I have never agreed with nutritionists and organisations who tell the public that eating some processed foods is OK, let alone those who claim processed foods are actually good for you because they provide fortified vitamins and minerals in a quick, cheap and convenient way.
You shouldn’t listen to any such advice if you want to build muscle and burn fat, or if you care about your long-term health. Eliminating all processed foods from your diet in favour of unrefined whole foods is one of the easiest and most effective ways of shedding fat and getting the physique you desire. Even better, you’ll be able to eat much more food for the same number of calories and will have more energy. Still need convincing? Read on.
Burn more calories The closer your food is to being in its natural state, the more calories your body will burn digesting it. Protein burns the most calories because it triggers protein synthesis and requires so many enzymes to break it down. Carbohydrates burn fewer calories, while fats burn the fewest.
One study found that the thermic effect – the number of calories burned by digesting food – from eating a cheddar cheese sandwich made with wholegrain bread with sunflower seeds was 50% higher than when eating an almost identical sandwich made with white bread, despite both containing the same amount of calories, carbs, protein and fat.
Lose fat A simple way to lose fat and make sure you are avoiding processed foods is to eat more foods in their raw state. By eating a greater variety of raw fruits and vegetables you will get more antioxidants, vitamins and fibre in your diet. Research shows that cooking food ‘pre-digests’ it – this means many of the compounds that increase the thermic effect are broken down, resulting in less energy expenditure from digesting cooked food. A Harvard University study that fed rats either cooked or raw sweet potatoes and beef found the rats that ate raw meals lost weight, whereas those fed cooked meals gained weight.
Prevent disease There is a wealth of evidence that if you avoid processed foods and the chemicals they contain, you can prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and chronic inflammatory diseases. Whole foods provide many protective nutrients: fibre for better body composition, antioxidants to fight free radicals and cancer, and vitamins and minerals for optimal enzyme and hormone function.
A number of studies have shown that disease rates are increasing exponentially in countries such as Brazil and Guatemala because their populations are increasingly consuming highly processed foods.
Control blood sugar High consumption of processed foods raises blood sugar levels very quickly and causes a big release of insulin. This leads to two problems: cells become resistant to the insulin, which leads to low energy levels and increased fat gain; and blood sugar spikes quickly and drops rapidly, which results in people feeling hungry again and eating more – typically more processed foods – and so the cycle continues.
Improve mood Eat whole foods to feel happier, improve your mood and beat depression. Two studies in the British Journal Of Psychiatry show that eating a whole-food diet of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and wholegrains is linked to lower rates of depression than a typical Western diet of processed foods. Processed chocolate, meat, sweets made from refined grains such as doughnuts and cake, cereal, dairy with sugar and chemicals added to it, and fried foods were all linked with higher rates of diagnosed depression. Researchers suggest that a whole-food diet prevents depression because people take in more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, have healthier guts and have a better hormonal response to eating.
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One of the world's premier strength coaches, Charles Poliquin has successfully trained professional athletes and Olympians worldwide. Poliquin writes a monthly column for Men's Fitness about how to train as effectively as possible.