat this calorie content is even further amplified.

To add insult to injury, convenient, processed foods can trick the signals of fullness in the brain. Yet another reason why they are easier to overeat and therefore hold you back from achieving a healthier, fitter body.

As we covered in the earlier blog, the number one reason holding people back from their fat loss goals is eating more than the body uses. And so the extra energy gets stored as body fat.

Choosing between processed food items and wholefoods

One of the simplest ways to keep your extra calories in check is to eat foods in their most natural state. When you shop at the supermarket choose items with no more than four or five ingredients. Even better, choose fresh produce that are just what they are. Such as buying oats instead of muesli which has raisins and other stuff mixed in it. Fresh fillet of fish instead of fish fingers.

Here’s where reading labels becomes important. Not to obsess over the numbers but to have a healthy curiosity about what different products contain. Once you start paying attention to labels it will change your eating forever.

Typical Australian diet

Let’s look at a typical Australian diet and see how we could improve it to include more wholefoods.

Other observations: not enough fresh vegetables, too many processed/sugary carbohydrates that are easy to overeat, little to no healthy fat intake.

Wholefoods to eat more of

  • Sustainably sourced chicken, game meats, small fish, shellfish, lean cuts of meat, as well as legumes and beans

  • Fresh vegetables. Even frozen vegetables or canned if the convenience makes it more likely for you to eat them. Eat as much variety as possible

  • Wholegrains such as quinoa, brown rice (not that white rice is better or worse, but it’s easier to overeat), oats, wholemeal and rye bread, freekeh, barley, buckwheat

  • Olive oil, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, natural nut butter (although they are often easy to overeat)

Processed foods to eat less of:

  • Sausages, patties, meat pies, deep fried fish fillets

  • Fries, potato chips, dried fruits

  • White bread, bagels, cakes, pastries, cookies

  • Roasted nuts, palm oil, margarine, fats from deep-fried food

  • Candy, soft drinks, alcohol, most packaged foods with added sugar

Balanced diet can still have processed foods in it

These aforementioned categories are not always and never. Processed foods can have their place in a balanced diet. Try to inch your diet towards mostly eating foods from the wholefoods list and less from the processed. Rather than practicing ultimate denial and categorizing wholefoods into “good” and all the processed foods into “bad”.

If you are happy with the results you’re getting keep doing what you’re doing. If not, put more focus on on the wholefoods and less on the processed. Then adjust as you go along. This will not only improve your body composition but also makes it easier to maintain it all year around. You will be healthier as your diet will include a higher proportion of nutrient rich foods. The nutrients are the major building block for a healthy, lean and fit body for the long term.