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Counting Calories Can Have Consequences

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Written by Isaac Davis

In an age obsessed with image, diet and nutrition why is nearly 40% of the US obese (CDC 2018)?

Rising rates of obesity is a story of many characters: modern lifestyles are typically more sedentary and more stressful, foods are more processed, there is a huge disconnect between food origins and cultivation – the list goes on! However, one simple statistic that we see around us all the time may provide a quick an easy fix to some of our nutritional faux-pas.   

Calories are easily one of the most overused and misunderstood nutrition statistics. A calorie is measure of usable energy, though how many calories you actually get out of your food depends on how highly processed it is. This food processing can often occur before you even buy it, but the effects of what form you ingest your food in can have major consequences. If you eat food in a raw (unprocessed) state then you tend to lose weight. If you ate this same food cooked you would gain weight, despite the fact that the calorie count is the same! Catalysing this issue is the fact that processed food is typically softer and easier to breakdown, meaning we expend less energy through digestion.

In addition to this we face significant challenges from the popular belief in ‘like-calories’. The fact that one cup of whole almonds has the same amount of calories as 23/4 McDonald’s cheese burgers does not mean that they are equal. The fact that you can eat a meal at your favourite fast-food vendor 3 times a day and still be under your recommended calorie intake does not make that a healthy choice, or one that will help you lose weight.

We must stop counting calories and work to reconceptualize the role of the calorie in nutrition; understanding the calorie as the loose measurement of potential energy it represents. In the matter of healthy eating: do away with calorie counting and keep things fresh and simple. In the words of Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

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