Research is making it clear that, when it comes to the calories we consume every day, form matters.
Here are the best ways to eat some of your favorite foods:
Think about holding off for awhile on eating those potatoes you’ve just cooked. When cooked and then cooled for about 24 hours, the digestible amylopectin starches in potatoes convert into the non-digestible starch amylose. That means you’ll absorb fewer of their carb calories and likely feel full for longer. Potato salad, anyone?
The same cook-cool method also works to increase resistant starch levels in rice.
And cooking, chilling and reheating pasta has been shown to lower its impact on blood sugar.
Go for the heartier, steel-cut variety. A research review published in the Journal of Nutrition found that blood sugar and insulin responses are better after eating intact oat kernels than after eating more highly processed rolled or instant oat flakes. It appears that a greater disruption in the structural integrity of the oat kernel is associated with altered rates of digestion — and fewer glycemic benefits. This might affect satiety and perhaps prove to have even greater benefits.
Research has shown the number of calories we derive from whole nuts is nearly 25% less than previously thought.
A chunk of the calories in nuts is found within cell walls that resist being broken down by mastication and digestion, so we don’t absorb all of their calories.
This is likely one reason why studies haven’t found that eating calorie-dense nuts leads to weight gain.
On the other hand, the processing that goes into making nut butters and nut oils ruptures cell walls, so it’s likely we would extract more fat calories when we consume nuts in these forms.
Also, a study in the journal Nutrients found that eating whole almonds resulted in a greater abundance of beneficial gastrointestinal microbiota versus eating almond butter — a difference that might also apply to seeds.
Having a bowl of pasta salad for lunch could be more metabolically beneficial than a sandwich.
A randomized controlled trial in the Journal of Nutrition evaluated post-feeding glucose metabolism in healthy adults after the consumption of durum wheat semolina in the form of spaghetti, penne, couscous and bread, each containing 50 grams of carbohydrates. Both forms of pasta resulted in a blunted blood-sugar response compared to couscous and bread. The apparent reason for this is that pasta involved more chewing and oral processing time and also remained in larger starch particle size after digestion.
You can prepare pasta like they do in the Mediterranean — al dente, which is neither too hard nor too soft. This will give it a lower glycemic index which, in turn, should result in a more tempered blood-sugar response.
Go one step farther by making sure to boil pasta and other grains in their whole-grain form. According to a study by researchers at Tufts University, people who ate a diet with more whole grains like whole wheat pasta and brown rice lost close to an extra 100 calories a day compared to people who ate refined grains such as white pasta and white rice. The extra fiber you get from grains in their whole form is likely at play here.
Maybe the saying should be “a whole apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
British scientists provided 18 healthy adults with the same number of calories from whole apples, applesauce or apple juice on three occasions, then measured stomach emptying rates and indicators of fullness and satiety. The whole apples resulted in slower digestion as well as increased feelings of fullness and satiety post-ingestion.
The extra work our bodies require to deal with a less processed form of an apple, including increased chewing and digestion, likely contributes to its hunger-fighting power.
This same conclusion might perhaps be applied to whole oranges compared to orange juice, whole raspberries versus raspberry jam and fruits that are blended into smoothies instead of eating them whole.
More proof that not all calories are created equal: A study in the journal Food & Nutrition Research had volunteers eat either a sandwich made with multigrain bread and cheddar cheese or one made with highly processed white bread and packaged cheese slices.
Though both meals had the same number of calories, the less-processed sandwich meal required nearly twice as much energy to digest, resulting in fewer calories being available to the body for storage. While the processed sandwich used only 11% of the food’s calories for the needs of digestion, the multigrain sandwich used almost 20%. Over time, this extra calorie burn could help with weight-loss goals.
Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter written by experts on health and nutrition.
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