QUANTITY VS QUALITY: HOW TO QUIT COUNTING CALORIES FOREVER
Last week we talked extensively on why the concept of energy balance doesn’t fix the problem of obesity or calculate into health. So how do we make healthy choices about what to eat? Do you need to continue using all those calorie counting apps? Points? Calculators for every food and step you take? Why does it have to be so complicated? The equation of healthy food choices really all boils down to quality vs. quantity. What does that even mean….
When we think of food, we have to look at it in terms of information. Plants receive energy from the sun; That energy is converted into chlorophyll, which is converted into phytonutrients. The plants are then eaten by animals which convert the nutrients into healthy muscle tissue. As omnivores, humans take in this light coded information either directly from the plants or secondarily, from the meat that we eat. These bits of information then tell the millions of cells in our body what to do and if the proper information is received our bodies go to work to make sure that everything is running correctly. This allows us to play with our kids, work in our garden, get good sleep, or any other myriad of activities we do on a daily basis.
If the information we put in is corrupted or doesn’t include the proper bits of information, the body starts to cut corners and converts its way of being based on the information that we have input. It really is a well-oiled bio-electrical machine when you think about it. Have you ever put unleaded gasoline in a diesel engine? How did that turn out?
Quality in reference to food refers the amount of nutrients available in the food we choose. Food has both energy density and nutrient density. Energy density refers to the actual caloric energy that a particular food has, whereas, the nutrient density refers to the amount of macro- and micro- nutrients available in the food. This includes all the hundreds of phytonutrients that are found in plant foods.
Think about some of your favorite foods…
Gummy Bear: high energy density, low nutrient density
Broccoli: Low Energy density, high nutrient density
Ice Cream: High Energy density, low nutrient density
Grass fed steak: High energy density, high nutrient density
Every single food can be thought of in these terms.
An easier way to evaluate this is through pictures. Here are some examples of 200 calories of various foods.
As you can see, for the most part, whole foods allow us to eat a higher volume of food while providing both the nutrient density our bodies need and the ability to not feel like we are starving. WISEGeek did a photo study of a whole list of foods and took pictures that show exactly how much 200 calories of various foods looks like.If you would like to see the entire photo study you can find it here.
If you evaluate the food you are eating on the basis of energy/nutrient density and you choose foods that offer high nutrient density and low energy density on a regular basis then, counting calories becomes redundant.
What I have found works for me is a large colorful variety of fruits and vegetables (about 85% of my diet) and it is supplemented with a small amount of quality protein found in sustainably pastured meat, wild caught fish, nuts and seeds, as well as, a small amount of unrefined grains (think black rice, quinoa, millet, steel cut oats). If I maintain this balanced way of eating, counting the actual calories is unnecessary and I am so much happier. Remember that eating is completely bio-individual and eating in this way might work for you. You can even add in some quality organic dairy products and there is always a little wiggle room for treats.
The important thing is to listen to your body. When you eat food, it should make you feel satiated, happy, and energized not sluggish, weighted down and like you need a nap. This week try experimenting with different ways of incorporating nutrient dense foods into your diet in new and exciting ways.
Have a great week!