Healthy Foods vs. Weight Loss Foods

raw salmon steak and spices and olive oil isolated on white

Many people love food and enjoy eating.  The tastes and textures of the culinary experience can be a thrill for individuals with sensitive or cultivated palates.  For people who fall into this category, food functions as something more than fuel – perhaps even a type of entertainment.  Still others perceive diet as a path to good health or an impediment to the body they have always wanted.  For those in the latter group, there are important differences between foods that can keep you healthy and foods that can help you lose weight.  This articles will address some of these differences.

What makes a food “healthy?”

Foods that are “healthy” usually have high nutrient content and do little to no damage to the body, often actually promoting good health.  For example, salmon and olive oil are often considered healthy foods because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain function (and brain development in children).  Similarly, peanuts are considered to be a quality source of the macronutrient protein as well as many other micronutrients including vitamins and minerals (as are most nuts).  Other healthy foods may help various bodily processes; for example, foods that are high in fiber help with digestion and prevent constipation.  Other foods and components may be beneficial disease prevention; flavonoids, for example, are being studied for their role in decreasing risk for neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, and cancer.  Unhealthy foods, by contrast, usually have negative effects on the body and bodily processes.  High sodium intake has been linked to hypertension, and a diet with lots of trans fat and saturated fat may increase one’s chances of cardiovascular disease.

How are weight loss foods different from healthy foods?

A December 2011 article called “The Fat Trap” from The New York Times described the struggle to lose weight that so many Americans face and argued that, because of hormones that attempt to “hang on” to fat once we have it, the trick to being thin may be to avoid weight gain in the first place.   Dieting for weight loss has produced such popular diets and diet plans as Jenny Craig, the South Beach Diet, Weight Watchers, and the Atkins Diet.  The latter diet in particular (Atkins) created some controversy because of its emphasis on red meats, which often have high saturated fat content and would be discouraged by most dieticians and nutritionists.  In November 2010, CNN reported that a nutrition professor shed twenty-seven pounds eating only twinkies, oreos, doritos, and high-sugar cereals.  Clearly, weight loss does not necessarily require that foods be healthy; the primary things to consider are calories and portion sizes.  The above-mentioned nutrient-packed nuts are usually also calorie-packed and may not be the best choice for a dieter who wants to feel full and curb calorie intake.  A tablespoon of olive oil has as many calories (about 120) as three-quarters of a cup of yogurt. 

What are the best choices for weight loss?

Although unhealthy foods can technically help you lose weight, they may have damaging effects on the body in the long term.  It is best to opt for foods that are healthy, high in fiber and protein, and low in calories.  Because everyone’s body responds to foods differently, consider meeting with a nutritionist to find the best diet for your weight loss goals.