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  • Kellie Blake RDN, LD, IFNCP

A Dietitian’s View on Calories

We are obsessed with calories. Hey, I’m as guilty as the next guy. I spent years thinking and worrying about calories. I would slowly turn a box of food-like substance over to find the dreaded Nutrition Facts panel and cry a little inside when I saw the calorie content of my favorite foods. I spent who knows how many hours of my life entering my food intake into MyFitnessPal hoping to keep my calorie intake to a certain level every day. It…was…EXHAUSTING. And unnecessary.

About 2 years ago, I really started changing the way I viewed and consumed food. I have an autoimmune disease, psoriatic arthritis, and I had to change what I was eating. I thought I had a pretty healthy diet before. Afterall, I counted my calories! I thought if my calories in matched my calories out, then I was going to live forever AND be thin! I was so wrong, and not alone. I have talked to so many people who are trying to do the right thing for their bodies by counting calories. We’ve all been led to believe that calories matter, a lot.

Let’s not get too crazy; calories do matter to a certain extent. But, more important is the quality of your calories. The quality is the major determinant of health, weight and organ function…and so much more. Let me blow your mind: A CALORIE IS NOT A CALORIE! Different foods have to be metabolized by different biochemical pathways. For example, glucose is metabolized by all tissues in the body, but fructose is only metabolized in the liver. Protein and whole foods (as opposed to processed foods) take more energy to metabolize. The food you eat also affects the hormones in your body. Some foods make you feel full for longer periods of time. For example, fat and protein can increase your satiety, whereas carbohydrate containing foods can actually increase your hunger after consuming them.

Some of the confusion comes from the fact that carbohydrate and protein both contain 4 calories per gram, fat contains 9 calories per gram, and alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Our natural tendency is to get rid of the highest calorie culprits like fat. But, just cutting down on fat because it has more calories per gram is oversimplifying the situation. Cutting down on fat simply to cut down on calories leaves us as risk for significant health issues. After all, our brains are about sixty percent fat, fat is required for us to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, it provides energy and can provide fuel to our brains, it protects our organs, and regulates our body temperature. So, you see fat is not the enemy despite it's calorie content, it’s actually wonderful! We need to eat fat to maintain an optimal state of health.

So, what should you do if you want to lose weight or are a recovering calorie counter like me? Change your calorie quality. When you choose a whole-food, plant based diet with healthy fats, your body will run like a well-oiled machine. And, when you cut out processed, food-like substances, you don’t really have to worry so much about calories and your brain will function on all cylinders! I haven’t counted my calories in quite some time now and my weight has stayed the same. I eat healthy, nourishing foods most of the time and leave it up to my body to do the rest.

If you want some delicious, easy recipes that will help improve your calorie quality, check out our customized meal plans.

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