Some of the greatest debates in our world revolve around several epic topics; religion, politics and nutrition. Though I have some opinions about the former two, I will not be discussing either, rather I will stick to one closer in my field of health and wellness and discuss a common subtopic in the area of nutrition.
It would be difficult to avoid a day without hearing some reference towards the amount of calories a particular item of food or a meal has. You hear it all the time, “Man I shouldn’t have eaten that bagel it has about 300 calories” or one of my favorites comes right out of those commercials we are bombarded with daily, “Try our new Pop Tarts lite with only 100 calories per serving.” We are meant to believe that our bodies operate on a series of binary codes and complex algorithms. That somehow our bodies internally crunch the caloric numbers we consume and simply use the exact number we need while either eliminating or storing the excess.
Wouldn’t this be nice if it were all that simple? We would just magically know our personal number that corresponds to the number of calories we should consume on a given day to lose, maintain, or gain weight. With the number of people struggling to understand this concept maybe calories are not necessarily as simplistic a formula as they are made out to be, nor should they be completely ignored when consuming meals.
To begin with, we have to think about the food we eat in a few different ways; first off there is food for fuel for our bodies and food to build or break down our bodies. We not only run on everything we put into our guts but we also use those nutrients as the raw materials to build all of the cells in our bodies.
We need to put the all calories are equal to rest. Like one of my favorite nutritionists, Dr. Eric Serrano, likes to mention, “100 calories of Lucky Charms is not the same as 100 calories of broccoli.” The focus here should not be on the quantity butrather the quality of those 100 calories that are going into our bodies. After all, would you want cells made from Lucky Charms or broccoli?
Here is a little scientific research to support the above point; a study done in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that, “Certain foods and diets may be better than others for burning calories and helping people maintain weight loss.” The subjects agreed to follow low-fat, very-low-carb, and low-glycemic-index diets for a month each. Although all of the participants ate the same number of calories on each of the three plans, results showed that the study participants burned about 300 calories a day less on the low-fat eating plan than they did on the very-low-carbohydrate one.
The very-low-carb plan and the low-glycemic-index plan which included a variety of high fiber and minimally processed foods resulted in better insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels. The researchers also concluded that very-low-fat diets may actually slow down a person’s metabolism to a level where it is not burning calories as effectively as it could.
Understanding that not all calories are equal may not give us free rein to go out and eat as much healthy food as we can without concern for the total number of calories consumed. Our bodies do have a limit and operate on a sliding scale dependant on several factors including exercise, goals, age, current hormonal state and the list can go on and on. There should be some concern with the number of calories the body needs for fuel and cell repair.
Calorie counting is not going to be an exact science and it will fluctuate with reasons stated above. Weighing your food daily and calculating the gram for each macro nutrient might be a little excessive. However, it may be more important to keep your total caloric intake within a specific range (assuming of course you calories are coming from excellent food sources).
Another one of my go to nutritionists is Nate Miyaki who does not only touts clean eating but proper caloric intake to meet the individual’s goals. Sounds like a lot of math, however this is why I like Nate so much, he likes to keep things real simple. His formulas are the following based on the individual’s goals:
Lose Fat 10-12 calories/lb of bodyweight
Maintain/Body Recomposition 13-15 calories/lb of bodyweight
Build Muscle 16+ calories/lb of bodyweight
A simple example would be for a 185 lb active male who is looking to maintain their muscle mass and weight while decreasing their body fat percentage should consume about 2,400-2,775 calories per day consisting of good clean foods.
Seems simple enough: know your goal, have an idea about which foods your should consume, then approximate calories in a serving and with a little trial and error you can fine tune the right diet that you need to maintain and constantly achieve the personal result you desire.