How much food is the right amount? How to be well nourished, have a healthy body composition, and not overeat? Media tells us that it’s simple: just eat less and exercise more. Sounds bulletproof, right? As with most things, the devil is in the details.

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Time and time again, weight loss study follow-ups prove that calorie restriction by itself is not a viable long-term strategy. Almost always, the weight lost tends to swing back over time. Simply eating the ideal amount of calories is a good first step, but it does not solve the underlying problem – not getting enough essential nutrients. We can fool the short term satiation process by simply eating a lot of food regardless of its nutrient content, but long term satiety is not so easily deceived. Hunger will not go away as long as we are deficient in some aspect. So in practical terms: A crappy fast food meal can make you feel full, but leaves your body hanging when it comes to actual nutrition; whereas a colorful salad with plenty of fresh vegetables, eggs, nuts and olive oil will do a great job in both aspects.

Another area, where quantity is over-emphasized, is macronutrient ratios. Everyone on the internet seems to have an opinion on the ideal amount of carbohydrates or fat in a healthy diet. I am not saying this is completely irrelevant, but does anyone really believe that eating boiled potatoes, squash or whole fruits has the same effect on our health as eating cakes, muffins or cookies? It’s bad carbs and bad fats, not their specific ratios, that are making us sick.

Fresh, local, and not processed

As you can see, when it comes to food, quality trumps quantity every time. But what does quality mean in this context? Quality of food is affected by nutrient density, the degree to which it’s processed, how it’s harvested, grown or raised, and by its freshness. I have already talked about food processing and nutrient density ad nauseam in previous articles, so let’s look at those other aspects.

Studies show that organic produce has on average about 25% more nutrients and antioxidants than their conventional counterparts. They also contain close to no pesticides and herbicides. Just about the same is true for pasture-raised animals and wild-caught fish. They are noticeably higher in minerals and fat soluble vitamins, and have a much more favorable fatty acid profile. This does not mean that anything other than organic or grass-fed is useless, it just illustrates that how we grow and raise our food matters a great deal.

Amo los #domingosdemercado #farmersmarket #organic #healthyfood #descubriendoalachefquehayenmi

A photo posted by ALESSANDRA ROSALDO (@alexrosaldo) on

Do you know where your produce comes from? Is it in season at the moment? How long and how far did it have to travel between harvest and your plate? These are not just environmental concerns; they affect the nutrient content of food as well. For example, out-of-season broccoli has only half the vitamin C of seasonal broccoli. Spinach loses about half of its folate in only 8 days after being picked. So I think it’s about time we started considering the farmer’s market as a real option, or even better, using our backyard to grow our own food. Choosing produce that is local, fresh, and untouched by the food industry, will make “eat till you feel full” good advice again.

Next up in Cycling Food series

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