Would You Rather Count Calories Or Nutrients?

Calorie counting can be tempting, as well as addictive. And we’re all guilty of falling for it at one stage or another in our lives.

It’s the false promise of being able to lose weight by simply keeping track of what and how much we eat, that is the real culprit. And, there is a catch too.

The practice is misleading and unsustainable. As we’ll read further in this article, it can do more harm than good by deterring us from ‘eating right’ and keeping us starved of nutrition.


The True Value of Food

All food can be broken down into five main categories, or food groups – carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fibres, and vitamins and minerals. Carbs and fats are the energy-rich substances that act as fuel for the body. While proteins are the very building blocks.

It bids understanding that the true value of food is in delivering these essential nutrients to our body through a wholesome and balanced meal. And a complete balanced meal will include some of everything.

Take, for example, a calorie-laden fruit, like mango or banana. This fruit is a meal in itself, including essential vitamins and minerals, fibres, as well as carbs. It takes longer for the body to process this fruit as compared to a low-calorie energy bar. The energy bar (being processed) is broken down quite quickly and easily. Thus, the high-calorie fruit and low-calorie energy bar will have the same net caloric content, but the fruit will have additional nutritional benefits.


The Story Inside Our Cells

When a balanced meal is eaten there is an influx of energy within our body. This signals to the cells that food has been consumed and nutrition too is underway. And, they ready up to receive the required nutrition.

Each nutrient has a specific role to play in the functioning of the cells. The cells are designed to process and utilize the nutrients efficiently and effectively. And, all is well.

Unfortunately, the story alters significantly when we only consume foods based on the caloric content.

In our previous example, we had considered a high-calorie fruit and a low-calorie energy bar. Continuing this example, when the cells receive the signal that nutrition is underway after we consume the energy bar, they prepare but never receive the nutrition. They are bombarded with bursts of energy instead. This confuses the cells that await nutrition. In this state, they start holding on to all the energy, in hopes of expending it in the future when nutrition arrives. This leads to fat accumulation in our body.

Further, when the cells are constantly starved of nutrition, they trigger a craving for food to fill the void. This leads to insatiable cycles of food cravings.


What the Proponents of Calorie Counting Say

Calorie counting does have a few merits, but only when we compare apples with apples. Remember, unhealthy food is unhealthy, no matter how many calories it contains!!

Calorie counting does give us a sense of where we’re headed and a feel for what we’re putting inside our bodies. Here are a few pros and cons to consider.


  Pros Cons
1 Provides a measurable way to monitor and control food intake. Constantly calculating and dealing with numbers can be annoying, addictive or even downright cumbersome.
2 Introduces accountability and planning. Can override the nutritional needs of the body in view of the caloric needs.
3 Motivates you to control your food intake, keep to your goals and lose weight. Encourages you to make unwise food choices and keep unhealthy goals. You may develop unhealthy eating habits that can cause damage to health.
4 Helps you stick to portion and serve sizes. Can be misleading and unsustainable. You cannot count calories in un-labelled meals.
5 Caters to the option of engaging in exercise in order to burn off any extra calories you may have consumed. Does not encourage exercise for its own sake.


Ask Yourself These Questions

As we’ve seen it is not always enough to stick to the number of calories. With food we consume, it is vital to be more pragmatic in our approach. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. How much sugar am I consuming in my food? Is there a way to minimize and cut-down on this consumption?
  2. Am I consuming junk foods, sugary foods and drinks, comfort foods and such? Can I reduce the frequency of these meals?

3. How does my food make me feel? How colourful and appetizing is my plate? Do I look forward to my meals? Do I feel healthy and vitalized afterwards?

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