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Where do we end up focusing more, on calories or nutritional value?


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What is the first thing you notice in many of the so-called “diet” foods? The indication of how many calories they contain. And why is this a great marketing technique?

Maybe because the majority of consumers have equated healthy eating and good health with the number of calories contained in food. In fact, according to the results of this research, four out of ten of us admit that they are “obsessed” with counting calories, while one in five controls every food that goes in their basket for its caloric value.

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And this is unfortunately extremely problematic.

Because measuring everything in calories is problematic

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Thanks to our obsession with calories, it seems that we have taken out of our field of vision everything else that can exist regarding food. Nearly six in 10 people do not think about the vitamin content of food, at the same time more than a quarter actively record calorie intake in one application.

Research published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2018 highlights that many people are deficient in nutrients, possibly due to our obsession with calories. According to researcher Emma Derbyshire, 50% of middle-aged women had low selenium levels, 25% had low iron levels, 34% had less potassium than recommended, and 17% had iodine intake below the recommended low.

At the same time, magnesium and vitamin D intake were particularly low in women in their 20s and 30s. In other words, all the nutrients needed for energy production, good sleep, boosting the immune system, athletic performance and good mood were in short supply.

What information do calories give us?

“Calories tell us nothing about a food other than the energy it contains,” says nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, founder of Rhitrition and author of The Science of Nutrition. “The energy contained in food is just a rough estimate with a 30% margin of error.”

“Numbers have nothing to do with nutritional value or nutrients. The number of calories in a food does not say how much fiber, vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) are found in it. “It’s really frustrating to have people believe that calories determine our health, when in fact there is no hiding how healthy it is.”

For example, a low-fat chocolate may contain fewer calories than a fruit salad. However, fruit salad can only contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals and therefore be better and more beneficial for the body and “Low calorie foods are not always the best choice – the issue is quality as well as amount of these calories “, adds Lambert.

So, if calories do not determine health, why are they considered such an important part of the diet?

“Calories have long been considered the measure of weight control. In reality, however, the obsession with calories is more about the human need to be in control. It’s something simple and relatively easy to measure, which makes it easier to take control of your health. “

How to improve your food choices

While there are guidelines for taking vitamins and minerals, keep in mind that the concept of healthy can vary from person to person. Some people, such as women of childbearing potential or people with anemia, need to focus on getting enough iron. Others need more carbohydrates on their plate (eg athletes or people with intense physical activity). At the same time, depending on the time of year, the stage of life or the country of residence and the percentages of sunshine, the needs for vitamin D intake may change.

In general, it is good for everyone to limit foods high in salt, free sugars and saturated fats and to eat more fiber and prebiotics.

At the same time, try to choose foods that support the health of your gut and nourish the intestinal microflora. This helps both in the process of digestion and in the improvement of our mood, since 90% of serotonin is produced in the intestine. Also, look for a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats and different colors of fruits and vegetables at each meal.

In the same context, the Mediterranean diet is an excellent dietary approach, which has been extensively researched and has been shown to “contain a lot of good fats and all the vitamins, minerals and fiber we need to live to old age.” as Lambert points out.

But beware! None of the above means that instead of calories you should now start counting one by one the nutrients contained in the menu of the day. “I do not think anyone needs to watch their food 100%. This can become a very robotic lifestyle that for many people can fuel a broken relationship with food.

I think being aware of what the food you choose contains, but without being afraid to give up sometimes, is the best way to eat. “A healthy diet concerns all the foods we consume and does not require us to consider their composition and consumption piece by piece, not even day by day”, concludes Lambert.

And we can only agree with her.

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