BistroMD Health Library

Get excited about reading again with fun and interesting tips from our experts, including The M.D., our dietitians, and our fitness expert. In our health library, you will find all of the information you need to achieve your goals of making a healthy lifestyle change. So, start reading and start losing!


Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

Should You Focus on Calories or Nutrients for Successful Weight Loss

Should you only consider the calorie content and dismiss the bounty of heart-healthy fat in nuts altogether? Nutrition experts discourage the exclusive practice of calorie counting and explain why nutrition is important and why you should not solely stress about the calories in your foods.


So there you are standing in the middle of a grocery aisle glancing at the Nutrition Facts label on a bag of nuts. "Almost 200 calories per small ounce!?" you shriek to yourself and resort to the 100-calorie pack of chocolate chip cookies.

But should you only consider the calorie content and dismiss the bounty of heart-healthy fat in nuts altogether? Nutrition experts discourage the exclusive practice of calorie counting.

Here is why nutrition is important and why you should not solely stress about the calories in your foods.

Calories Vs. Nutrition for Weight Loss

Why Are Calories Important?

First thing’s first: A calorie is a unit that is used to measure energy or, more specially, a calorie (or kilocalorie) is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius.

Calories were originally measured in a bomb calorimeter, which as basically an apparatus used to measure the heat created by a sample burned under an oxygen atmosphere in a closed vessel (bomb), which is surrounded by water, under controlled conditions.

Fast forward to assigning calories on Nutrition Facts labels, food scientists determine the amount of each macronutrient in the food (i.e. carbohydrate, protein, and fat) and total the amounts of energy for each component. Specifically, both protein and carbohydrate contain 4 calories per gram (cals/g) and fat supplies 9 cals/g. Although not considered a macronutrient, alcohol supplies 7 cals/g.

So in a nutshell, calories are important for supplying the body energy it needs to carryout physiological processes to sustain life. And when it comes to weight loss, and as the old saying goes, "calories out must exceed calories in." Right?

Kind of.

But if the diet is not balanced with carb, protein, and fat, there are a bounty of health concerns, including muscle breakdown and nutritional deficiencies.

Why Counting Calories Is Not the End-all

While it does seem to make sense to count calories, doing so misses the mark for successful weight loss and here are just a few reasons why:

1. The body’s natural metabolism is not a bomb calorimeter.

While the bomb calorimeter is a valuable tool to measure calories, the body does not work identically to one.

For instance, the nitrogen content in protein is not oxidized in the body, but rather eliminated via the urine or sweat. Therefore, the caloric equivalent of protein metabolism is estimated to be 26 percent less than in a bomb calorimeter.

2. Calories are not created the same.

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie… Correct? Well, sort of. But unfortunately, the way the body will metabolize and use energy from difference sources is not as simple as we may think or hope.

Think of this scenario: Side-by-side and ounce-per-ounce, potato chips and almonds contain comparable amounts of calories. However, dig a little deeper and a bag of chips might be laden in trans fat, a fat warranted to limit or completely avoid based on its link to heart disease. Unlike chips, almonds are naturally rich in unsaturated fats, which have been touted to lower heart disease risk and inflammation in the body.

And not to mention, relying on the role of thumb that both carb and protein are 4 kcals/g partially insinuates 100 grams of lean chicken and 100 grams of brown rice are equivalent to each other. Wrong.

Chicken is a pure protein source while brown rice is ample in fiber. As a quick nutrition 101 lesson, when most foods are consumed, they are digested and absorbed for energy. However, dietary fiber is a plant component that is unable to be digested by the body, thus telling us 100 grams of protein and 100 grams of brown rice are not metabolized in the same fashion.

3. Counting calories can be daunting.

Although counting calories gives you a tangible, numerical way to measure food intake, becoming so preoccupied with tracking them can be mentally destructive and even reduce the enjoyment of food.

And if homemade foods and meals out with friends are devoid of calorie indicators, you might start to feel anxious and overwhelmed. Taking the time to figure out the calorie content places too much focus on the food and not the experience of a shared meal with loved ones.

4. Dramatic and long-term caloric restriction is harmful.

While calorie restriction can facilitate weight loss, doing so drastically and for the long-term can be extremely harmful and stressful to the body.

First off, the budge in the scale is not indicative of true fat loss and is primarily from initial water loss. And eventually, the body is likely to go into starvation mode, where it taps into precious muscle stores for energy use and slow down metabolism.

And with calorie counting you may opt for more innutritious foods devoid of nutritional value and deprive the body of the nutrients it needs.

Ultimately, it is imperative to remember successful weight loss results from consistency, as diets claiming to "melt body fat," or "shed 10 pounds in a week" are too good to be true.

Tips for Successful Weight Loss

While calories do play a role in weight loss, they should not be the primary determinant.

Decreasing calories to below what your body needs on a daily basis is important, but the nutrient composition of these calories is also critically important.

So rather than fixating and stressing over calorie counting, you can naturally control calories, optimize nutritional content, and lose weight by:

1. Adding more wholesome foods in the diet.

Adding more whole foods in the diet not only naturally increases nutrient content, but lowers the opportunity of filling it with highly processed, innutritious products.

Ultimately, incorporate more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fats sources.

2. Painting a colorful meal plate.

From red tomatoes to green peas, foods colorful and harvested straight from nature tend to be the richest in nutrients.

As a general rule reference, fill at least half your meal plate with colorful veggies.

3. Offering variety at meals.

Healthier eating is much more than ground turkey and steamed broccoli.

(And it should be!)

Consistently eating the same "diet" foods can cause burnout, subsequently increasing the risk of resorting back to old habits.

So do not narrow down your choices to just a few, as offering variety also helps ensure you are acquiring nutrients from all food sources. And granting yourself numerable options and variety can lessen the risk of feeling deprived of foods.

4. Shopping the store’s perimeter.

Close your eyes and visualize a trip to the grocery store…

You are likely picturing boundless rows of various cereals, breads, pastries, cookies, chips, and other packaged snacks. And if you look around the border, you will notice more nutritious and wholesome food items, including fresh produce, dairy products, and lean proteins.

So when shopping, skip the weaving in and out of the aisles and mostly stick to the store’s perimeter to lessen the temptation of those cookies and chips!

5. Noticing and appreciating how food makes you feel.

Consider this: You are offered a large brownie or balanced meal plate.

While that large brownie may taste good in the moment, and can certainly still be enjoyed from time-to-time, you will likely notice energy levels may plummet shortly after eating it.

On the other hand, a bountiful plate of lean protein, brown rice, and roasted veggies is exceptionally nourishing and supports a healthy, strong body.

The more you start recognizing how nourishing foods make you feel, you will likely start to appreciate more wholesome foods.

6. Increasing water intake.

Although water is primarily devoid of nutrients, it is critical for both weight loss and overall health.

Water assists the body in using nutrients from consumed foods and supports a healthy metabolism. Furthermore, water helps induce satiety and is naturally free of calories, thus supporting weight loss.

Healthy adults are encouraged to drink at least 64-ounces of water on a daily basis.

7. Considering bistroMD.

If desiring further assistance in calorie control and successful weight loss, bistroMD is here to help and takes the guesswork out of good nutrition.

Every meal is doctor-designed and dietitian-approved and provides a scientific balance of complex carbohydrates, whole grains and fiber along with lean protein and healthy fat ratios for safe and successful weight loss.

And offering 200 recipes and a customizable menu, you are sure to find something to satisfy your personal taste buds and meet individualized goals.

Ready to learn more? Learn about meal options and programs at the official bistroMD webpage here or call 866-401-3438 today!

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on November 07, 2012. Updated on August 07, 2018.


Follow @bistroMD

Start Your Diet Today!

Reality Check - Your Free Diet Analysis

Simply answer a few questions so we can figure out your weight loss goals and provide solutions for a lighter, healthier you. Our weight loss meal plans are designed to help real people achieve real and lasting success.

as seen on...   

join our free newsletter

Get free support to help you lose weight and be healthy with our Weekly Dish on Health.

stay connected