For many years, people have used calorie counting as a way to help navigate them through the complicated world of food. Today with the use of different websites and smartphone apps, there are an endless number of ways to track each calorie ingested as well as every calorie burned through out the day. Many individuals use these resources with the intention of losing weight or becoming healthier, but in many cases these flashy gadgets, watches, and applications can actually send the wrong message.
One of the problems with looking at food in this way is that not all calories are created equal. There is a large difference between 200 calories of kale and 200 calories of ice cream. One of these options is loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, while the other has little nutritional value. By putting all foods on an even playing field and only looking at one aspect, it undermines the complexity of how the human body uses calories and nutrients, as well as how they interact with each other.
When focusing only on calories, it is common that individuals often restrict healthy foods. For example, nuts and seeds in general are high in calories for their weight. What many calorie conscious individuals may not consider is all of the other benefits that come along with those types of foods. Fiber content, healthy fats, protein, and a host of minerals are all things to take into account when selecting foods. In addition, quite often these foods can help with satiety and keeping a person feel fuller, longer.
Another thing to take into consideration is that the nutrients in food can differ between the seasons, the variety, and the ripeness. This is to say that an orange that is eaten today may have a slightly different nutrient and calorie makeup than one enjoyed three months from now. This may sound insignificant, but if this is the case with many items throughout the day, week, or month, it could to equate to a vast difference in the number of calories a person thinks they are getting, and what they actually are.
In addition, food labels can be inaccurate. According to the Food and Drug Administration, labeling laws allow for up to a 20% margin of error. When the math is calculated on that, it can equate to large fluctuations in the actual amount of calories. Take for example an item labeled as being 600 calories. By law, the item could actually contain up to 720 calories. If a person is just paying attention to calories alone, this is an inexact science that can leave them wondering why the results are not showing.
A more positive and sustainable approach to healthy eating is paying closer attention to the types of food being eaten and reducing the amount of processed food in the diet. Including fresh, whole foods that are close to their natural state is far more beneficial than agonizing over whether or not a few extra blueberries will max out the calorie count for the day. To put it simply, the balance of calories in versus calories out does not work. If it were that easy, more people would do it and the obesity epidemic would not be what it is today. There is no quick fix, and in order to have success, it is important to look at health and nutrition as a lifelong process.
So put the calculator down and start looking at the bigger picture. Nutrition and the health of the human body are more involved than simple addition and subtraction of calories.