You have likely heard of popular diet trends like IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), Whole30, and Paleo. The latter two are more similar to one another in that they focus on not how much, but what type of food you consume. Whereas the former, IIFYM highlights quantity rather than quality. So which type of diet style is most effective for body composition?
There are benefits to both emphasis for different purposes that I will highlight in detail:
1) Energy Density
Energy density pertains to how many calories and macronutrients a food contains per unit of weight. For example, 1 cup of broccoli contains 47 calories, 4 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, and 0 g fat whereas 1 cup of potatoes contains 117 calories, 27 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, and 0 g fat. Both are fibrous carbohydrate sources however broccoli is much less dense in energy than are potatoes. If you compare broccoli to a packaged food like cereal, there will be an even greater caloric discrepancy between equal food volumes.
For those trying to gain weight, choosing more energy dense food sources can be advantageous. However, when aiming to lose weight, it may be easier to stick to your caloric needs by consuming more broccoli than potatoes.
2) Thermogenic Effect of Food
Foods that contain fiber and protein are more thermogenic than foods that do not. Thermogenesis refers to the energy (calories) required to break down this food. Thermogenesis has been estimated to account for roughly 5-15% of total daily energy expenditure. Plant foods and meat are the best thermogenic food sources due to their fiber and protein content. For those looking to lose weight, incorporating a minimum of 30 grams fiber and 0.8 g/lb. body weight of protein, per day, can help support weight loss efforts.
3) Hormone and Fluid Balance
Nutrients like zinc, iodine, and selenium play pivotal roles in maintaining hormone balance. The best food sources of these nutrients are seafood, nuts, seeds, and eggs. Foregoing these foods in the diet may lead to suboptimal nutrient status that can impair optimal hormone functioning. For example, zinc is a critical nutrient for optimal testosterone production which helps in maintaining and gaining lean muscle mass.
Packaged food sources are generally lacking in these nutrients and also contain more sodium and less potassium. Sodium and potassium are two main electrolytes that help regulate fluid balance and prevent bloating and water retention.
Maintaining a healthy weight is dependent on many factors that include caloric balance and hormones. If calories are not within their proper range, weight loss/gain will not happen. However, if the diet is also lacking in the proper nutrients to maintain healthy hormonal functioning, weight change will also not happen. This is why it is important to focus on food quality AND quantity for your individual needs. For example, a woman going through menopause will have very different food quality and quantity parameters than an active male in their 20's. The hormonal profiles, energy expenditure, muscle mass, and goals are very different...so why should their approach to weight loss be the same?
Not sure how to balance quality and quantity within your diet to achieve your goals, nutrition coaching might be right for you- learn more here!