Food Quantity vs Quality – Which is more important for losing weight?

If you lived in a lab and I controlled every morsel that passed your lips, this would be a no brainer. Being able to monitor you big brother style, like a nutrition overlord, would make life so simple.

I’d control your caloric intake (food quantity) ensuring you consume less then you burn and you’d lose weight. If the rate of loss slowed I’d restrict calories further. Admittedly being my dieting prisoner wouldn’t be much fun for you, but we’d burn some serious body fat together!

What food would I supply you with?

It doesn’t really matter to be honest.

Broccoli or biscuits, salmon or sheesh kebab, poached eggs or pedigree chum – as long as I controlled the calorie quantity – you’d drop the pounds.

This appears an open and shut case.

If you want to lose weight you MUST ensure a calorie deficit; ergo, food quantity is more important.

Not so fast.

May I refer back to my opening 5 words:

“If you lived in a lab.”

You don’t.

Note: Apologies to all homeless scientists currently bedding down amongst the test tubes for the evening.

Trying to control for every last calorie you consume in the ‘real-world’ is a trickier prospect. You can weigh out your food and track calories using MyFitnessPal (other apps are available), but will you?

In my experience working with clients, weighing food is up there with Bulgarian split-squats and the dentist in terms of popularity.

Is there another way?


Step forward: Food Quality.

I’m talking about replacing the processed food with single ingredient whole food.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a chocolate biscuit, except our own propensity to over consume them.

An apple has over two times the sugar content of a chocolate digestive. How many apples do you consume in one sitting? One, maybe two? Compare that to the digestive, 2-3…maybe 6!

Convenience food is great but it can leave you at a nutritional deficit. A pre-packed sandwich may offer you a couple of slices of ham (if you’re lucky) and minimal protein. Making your own sandwich with an entire chicken breast may be more calories in isolation, but I it’ll do a better job of satisfying hunger and minimising snacking.

Upping your food quality is an investment in the long-game. You’re not quarantined in a lab, you’re at the mercy of free-living conditions.


Take home points

Check out this list below:

  • Eat 3-5 servings of high quality protein (meat, poultry, fish dairy, whey) everyday.
  • Eat 5+ servings of fruit and vegetables everyday.
  • Eat 2-3 servings of healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, salmon, cheese etc) everyday.

How many can you honestly answer with an emphatic YES? This should be your first port of call BEFORE indiscriminately slashing calories.

If you’re eating shit and simply reduce quantity, you’re still eating shit.

If you’re eating well but not losing weight (assuming you want to) you’ve got 2 options:

Bite the bullet, download MyFitnessPal and start weighing your food.

1) Find a metabolic ward and a willing scientist.
2) Food quality and quantity are both important.

Food quantity will fluctuate in the short-term depending on the individual and the goal at hand.

Food quality should be the long-term constant we’re all striving for.