It’s no coincidence that the rapid rise in obesity happened around the same time highly processed foods became more available. Although highly processed foods are convenient, they are packed with calories, low in nutrients and increase your risk of many diseases. On the other hand, real foods are very healthy and can help you lose weight.
Real foods are single-ingredient foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, lack chemical additives and are mostly unprocessed.
Here are just a few examples:
- Chia seeds
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Whole eggs
- Unprocessed meat
There are lots of real foods in every food group, so there’s a vast array you can incorporate into your diet.
Here are 11 reasons why real foods can help you lose weight.
1. Real Foods Are Nutritious
Whole, unprocessed plant and animal foods are packed with vitamins and minerals that are great for your health. Conversely, processed foods are low in micronutrients and can increase your risk of health problems. Processed foods can slow down weight loss in several ways.
For instance, a diet of processed foods that don’t provide enough iron could affect your ability to exercise, since iron is required to move oxygen around your body. This would limit your ability to burn calories through exercise.
A diet low in nutrients may also prevent you from losing weight by making you feel less full after eating. One study in 786 people compared participants’ feelings of fullness when they were on a low-micronutrient diet versus a high-micronutrient diet. Nearly 80% of participants felt fuller after meals on the high-micronutrient diet, even though they were eating fewer calories than on the low-micronutrient diet. When you’re trying to increase your intake of nutrients, eating real foods is the way to go. They contain a variety of nutrients difficult to find in a single supplement, including plant compounds, vitamins and minerals.
2. They’re Packed With Protein
Protein is the most important nutrient for fat loss. It helps increase your metabolism, reduce hunger and affects the production of hormones that help regulate weight . Your food choices for protein are just as important as how much you eat. Real foods are a better source of protein since they aren’t heavily processed. Food processing can make several essential amino acids harder to digest and less available to the body. These include lysine, tryptophan, methionine and cysteine. This is because proteins easily react with sugars and fats involved in processing to form a complex combination.
Whole sources of protein are typically higher in protein and lower in calories, which makes them better for fat loss. For instance, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of pork, a real food option, has 21 grams of protein and 145 calories. Meanwhile, the same amount of bacon, processed food, has 12 grams of protein and 458 calories. Real food sources of protein include lean cuts of meat, eggs, legumes and nuts.
3. Real Foods Don’t Contain Refined Sugars
The natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are not the same as refined sugars. Fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars, but also provide other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and water, which are needed as part of a balanced diet. Refined sugars, on the other hand, are often added to processed foods. The two most common types of added sugars are high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar. Foods higher in refined sugars are often higher in calories and provide fewer health benefits. Ice cream, cakes, cookies and candy are just a few culprits.
Eating more of these foods is linked with obesity, so if weight loss is your goal, it’s best to limit them. Refined sugars also do little to keep you full. Studies show that a high intake of refined sugar can increase the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and dim the brain’s ability to make you feel full. Since real foods don’t contain any refined sugars, they are a much better choice for weight loss.
4. They’re Higher in Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber provides many health benefits, and one of them is aiding weight loss. It mixes with water in the gut to form a thick gel, and may reduce your appetite by slowing the movement of food through the gut . Another way soluble fiber may reduce appetite is by affecting the production of hormones involved in managing hunger. Studies have found that soluble fiber may decrease the production of hormones that make you hungry.
What’s more, it may also increase the production of hormones that keep you feeling full, including cholecystokinin, glucagon-like peptide-1 and peptide YY . Real foods typically have more soluble fiber than processed foods. Great sources of soluble fiber include beans, flaxseeds, sweet potatoes and oranges. Ideally, aim to eat enough fiber daily from whole foods since they provide many other nutrients. However, people who struggle to eat enough fiber might also find a supplement useful.
5. Real Foods Contain Polyphenols
Plant foods contain polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties that help protect against disease and may also help you lose weight . Polyphenols can be divided into multiple categories, including lignans, stilbenoids and flavonoids. One particular flavonoid that is linked with weight loss is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). It’s found in green tea and provides many of its proposed benefits. For instance, EGCG may help extend the effects of hormones involved in fat burning, such as norepinephrine, by inhibiting their breakdown.
Many studies show that drinking green tea may help you burn more calories. Most people in these studies burn 3–4% more calories daily, so the average person who burns 2,000 calories per day could burn 60–80 extra calories.
6. Real Foods Don’t Contain Artificial Trans Fats
If there’s one thing nutrition scientists agree on, it’s that artificial trans fats are bad for your health and your waistline. These fats are artificially made by pumping hydrogen molecules into vegetable oils, changing them from liquid to solid. This treatment was designed to increase the shelf life of processed foods, like cookies, cakes and doughnuts. Many studies have found that frequently eating artificial trans fats harms your health and your waistline.
For instance, one study found that monkeys who ate more artificial trans fat increased their weight by 7.2%, on average, compared to monkeys that ate a diet rich in monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil.
Interestingly, all the fat the monkeys gained went straight to their belly area, which increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other health conditions. Fortunately, real foods don’t contain artificial trans fats. Some sources like beef, veal and lamb do contain natural trans fats. Many studies have found that, unlike artificial trans fats, natural trans fats are harmless.
7. They’ll Help You Eat More Slowly
Taking the time and eating slowly is a piece of weight-loss advice that’s often overlooked. However, eating slowly gives your brain more time to process your food intake and recognize when it’s full. Real foods can help slow down your eating since they typically have a firmer, more fibrous texture that needs to be chewed more. This simple action can help you lose weight by making you feel full with a smaller amount of food.
For instance, a study in 30 men found those who chewed each bite 40 times ate about 12% less food than those who chewed 15 times. The study also showed that participants who chewed each bite 40 times had less of the hunger hormone ghrelin in their blood after the meal, and more of the fullness hormones glucagon-like peptide-1 and cholecystokinin.