It’s Not Just About the Calories

In today’s blog, Dr. Michael Omidi discusses why obsessive calorie-counting is not the answer to a healthy lifestyle.

Recent studies have shown a slight decrease in the daily caloric intake of the average American adult, dropping from 2,220 to 2,134 calories over a period of seven years. Here’s the good news: we’re drinking less soda and more water, trans fats are now banned by the FDA, and nut-based snacks are more popular than grain-based. However, we’re eating far less than the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables, eating too many foods with added sugar, and the percentage of daily calories from fast food has risen to 18 percent.

Barry Popkin, global nutrition professor at University of North Carolina, says that Americans are still consuming a troubling amount of sugary beverages, refined carbohydrates, and fast food: “We have slightly cut our calories [but] we still consume over half our calories from the wrong foods.”

Calorie-counting is absolutely meaningless if there is no nutritional value in what is being consumed. For example, many doctors recommend an intake of 1,200 calories per day to lose weight, or to maintain a healthy weight with normal physical activity. Here are three hypothetical meal plans that illustrate how this idea, taken out of context, can go terribly wrong:

Meal Plan 1: 1200 calories

  • ½ cup orange juice, blueberry pancake with light syrup, coffee
  • Peanut butter sandwich on multigrain bread, 6 oz. skim milk, 1 peach
  • ¼ cup hummus, celery sticks
  • Baked whitefish, ½ cup cooked brown rice, 1 cup steamed veggies

Meal Plan 2: 1200 calories

  • 1 strawberry Pop-Tart
  • 2 slices cheese pizza with no toppings, 1 can cola
  • Small hot fudge sundae

Meal Plan 3: 1200 calories

The problem seems to be the spread of misinformation. Many Americans follow a 1,200 calorie diet or something similar, and are genuinely confused when they are not losing weight. There’s a reason the smallest section of the classic food pyramid is designated for “fats, oils, and sweets”—it simply won’t lead to good health if you try to obtain most of your calories from these kind of foods.

Here are some great ideas for filling, nutritionally-rich meals that are inexpensive and easy to prepare. If it’s easier for you to follow a balanced diet by choosing a daily caloric value, remember that choosing fruits, vegetables, and proteins will give you more energy. Don’t forget to supplement your healthy diet with plenty of exercise on a daily basis!

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