I always use to love checking the nutrient content of my foods. I used to be the calorie counting queen when I was battling body image issues! How many caloriesare in a banana? How about a cup of nonfat milk? A tablespoon of sugar? You name it, I can tell you how many calories it has. Now that I’ve studied more about nutrition and am eating a whole foods diet, I’ve understood that calories are not even half of the story.
My goal is no longer to consume a set quantity of calories each day, but to consume as many nutrients as possible. Because our bodies absorb nutrients from food much better than pills, I try to receive my vitamins via food rather than swallowing them with a glass of water. Even if you already know some of these facts this can be an easy way to explain them to your friends!
Instead of counting calories… Make your calories count!
For those of you who are calorie fans, I am not saying that it is an eating free-for-all and you should eat until you fill your hollow leg (that is what my family said about my eating when I was a child, I ate so much that I must have a hollow leg). What I am saying is that a 100 calorie snack pack and 100 calories of kale sauteed in coconut oil will do entirely different things inside of your body. Our goal should not be to eat 2000 calories a day, but rather see how many nutrients we can eat with those same 2000 calories.
But isn’t it calories in calories out?
Not so much. Of course if you are trying to lose weight, eating more than you need is not going to help you, but diets that restrict calories are horribly ineffective (and this is scientifically proven!). If your body doesn’t have the minerals, vitamins, fats, and amino acids that it needs, it is nearly to impossible to lose weight. Your metabolism will suffer and your hormones simply won’t let you get thinner. You will also likely be on a blood sugar roller coaster that will make you difficult to live with, and to make matters worse you will be constantly hungry.
Calories aren’t all the same.
Contrary to common assumption, a calorie is not equal to sugar or fat, but rather to a numerical measure of energy that the body need to function. The nutritional content of a food is more essential than the number of calories it contains. A glass of coke, which contains water and the equivalent of eight spoons of sugar, has a different effect on the body than half a banana, which has fibre, slow carbs, potassium, magnesium, or high-quality vegetable protein.
The nutrients that you can get from 100 calories of real food are nothing like the calories that you get from processed snacks. The sources of your calories make a huge difference in your health, how you feel, your energy levels, your blood sugar etc. They also make a huge difference in how hungry you feel. If you are eating 1800 calories of TV dinners per day you will probably be constantly hungry, whereas if you eat 1800 calories of paté and vegetables you will probably feel satiated and energetic.
Read also: Six Common Food Myths Busted
I no longer keep a calorie count at all. Even writing down everything that I eat can make me start to feel crazy in the brain and feel bad about myself. Instead, I make a clear plan of what I am going to eat and try to make sure my plan includes all kinds of nutrients to improve my health. Now instead of counting those silly calories I read about all of the nutrients that are on my plate in the Nutrient Tables. By doing this I have learned some really cool facts! In addition, by not eating grains I am able to fit a lot more vegetables and fruits into my tummy…. which are far more nutrient dense (AKA they have a lot more nutrient bang for their calorie buck).
Energy absorption varies from one person to another
Two people who eat the same food do not necessarily absorb the same number of calories. We all know a person who for one piece of cake will gain weight and another who for three times the portion of the same cake will not gain an ounce.
Genetics, gut length and function, digestive enzymes, microbiota, as well as the way food is prepared influence calorie absorption. For example, processed foods require less energy to digest, which suggests a decrease in our caloric expenditure. How can we be sure of what we are absorbing versus what we are ingesting in terms of calories?
But don’t I need the fiber and carbs from my healthy whole grains?
Again, not so much. Vegetables provide almost the same amount of fiber as whole grains (per 100 gram serving) and less than half as much sugar! Even fruit (which we often think of as being sugary) provides more fiber and way less sugar than whole grains. This means that eating whole grains makes us have wacky blood sugar and doesn’t provide us with nearly as many nutrients as vegetables and fruits. To add insult to injury, whole grains contain substances that are irritating to the intestinal barrier. As far as carbs are concerned there are plenty of sources of carbohydrates that are full of nutrients and aren’t grains: sweet potatoes, yams, yuca, squash, jicama and many more!
Read also: Are Grains Good or Bad For Your Health?
But wait, won’t all that fat make me fat?
If you didn’t watch the Times Magazine video about how everything they said about butter (and saturated fat in general) was wrong. We need fat to stay healthy and maintain our hormonal functions. We also need fat for our brains to function…seeing as 60% of our brains are made of fat! We also need fat in our diet to absorb essential fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin D. What actually makes us fat are excessive carbohydrates and sugars that our bodies store for later, in places we would rather not see them.
Next week I will be back to tell you more nutritional surprises I have learned, and about some of my favorite nutrient dense foods…
You thought that milk was the best source of calcium? Think again….
Always eat bananas to boost your potassium levels? There are some surprising foods with much more potassium than bananas….
Vitamin C comes from lemons and oranges, right? Yes, but you might get more from other places….
I am off to make myself a nutrient rich, raw liver smoothie. Enjoy your day and get some nutrients on your plate!