Is Counting Calories Helpful?

There is no real debate about counting calories; for humans to count calories makes no sense. It’s a ploy by advertisers to entice people to consume their products. You could stop reading this blog here, but perhaps your healthy curiosity needs more information for you to become convinced that counting calories is pointless.

Is it in sellers’ interests to tell you that their foods contain “lots” of calories or “fewer” calories? You cannot generalize about humans’ consumption of calories. In basic physics, a kilocalorie is the amount of energy required to heat one liter (L) of water by one degree Celsius. However, variants are endless: What is our elevation above sea level? What kind of vessel (our body) are we using? Is it a summer day or a winter night? What is the density of the liquid that we are heating? Saltwater is one liter of H2O plus 30 grams of salt. The Pacific Ocean contains 26g/L. 

Because our human body (the vessel in this equation) is a hyper-complicated organism, no two of us are ever identical. The calories mentioned on a box of cereal do not include your height, weight, age, density, and activity output. Our physiological differences aside, the product you consume may have grown under various circumstances; veggies grown in the earth are not equal in their nutritional contents to salads grown hydroponically. 

Our gut health and how we digest foods play a crucial role in how we convert what we eat into sustainable energy. Although most food in packages today features calorie counts, this information is about as useless as the federal law that drive-through automated teller machines (ATMs) must have brail to facilitate access for the blind.

Food is energy to the body, but how we break down what we eat depends on how healthy our digestive enzymes are. Digestion starts when we are grinding food in the mouth. The digestive process continues as we break down the contents in our stomach and the remainder of the digestive tract. Complex food molecules are broken down into simpler structures—including sugars and amino acids—that can travel within the blood to nourish tissues or can be stored in cells. That reservoir of chemical bonds and simpler molecules depends on yet another set of variations that set us apart: health, where we live, how we live, and genetic predispositions. 

Fats provide about nine calories per gram versus carbohydrates and proteins, which support us with an average of four calories per gram. Most fiber is loaded with only one or two calories per gram because our digestive enzymes can’t easily break down most plant-based cells. However, if we prepare those foods correctly or chew them more thoroughly, they can provide more energy (i.e., more calories). 

Take a Caesar salad with 50 grams of chicken (200 calories), 20 grams of cheese (180 calories) and 100 grams of lettuce (100 calories). For this Caesar salad, you could find the total calories listed as 480. That serving portion would fit into a large coffee mug. However, if you ate this same salad slowly and chewed it thoroughly, you could derive from it over 650 calories of energy. Food sellers count on people gorging; this way, the sellers get away with estimating lower calorie counts. 

If you gave this salad to a teenage football player who was six feet tall and who weighted 200 pounds, he would probably eat it in four bites in less than 30 seconds and gain from it less than 150 calories of energy, which he could burn off within 40 minutes of walking. If you gave the same salad to Grandma, who was 5’5” tall and who weighed 140 pounds, suppose it took her ten minutes to eat the same portion. She could store over 500 calories from eating that salad, which would generate enough energy to sustain her throughout a four-hour walk. Sellers bend facts for their own benefit the seller.

Attempting to measure calorie intake serves only one purpose. Calorie counts provide yet another excuse for eating artificial food products, crackers and other foods low in nutritional value with empty calories, foods loaded with synthetic byproducts to make the product appear the way more wholesome foods do and to satisfy your cravings. You “feed” a psychological problem.

If you find yourself in a health situation in which you convince yourself that counting calories is the solution, you’re just kidding yourself!

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