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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.

Research Reveals Why Calorie Counting Is All Wrong

To lose weight, the general notion is calories in must exceed calories out. To achieve a calorie deficit, calories are commonly reduced from the diet or burned through consistent exercise. However, research is shaking up why counting calories may be all wrong. BistroMD is weighing in on counting calories and making it right again!

Research Reveals Why Calorie Counting Is All Wrong

How Do You Count Calories?

Generally, counting calories relies on Nutrition Facts labels found on most food products. More natural foods (such as protein sources, fruits and vegetables, and dispensaries of nuts and seeds) often lack a product label. Unless health savvy, knowing the calories on such foods. However, additional resources such as the USDA's National Nutrient Database can help identify calories in food products. Individuals seeking weight loss or maintenance commonly eat and count calories below or up to their daily calorie needs (or their metabolism), though it varies based on gender, age, muscle mass, and other factors. A general 2,000-calorie diet is recommended and often noticed on the Nutrition Facts label.

Why Is Counting Calories All Wrong?

Experts are responding to the diversity and depth of counting calories. Though nutrition facts labels identify calories on products, experts suggest they dismiss how many calories are consumed based on food processing – cooking and warming, blending, etc. For instance, raw foods may have a greater impact on weight loss compared to foods cooked and softened. Further comments suggest cooled, leftover starch products may provide lesser calories than if consumed hot (based on the notion that starch becomes more resistant to digestion once cooled).

An animal study tested a digestibility theory took two groups of rats. One group gnawed on traditional hard pellets while the other consumed a puffed-like variation with more air. The interesting findings? The rat group enjoying the puffed version not only gained more weight, but had a 30 percent fat increase compared to the rat group consuming harder pellets. This opens the conversation of soft versus hard foods and their rate of digestion. Researchers speculate and suggest rougher foods take more energy to burn them while softer foods are digested with much more ease.

Making It Right

Though you may be feeling discouraged, weight loss and health can still be achieved! While counting calories can be quite beneficial, it should not ultimately dictate what constitutes a healthy food. So instead of solely paying attention to quantifiable calories, start noticing and appreciating food quality. As suggested above, most natural, nutritious foods are absent of calorie labels anyways. Start comprising the diet of whole grains, fresh produce, lean proteins and healthy fat sources while limiting sugary treats and beverages, fried foods, and convenient snack products. A balanced meal plate can naturally keep calories in check without the task of counting them. Additionally, establish an exercise routine to burn calories while promoting and maintaining muscle mass. Reduced body fat and increased muscle burns more calories even when the body is at rest!

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on November 18, 2016. Updated on January 11, 2017.


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