Calories vs. Ingredients: Why I don't play the calorie-counting game.

September 3, 2017

Hi! I'm an avocado. I'm high in healthy fats but I won't make you fat, I promise. 




"How many calories does X have?"


"Oh, I made a healthy choice because X
only had this many calories."


"I can't eat X because it's too high in calories."



Sound familiar? Surprisingly, as a nutritionist and health and wellness consultant, I really don't have that many pet peeves. Aside from laziness, excuse making, living in the past complaining about the same problems over and over, and not trying new things, the calorie conversation is one that usually gets my eye twitching and my heart racing just a little bit faster (CALM DOWN WOMAN! We thought you said you DIDN'T have that many pet peeves!).


But before we dive in, some ground rules:


I, personally, don't hate calories. They are extremely important and just like a car needs fuel, our body needs calories to function properly. The problem is that too many people obsess about them in a mostly negative way. They assume that the higher the calorie count a food has, the unhealthier it is.


Many people were once taught that too many calories in and not enough calories out (i.e. eating food and not burning it off) causes weight gain. While this can be true (and it might have its place in some situations), I think it's created a tainted way of looking at food and at health and wellness as a whole.



A calorie is a calorie is a calorie.


Not quite. Take this scenario: A client once came in to the clinic and inquired about some cookies we had on the shelf. She said "how many calories per cookie?". I asked, "why does that matter?"

As you can see, per two cookies, the calorie count is 160 and only 10 ingredients. All good stuff right? Plus they only have 2g of sugar for two cookies. Sweet! (But not too sweet.)



Let's do a comparison. Now, I will try and restrain myself here. Kellogg's Special K -  A company that PRIDES itself and its products on the amount of calories they have. (Note how I called it a product and not food). Someone who is unfamiliar with ingredients and their importance might look at this and say "Sweet! Only 100 calories, it must be good!". And I remind you that's 60 fewer calories than the oatmeal cookies we just looked at. Let's make our way to the ingredient list in the second photo shall we?



Not to mention they add "flavour" after the cookies in cream. Another red flag. (Artificial flavours anyone?)



I can't pronounce half of these ingredients (and sadly most of them are chemicals). First of all the second ingredient is sugar (and there are 7g of it for two bars as opposed to 2g of sugar for two oat cookies. Fewer calories but more sugar? Hmmmm....). Side note, did you know that the first ingredient in the list is the most prevalent ingredient in a product, the second ingredient is the second most prevalent, and so on? These crisps also have a ton of crappy oils, which raise our omega 6 levels and cause inflammation (healthy fats are not the cause of heart disease; fake, refined oils and sugar, amongst other factors, are).


Many food-like products that have to advertise their calorie content in big elaborate ways are usually trying to hide the fact that their ingredients are pretty shitty. These things aren't food and they are making us sicker and sicker. Same goes for products that are "low fat" and "low calorie". When you hear these terms think "chemical shitstorm". What are they having to do to these products to cut the fat and calories yet still make them taste like the full fat/calorie versions?

Bottom line: stick to whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible. And when you grab a product that has an ingredient list, check that first rather than immediately identifying the calorie content and basing its quality on that alone.


Quality over quantity...


Until next month my health-conscious friends! xo

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