Caloric information of food is exactly wrong
Go google inaccurate calorie count and you’ll see what I’m talking about. What’s on the label is in most cases, exactly wrong. There are quite a few reasons why what’s on the label isn’t what is in the food.
Restaurants, food companies, even the USDA use generalities and simplifications to calculate the amount of calories in different foods. The rule of thumb of 4 calories per gram of carb or protein and 9 calories per fat along with some special considerations leads to a number that approximates the average calories in a prepared or whole food.
Think of a prepared meal. What are the chances that each serving of a meal has the exact same amounts of fat, protein and carbs in it? Small to none. Yes over 10 servings it probably averages out but you’re only eating the one.
What about whole foods? Unless we’re cloning food, each apple, carrot, pork shoulder, etc is going to have different amounts of calories, ratios of macronutrients and nutrient density! There are fat cows and skinny cows, big and little carrots and apples.
We generalize food calorie information, and as a result we have a ballpark number, but it’s never going to be right, If you’re trying to lose a lb a week by dropping 500 calories a day, accidentally eating 200 extra calories will significantly hinder your ability to lose weight.
Holy, that heading is a mouthful. I kept it in the article because it sounds smart, now lets actually break it down in to something digestible...
Recent research has started to suggest that the caloric density of food may not be the governing factor of it’s ability to make you feel full. Say again? More calories doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to feel fuller. ‘fullness’ might actually be due to a complex combination of food volume, food chemistry, and how we think of food.
There is new research being done on which foods make you feel the fullest. It's becoming an accepted thought that foods of exact same caloric amounts can make you feel different levels of ‘fullness’ for different periods of time. Eating ‘empty’ unfilling calories will leave you unsatisfied and as a result your more prone to snacking -- and we all know it’s much easier to choose the chips or chocolate bar over the apple or carrot when hunger strikes.
Here is a cool article on the satiety index if you’re interested in learning more.
This one sounds a little sciency, but when you think about it a little deeper it’s a pretty simple concept. Think about an egg. You can crack it and eat it raw like Rocky, or throw it in a frying pan with a little butter. Cooking changes the chemical make-up.
If you remember from Jr. high science class, a change of state doesn’t mean something has been chemically altered, but if you can’t reverse the change of state process (like the fired egg), then something has gone on chemically!
The general rule is that cooking food allows more calories to be extracted from the food during digestion. Different methods of preparation can make different amounts of calories readily available to be absorbed by the body.
Websites like CalorieCount and NutritionData will try to help you out with this by offering foods with different preparation methods but again we’re looking at differences depending on how much you cooked your food, not just the method. There’s uncertainty everywhere!
Digestive process effects how many calories we truly extract from food
The amount of calories you get from food also depends how well your body digests that food -- which makes me wonder if you get any calories out of eating corn… just saying.
If you’re not digesting your food fully (which starts with chewing your food well -- thanks Mom), then you’re not getting all of the calories (and nutrients) out of your food. Of course, if you’re trying to lose weight you might think this is a good thing. Not so fast!
Some nutrition professionals are starting to believe their is a relationship between our ability to get the calories and nutrients out of food and obesity. If you don’t digest well, or if you have a digestion disease (such as Chron’s), you don’t get all of the nutrients out of food.
Not getting the nutrients out of food leaves your body still craving the essential nutrients it needs, as a result the satiety hormone (leptin) is not triggered and you don’t feel full. Not feeling full, you end up making a more trips to the snack cupboard or have the extra helping of chilli. It’s a lose -- lose situation.
Ok, so I’ve effectively slagged on calories for most of this article. Because I’m a nice guy I’ll throw in a couple kind words for our calorie counting friends. First off, if you’re doing this diligently you’ve already made a commitment to trying to make yourself better -- good for you! Even though your calorie numbers may be inaccurate, you are doing one really good thing, you are being more conscious of what you’re putting in your body.
My recommendation over calorie counting is to keep in mind portion sizes. The palm of your hand is a good reference. Try to eat protein at every meal, and try to eat two or more servings of veggies for every serving of protein. Don’t fixate on the numbers, it’s better to keep portions in mind. If you’re eating mostly clean, nutritious foods the calories will take care of themselves.
Your body is way better at tracking calories than you, so let it be your guide. If you're goal is to lose weight, but you're not then including more low calorie dense foods or reducing overall intake is going to help you. Don't stress the numbers.
Live your Best Life!