Stop counting calories; focus on nutritional value instead

“Do you know that burger has 950 calories?” That would be me, pointing out the obvious and ruining my friend’s appetite in the process. I’m the type of person to count calories – not for health reasons, but just out of curiosity. On a recent sweets binge-fest, I mentally recorded 780 calories. No, I didn’t adjust my food intake for the remainder of the day to not go over the recommended 2,500 calories a day. I don’t care if I eat 500 or 5,000 calories. It simply amuses me to know roughly how much I›m consuming.

But some people are very conscious about their calories. My friend, the one who devoured the 950-calorie burger, probably skipped breakfast the following morning to “compensate” for the sin that was the previous night’s dinner. That’s really not the healthiest thing to do.

In fact, experts now say that we should stop counting calories altogether and instead direct our focus on the actual health benefits of the food items we eat. This is the gist of an editorial penned by doctors Aseem Malhotra and James DiNicolantonio and professor Simon Capewell for the online journal Open Heart.

“Shifting the focus away from calories and emphasizing a dietary pattern that focuses on food quality rather than quantity will help to rapidly reduce obesity, related diseases, and cardiovascular risk,” the researchers say, believing that this dietary change can improve health at the population level. “But clinicians have failed to act for far too long, amid an excessive focus on the calorific content of food by the food and weight loss industries, despite mounting evidence that it’s the nutritional content that matters.”

For example, processed foods with low calorie counts have negative effects on the body while natural foods with high calorie counts are quite beneficial to the health, showing that calorie counting without considering nutritional value is counterproductive.

“Daily consumption of a sugary drink (150 calories) is associated with a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes whereas daily consumption of a handful of nuts (30 g of walnuts, 15 g of almonds and 15 g hazelnuts) or four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (around 500 calories) is associated with a significantly reduced risk of heart attack and stroke,” the statement reads.

“It is time to stop counting calories, and time to instead promote good nutrition and dietary changes that can rapidly and substantially reduce cardiovascular mortality. The evidence indeed supports the mantra that ‘food can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.’ Recommending a high fat Mediterranean type diet and lifestyle to our patients, friends and families might be a good place to start,” they conclude.


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