While common advice in diet programs, counting calories may not be the best strategy for getting healthy and losing weight. You have probably heard that if you want to lose weight you should eat fewer calories and exercise more. This strategy may give you short-term results. However, as a long-term strategy for staying healthy and keeping off excess weight, counting calories is flawed. Make the available nutrients in your food a priority for feeling healthy instead of counting calories.
Calories are a Unit of Measurement, but Nutrients are a Measurement of Health
Let’s talk about what calories are. Simply put, a calorie is a unit of measurement. Measuring a calorie is useful for calculating how much energy or heat is produced per unit of food. A calorie can tell you how much heat is required to raise the temperature of water. It can also give you an idea of how much energy is produced in your body after eating a certain food.
The problem with counting calories for weight loss is that this method doesn’t tell us how nutritious our food is. The number of calories in our food gives us no more information about what we are eating than your height does about your personality. Calorie count does not tell us the nutritional density of food, the quality of those nutrients, or how many of those nutrients our bodies are able to digest and use.
Empty Calories vs. Nutritionally Dense Calories
Let’s compare, for example, two different meals that have the same calorie count. Let’s put a candy bar next to a meal of fish and vegetables. Assume that each is around 600 calories. The number of calories in each meal doesn’t give us any information about how healthy these two options are. Nor does it tell us anything about the quality of the nutrients in each food.
Empty calories are in foods that your body can burn for energy or store as fat, but have no nutritional value. These are in foods like white bread, cake, and cookies. Your body knows immediately how nutritious the food is that you consume. It starts digesting and breaking down food right away after you consume it. Our bodies digest food with empty calories as quickly as possible to move them out of our system. This will leave you feeling hungry even after you eat. Nutritionally-dense foods are digested more slowly and they help satiate your appetite while keeping you from feeling hungry as quickly after eating.
The Problem with Counting Calories
Calorie-counting diets make it seem like foods with equal calories are equally nutritious by placing an emphasis on calories instead of nutrition. In fact, they are not. Most of us will agree that choosing to eat a salad over candy is the healthier choice. So why is it that two foods with the same number of calories do not have same nutritional benefit?
The answer is in the nutritional value and density of the foods.
Nutritional Value and Density
The nutritional value of foods empty in calories and those found in nutrient-dense foods are not the same. The calories in the candy bar are empty calories. This means that your body cannot use the calories in the candy bar. Your body takes the calories from the candy bar and burns the sugars for quick fuel or stores them as fat. The meal with the veggies and fish is more nutrient-dense than the candy bar and your body benefits from those nutrients. Your body can take those calories from the fish and vegetables and put them to good use.
When your body has calories that it can use from nutrient-dense foods it processes calories more efficiently by putting those nutrients to good use. For example, the nutrients found in nutrient-dense foods benefit your body by keeping your energy levels up and keeping your body working efficiently. This means that you keep off the weight and that you feel more healthy.
So, let’s make the quality of our foods a priority instead of the calorie count. When you make nutrition a priority your body will respond by making you feel happier and more healthy.
Read more about nutrition in fruits and vegetables here.