All calories are not equal…
Calories, calories, calories….we hear about them all the time, were told how many to have, not to have, this has this many, this has that many and so on. First of all what is a calorie? Simply, a calorie is a measurement of energy and is shown as ‘kJ’ or ‘kcal’ (4.2 kJ = 1 kcal = 1 food calorie) and as a fitness and nutrition coach I always refer to calories as ‘food calories’ (kcal). The 3 ‘macro nutrients’ (carbs, fats, protein) provide different energy values (or calories). Both protein and carbohydrate provide 4 calories per gram, fat provides 9 per gram and alcohol 7 per gram.
For years we’ve been told that if we eat fewer calories then we will lose weight, right? Well despite this how come people are getting fatter? The biggest factor with calorie counting is that there is little to no consideration of the quality or source of those calories. You could have consumed calories from 100g of broccoli, a cereal bar, bacon fat etc. For some people this simplistic view of calories distorts what they think they can eat. So for example some will eat (or rather overeat!) ‘low-calorie biscuits, low-fat ice cream, diet soft drinks whilst avoiding high calorie foods like nuts, seeds and avocados. Yes, by doing this you may well end up with a calorie deficit but just think of the crappy quality of those foods!
So you probably have a daily amount of calories set for your nutrition plan or diet. Well it’s pretty darn hard to count calories accurately. In fact in one study in Boston (1) showed that frozen foods and restaurant foods that were marketed as ‘low-calorie’, actually contained more calories than listed. On average frozen foods had 8% more calories and restaurant food 18%. Some newer studies have shown calories to be as much as 25% inaccurate. So that 300 calorie meal could be 375!
I am not saying that counting calories isn’t important as it’s good to have an idea of total calorie intake, just be aware that it can be inaccurate so use it as a guideline. Always eat unprocessed whole foods where possible as they contain many more nutrients than processed sugary options.
The take home messages here are:
- Be mindful of the quality of calories that you are consuming and how nutritious they are.
- Don’t avoid higher calorie foods like avocado, nuts and healthy oils as they can be highly nutritious and should be able to fit into your nutrition plan without blowing your calorie budget.
- Alcohol is high in calories and very low in useful nutrients
- Use calorie counting as a guide but remember it can be inaccurate
Be happy, be healthy…
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