Should we count nutrients or calories?

Should we count nutrients or calories?

  • It is not necessarily the quantity of the calories you consume that matters, but the quality
  • Vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anticancer properties
  • Calories, as you can see, should not be the ultimate decider of which foods we eat and which foods we avoid

We’ve all heard the following nutrition advice: “weight loss is calories in versus calories out” or “just burn more calories than you eat and you will lose weight.” So we start counting our calories, vigorously exercising, switching from olive oil to fat free dressings, and start avoiding avocados, nuts, and other high fat foods in the hopes of shedding weight and getting “healthy.” However, recent research continues to prove that this advice is outdated, and it is not necessarily the quantity of the calories you consume that matters, but the quality.

For example, a chocolate candy bar has roughly the same amount of calories as a banana with peanut butter. But the candy bar is devoid of nutrition and is processed and packed with sugar. In contrast, the banana with peanut butter is loaded with nutrients such as fiber, protein, potassium, and vitamin E. In these instances, it is much more beneficial to count “nutrients” rather than counting calories.

When we count nutrients, we make sure we are eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables every day. Vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anticancer properties. Fruit contains fiber and vitamin C, as well as antioxidants. The majority of our diet should be made up of these nutrient-dense foods.

Calories vs. Nutrition – What’s More Important?

Yes, they do happen to be lower in calories, but it’s their nutrient content that matters the most. In addition, we “count nutrients” in the legumes, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats we consume, because when we chose whole food sources of these foods, we gain an abundance of nutrients along with them. For example:

  • Black beans are full of fiber, protein, and antioxidants
  • Salmon has essential fatty acids and protein
  • Quinoa has all the essential amino acids, plus is a plant-based form of protein
  • Avocados are full of monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been seen to lower cholesterol

As we can see, these foods are much more than just the calorie counts attached to them. They play important roles in our health and our bodies that cannot be contained in just their calories.

When we count nutrients, we also don’t worry about the calories in fatty foods such as almonds, avocados, peanut butter, and salmon. The fats in these foods are beneficial for our overall health, so even though these foods are high in calorie, they are also high in nutrients.

It would be a shame to avoid such nutrient-dense foods, merely because they are high in calories. In addition, these fats keep us satiated, which means we stay full for a longer period of time, reducing the mindless snacks that we may have consumed had we avoided these fats and “watched our calories.” Calories, as you can see, should not be the ultimate decider of which foods we eat and which foods we avoid.

Of course, calories do make an impact on our health, but more so when we are consuming too many calories that are devoid of nutrients (ie. processed sweets, refined white flour, fried foods, etc). But, when our diets are nutrient-rich, calories don’t need to be our priority, because we are filling our bodies with whole, nourishing foods. Trust me, in this case, the calories will work themselves out.

So next time you are trying to decide what to eat, use the following tricks to see if your food is rich in nutrients:

  • Do you have at least 2 servings of vegetables on your plate?
  • Is your plate colorful, and not just brown, beige, or white?
  • Do you have a healthy fat at your meal? (ie. avocado, nuts, olives, seeds, etc)
  • Do you feel satisfied after your meal or could you use a snack?

If you have a colorful, vegetable-filled plate with a healthy fat, and you feel satisfied after your meal, then you most likely consumed a nutrient-dense and healthy meal, regardless of the calorie count. Using these tips to gauge your meal will be a much better indicator for yourself than merely counting calories. Nutrients go a much longer way in our overall health and wellbeing, so choose your foods wisely, and enjoy good health and vitality in the process.

 

 

About the author

Tveen Verano [MPH, RD] is a registered dietitian nutritionist from Southern California. She is currently working as a renal dietitian and has a private practice as a registered dietitian and online wellness coach. Her passion for nutrition and real food drives her to keep up with current research and provide relevant and applicable information to the public to help stop the trend of obesity and provide vitality and health to everyone.

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