Diet Quality is Runner Up to Energy Balance
Although energy balance is the most important factor in maintaining your weight, diet quality is still important in nutrition and overall health. To achieve optimal health we should also strive to achieve dietary balance. Although my view on nutrition and health places energy balance first and foremost, I have been challenged on this concept. In response to the energy balance concept a good friend of mine questioned whether “a diet in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats was superior to a diet in cotton candy and chewing gum if both diets provided energy balance”? He was exasperated when I told him both diets were essentially equivalent in my eyes. Now, to be fair, part of me telling him the diets were equivalent was to get a rise out of him (and I did!). Of course the fruit and vegetable diet is far superior to cotton candy. However, I think we sometimes get a little carried away with trying to eat “the perfect” diet of the perfect macro and micro nutrient combination. Every diet has its strengths and each has its weaknesses. I know that, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines, I myself should be eating more fruit and nuts and less fatty meats, however I do my best on a daily basis. No one diet is perfect. For every piece of scientific evidence that claims a particular diet is superior to another, there is just as much evidence arguing there is no difference between the two.
Food marketing is a very powerful tool, especially when we feel vulnerable. For example, the term "super food" has been coined to promote a variety of foods containing antioxidants thought to promote health. Although the rationale for promoting these foods is solid, the scientific backing is not yet there. For example, in a recently published research study there was no difference in antioxidant intake between people with and without the metabolic syndrome after controlling for different aspects of energy balance (1). These supposed "super foods" are not therapeutic drugs and the claims put forth in support of these foods are largely exaggerated. For the vast majority of us, our focus should be on energy balance, not antioxidant potential.
You cannot simply put vegetables on a pizza, eat a salad bar before you consume a buffet, sauté vegetables in lots of olive oil, eat large portions of whole wheat pasta, or eat Cliff bars instead of candy bars and think that you are making the "healthy" choice. I have seen firsthand, how individuals do an awesome job of eating vegetables, actually eating well beyond the number of vegetables recommended by the USDA, yet still remain overweight due to other aspects of his/her diet contributing to a positive energy balance.
It does not matter how healthy a food is if you eat too much of it. To me, a positive energy balance while eating "healthy" foods and meeting your quota of daily micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals) is more unhealthy than eating a moderately healthy diet at or below energy balance. The science is still out on whether this claim of mine is true but studies are currently under way to figure this out for us. The bottom line is I do not believe that the antioxidant "punch" generated by consuming "super foods" is great enough to "knock out" the free radicals produced by a positive caloric balance.
- Motamed S, Ebrahimi M, Safarian M, et al. Micronutrient intake and the presence of the metabolic syndrome. N Am J Med Sci. Jun 2013;5(6):377-385.
References for Pictures:
Healthy Diet: personal photo
- Unhealthy Diet: personal photo
- Top 10 SuperFoods: optiming.com/top-10-superfoods-for-weight-loss/
- Fight Stress: www.top10homeremedies.com/superfoods/10-super-foods-to-fight-stress.html
- Curb Diabetes: www.homeremedyshop.com/15-super-foods-to-curb-diabetes/
- Boost Brain Power: healthycurezone.blogspot.com/2013/11/top-super-foods-for-boosting-your-brain.html
- 5 Super Foods for Man: www.bodybuilding.com/fun/5-super-foods-male.htm
- Bang & Pow: www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20306775,00.html
- 200 SuperFoods: fbworld.com/2010/09/13/book-review-the-200-superfoods-that-will-save-your-life/