This blog was written as a guest post for the Bell Institute for Health and Nutrition. You can read the original post here.
It’s easy to understand how some people might believe that certain foods are more “fattening” than others. Classifying foods based on whether they can make you gain weight or not is a far simpler notion to grasp than the concept of energy balance (where calories in should equal calories out)!
So whenever the topic of “fattening foods” comes up, I try to clarify the issue with this brief lesson in anatomy: The stomach does not have eyes.
That’s my way of explaining that the body has no idea what we have eaten. It does not know (or judge!) whether we have had a chocolate éclair for breakfast or a chewy granola bar. It just sorts out the nutrients and calories that were in the food and either uses them, stores them or eliminates them, as needed.
I then explain that since the body continually “sorts” what we are eating all day long, no one food can really be more “fattening” than any other. It’s the sum of all the calories we have consumed by the end of the day that determine whether or not we have exceeded our energy needs, which could make us gain weight over time.
Once that concept sinks in, it’s possible to illustrate how all foods can actually be included in a well-balanced diet complemented by regular physical activity. It also provides an ideal time to introduce the topic of nutrient density – another difficult one to grasp.
My approach is to stress the fact that all of the calories in the foods we eat are exactly the same, but the nutrients are not. And since we need more than 50 distinct nutrients to maintain health and prevent disease, we must choose our foods so they deliver the best nutritional package for the calories they provide.
From there it’s a smooth transition to a discussion of food groups to understand how different types of foods fit together to make an overall healthy eating plan, such as in MyPlate. Any lingering thoughts about “fattening” breakfast foods are then easily replaced by the more important question, ”What are the best breakfast choices for me?”
Consider these important facts about ready-to-eat cereal with fat free milk and fruit when you answer. One serving provides:
- Less than 200 calories per serving on average
- Key nutrients many of which are lacking in American diets – calcium, potassium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, folate and fiber
- Many whole grain options that help meet the goal of making half our grain choices whole grain
- More nutrients with the fewest calories compared to most other popular breakfast choices