Ask Keri: Why don’t Nutritious Life’s recipes include calorie counts?
First of all, calorie counts create a false sense of equivalency that makes it seem like one food is healthier than another based solely on that number. A 300-calorie chocolate chip cookie, for example, is not better for you than a 400-calorie serving of wild salmon.
Calories are a measure of the energy that is generated from food once inside the body, and they abide by a simple law of physics: energy in – energy out = weight loss or gain. This is true in a test tube and sometimes it holds up in tightly controlled weight loss experiments. But it’s far from the complete story. Things like hormones, cravings, emotions, and a social life tend to get in the way.
What About the Nutrients?
The even more important factor is that foods are not made up of calories alone. They are complex mixtures of fiber, protein, fat, and vitamins and minerals. Not to mention sugar and additives like flavors and preservatives in processed foods. All of these elements can impact how your body responds to a food, from affecting the hormones that control hunger (leptin) and those that direct our bodies to either burn or store fat (insulin) to simply determining whether a calorie is useful for your body or not.
You’ve probably heard the term “empty calories,” and those are the ones that are the least useful, or even downright harmful. The opposite of an empty calorie is a nutrient-dense calorie, and that’s what you should look for: foods that pack lots of vital nutrients into every calorie.
Think lean protein like chicken and fish, olive oil and avocados that are rich in healthy fat, and unrefined carbohydrates such as vegetables, beans, fruit, and whole grains, all of which are also loaded with micronutrients.
When you use a Nutritious Life recipe to whip up a smoothie or a quick dinner, you can rest assured that all of the ingredients used fall into that category. (By the way, most of the recipes would meet your calorie count goals naturally if we were to count them, we’re just choosing not to focus on that.)
The Bottom Line
To be clear, that doesn’t mean calories can’t add up when you’re eating healthy foods; they can.
But what I’ve found is that counting them isn’t a strategy that works. Instead, I recommend cleaning up your diet AND mastering a much better portion-control strategy: Evaluating your hunger quotient.
Your hunger quotient is a number that helps you understand how hungry you really are at any given moment, and you can learn to measure it by getting in touch with your body’s cues. This will help you know when you’re full, AKA have had enough calories, at any meal—no counting required.
Finally, eating healthy food should be fun and exciting. It should be about mindfully enjoying delicious meals with the people you love and feeling good after. Calorie counting takes the magic and happiness out of how empowering it is to eat real, nourishing food. And trust me, you’re never going to stick to a strategy that feels like a chore.
(Featured Photo: Shutterstock)