Carbs? Calories? Protein? Fat? What You Should Be Counting

Counting calories for losing weight is of paramount importance if you want to lose weight. What is the definition of a calorie? It is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius. In the body it is the unit of energy used to burn the fuel the food produces. It is helpful to calculate how many calories are used per day in order to help lose weight. This is the total amount of calories used in 24 hours, including all activities. This is known as the maintenance level and has to be the starting point from which you start your diet. 

One of the major drawbacks of calorie counting, often promoted in dieting strategies, is that it distracts one’s focus from ensuring they are having an adequate intake of essential nutrients and can render a balanced diet unimportant. It is fundamental to bear in mind that the human body needs an array of nutrients; it’s not just about calories. There are six essential nutrients including:  fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and water. Each has a specific function and designated role. What is also important is the synergy between various nutrients such as that between vitamins and minerals.

When assessing the healthiness of any diet, including those designed for weight loss, it is worthwhile to ask questions such as, does it add value to my health? Is it nourishing, balanced and varied? Is it adequate to my individual needs? Is it free of additives, flavoring and coloring? Does it contain any artificial sweeteners or preservatives? Does it contain GM products and/or high levels of pesticides? How much trans and/or hydrogenated fat does it contain per portion? Will it have a long-term detrimental effect on my health? Is it suitable to my individual physiological needs? And who is behind it?

The above questions should be of some relevance to the health and wellbeing of most individuals, regardless of age or health status, and can be more meaningful than simply concentrating on how many calories and grams of fat the food contains.

If we were to follow the same format described in some dieting books, which has persisted over the years, we should also be asking how many milligrams of fiber, calcium or vitamin E a product contains.

Calorie counting tends to shift the balance towards quantity rather than quality or type; even though the former is of equal or more significance when it comes to fat related illness. Such a practice encourages certain sectors of the community, frequently women and teenage girls, to base their food choices solely on the fat and calorie content cited on the food label, without paying enough attention to the rest of the nutrition information or the list of ingredients as a whole.

Furthermore, counting calories may lead to unintentional nutritional imbalances, which could manifest as sub-clinical nutritional deficiencies. Overall calorie counting does not take into account important dietary considerations such as meal pattern, nutritional adequacy or particular individual needs. A point to remember is that children have different nutritional needs to adults, as do pregnant and lactating women due to their different physiological requirements. Thus, applying the general healthy eating guidelines set for adults to children can be detrimental to their health. In short, the fat and calorie saga has not only taken the joy out of food, but also created an obsession with dieting amongst the female population at large, which is hard to overcome. The law of thermodynamics still stands, ‘energy can neither be created nor destroyed’. Energy does not only come from fat; it also comes from carbohydrates, protein and alcohol.

Author Info

Dr. Michael Heim

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