The next time you’re frustrated with counting calories counting blame Lulu Hunt Peters. This early 20th century doctor popularized the idea of calorie-counting as The Only Answer to healthy weight management.
Calories had long been studied in chemistry circles, but Peters was the first to suggest that cutting excess calories (and not necessarily changing food choices) was the way to slim down.
Fast-forward a hundred years and Americans are still (unnecessarily) obsessed with calories!
Today people gravitate toward absurd calorie-restriction diets ranging from Reese Witherspoon’s baby food diet to Gwyneth Paltrow’s $200 ‘moon-dust’ infused smoothies. However, all of these fads are leaving out the most crucial factor …
Making Calories Count
Experts have now tweaked Peters’ calorie ethos, advising people to select foods that offer maximum nutrients with a reasonable calorie count.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, of Harvard Medical School, discussed the shift in a New York Times interview.
“The evidence is clear that not all calories are created equal as far as weight gain,” he says. “If you’re focusing on calories, you can easily be misguided.”
Indeed, it’s easy to be misguided as our modern food labels typically feature a calorie-count and only two vitamins and minerals. Here’s a better way to navigate the system…
Nutrient Density 101
In a nutshell, nutrient density is the ratio of beneficial ingredients to the food’s energy content for the amount consumed.
Nutrient-dense foods feature a high tally of protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy oils top the nutrient dense food list.
What do you get out of nutrient dense food? More energy, enhanced digestion, better sleep, happier moods, and overall improved health.
More Bang for Your Caloric Buck
Scientists have long known that our bodies process healthy and unhealthy foods quite differently. For instance, that 500 calorie donut and the 500 calorie serving of fruits or vegetables will have different effects on our bodies.
Sugary foods will spike glucose levels, leading to an insulin issue, making it difficult to lose body fat as insulin is a storage hormone.
Obesity and chronic disease are skyrocketing in the United States thanks to our food choices. For too many, this means a steady diet of burgers, fries and sugary drinks which are woefully poor in nutrients, with few vitamins and minerals. Different calorie sources can have vastly different effects on hunger, hormones, energy expenditure and the brain regions that control food intake.
Foods that are nutrient-dense will also help you feel full and satisfied. Plus, the more nutrient-dense foods you eat, the less you’ll crave the unhealthy foods. Stop counting calories and start paying attention to the number of nutrients in your food. It's a new calculation of nourishment that your body will thank you for.