Calories Are Calories, Right?

With it being January, many people are thinking about and working toward losing weight. I have heard so many times that calories are calories are calories. People like to believe that it doesn’t really matter what we eat as long as our calories in equal calories out for weight maintenance or just eat fewer calories than you expend and you’ll lose weight.

One quote that comes to mind is this “It doesn’t matter if you overeat on ice cream or on lettuce. Too many calories means you’ll gain weight!” While the main concept of this is true, overeating leads to weight gain, we have a bad habit of oversimplifying these things.

The truth is there is nothing simple about it. We are all different, and we all have different calorie and nutrient needs. AND eating 1000 calories of ice cream is not the same as eating 1000 calories of a more nutrient dense, balanced diet like lean protein, whole grains and fruits/vegetables. It’s just not so stop saying it is. There are other components involved than just calories. Eating a well balanced diet can help us to manage our weight, and also prevents nutrition related diseases that have absolutely nothing to do with weight- like osteomalacia or anemia.

There are three macronutrients, and that’s where we get our calories. They are fat, protein and carbohydrates. It’s important to properly balance these macronutrients. Like I said before, we are all different, so your needs won’t match my needs. But a good place to start is to aim for 50% of calories from carbohydrate, 20% of calories from protein and no more than 30% of calories from fat. In addition to balancing these macronutrients, it is important to try not to exceed your own calorie requirement. How do you find your own calorie requirement? It is not easy to get exact, but you can use an app like Supertracker or MyFitnessPal to help you not only choose a calorie goal, but also to track and analyze your intake.

Another important way to balance your diet is to make sure you are eating some lean protein each day from fish, chicken, eggs, wild game, lean beef or a beans and rice combination along with plenty of fruits and vegetables and some whole grains thrown in. Add in low-fat or fat free dairy and you’re balanced. Again, how much of each of these food groups you need will be individual to you. A good jumping off point is to aim for approximately 5.5 oz of lean protein, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 6 oz of grains (like cereal, bread or rice) making at least 3 oz whole grains, and 3 servings of dairy or soy milk each day.

I want to say again that your own individual needs are unique to you and the guidelines listed above are just a place to start. Once you know what you are eating, you can gauge whether you are losing or gaining weight and tweak it to fit your own needs.

Bottom line: don’t oversimplify. Pay attention.



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