Calories in, Calories out

It is a simple idea, which makes it so attractive/popular to the general public.  In one way or another we have been told that losing weight really boils down to taking in less calories than we burn.  There are of course other factors, but this is the major key to all our weight loss dreams… or is it?

We are slowly, but surely, learning that the science of nutrition is far more complex than we once believed.  As our understanding grows, scientists are finding that calories might not be the only key to losing weight.  As recently as last May, researchers discovered that the calorie count in almonds (one- ounce serving = 160 calories) was actually lower, at 129 calories per serving.  Yes, we may all rejoice that they overestimated the calories rather than underestimated, but the more important part of this study was the reason the calorie count was lower.  They found that the body could not completely break down the almonds and use their full energy as fuel.  This discovery has lead many scientists to believe that the current method of determining calories might not be the most accurate.

what you eat

If you have been reading my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a firm believer in the individualization of nutrition.  What works for me and my health might not necessarily work for you and your health, and scientific researchers are starting to see this as well.  I am not a huge supporter of religiously counting calories and making sure I am eating a set number for each meal, mostly because when I did do this I never felt any healthier.  I always felt like I was being deprived and this led to overeating.  I understand that for some of you out there, counting calories is the easiest way for you to achieve your optimal health, but I want you to also think about the kind of calories that you are putting into your body.  It’s not just a number, it is the benefits that those calories gives your body that really count to feeling your healthiest.

Look at it this way, 300 calories worth of food at McDonald’s is going to make you feel a lot different than 300 calories worth of fresh  fruits and vegetables.  Both foods have 300 calories, but the fresh foods will provide your body with far more vitamins, minerals and nutrients that you can use to fuel you throughout your day.  Your body will also use those calories in totally different ways.  While the fat and sodium content of your Happy Meal might get stored as fat in your body, the vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables can be used to instantly nourish your body and help you function.  Don’t get me wrong and think that only eating fruits and vegetables will provide you with the best health, there are so many foods out there that could help you be as healthy as possible.

Nutrition facts for McDonald's cheeseburger

Nutrition facts for McDonald’s cheeseburger

Nutrition facts for 3 stalks of broccoli

Nutrition facts for 3 stalks of broccoli

The message I really want to get across is that the amount of calories you put into your body is only a piece of the puzzle that makes up your health/weight loss.  I don’t think that this is insignificant, as making sure you eat enough is highly important, but I do believe that there is so much more to feeling (and looking) your best.  When you eat a meal, concentrate on how it makes you feel afterwards.  Do you feel sluggish? Like you have ton of energy? Do you feel hungry only an hour after eating a meal or were you so stuffed that you didn’t feel like eating the rest of the day?  The kinds of food you eat will give you much more information about your health than an arbitrary number on the back of a package.  As nutrition research progresses, I hope we see a major overhaul in the way we view food.  Food is much more than a number, it has the potential to truly shape our health.  As Hippocrates so famously stated, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”