6 Reasons Counting Calories Is Complete Nonsense
We all see calories listed on food labels, but what are they really? The answer may not be what you would expect. The actual definition of a calorie is the amount of energy required to raise one kilogram of water by one degrees celsius. Wait…what?
What calories actually are and how they are technically calculated
Many years ago calories counts were determined in a much different way than they are today. Food was placed in a sealed container surrounded by water known as a Bomb Calorimeter. The water was then heated by electrically charging the container until all of the food was completely “burned up”. The resulting increase in water temperature would indicate the amount of calories in the food. So a calorie isn’t a physical thing, it’s simply a measure of the potential heat energy contained in a food item. As an example let’s say we put a big juicy cheeseburger in the bomb calorimeter and turn it on. If the temperature of the water rises one degree celsius as a result, this would mean the burger contains 1 Calorie. But hold on, aren’t burgers supposed to contain a lot more calories than that? The answer is yes and the reason reason for this is that the calories we see on food labels are actually kcals (kilocalories), which means 1000 kcals = 1 Calorie. So now we know that by burning that delicious 1000 calorie, actually 1000 kcal cheeseburger, the temperature of one kilogram of water would rise by one degrees celsius. So how does this information serve us? The answer is that it doesn’t, it’s almost completely useless, and here are the top six reasons why.
#1 Calorie counts have nothing to do with the nutritional content of the food
The number of calories has nothing to do with the nutritional content of the food! Take zero calorie sodas for example. These drinks legally contain no calories, however they contain artificial sweeteners, which have been linked to diabetes among a long list of other negative health effects. We should be asking ourselves questions such as, what minerals are contained in the food? Are there vitamins in the food? Are there any toxic chemicals or preservatives in the food which could potentially harm our bodies? The calorie count listed on the food label will not answer any of these questions, which is why much less emphasis should be placed on calorie counts. This labeling of calories on food packaging is designed to distract us from the only part of the package that actually matters, the ingredients.
#2 Calories are not an accurate metric for the amount of energy food provides to the body
Let’s go back to the example of the 1000 calorie cheeseburger. How would most people feel after eating that cheeseburger? Would they be ready to go straight to the gym? Of course not! They would most likely be laying on the couch and experience a big dip in energy. So something containing a lot of potential heat energy, expressed as 1000 calories, doesn’t necessarily give our body more energy. At the same time, less calories do not convert to the food having more health benefits, as was explained with the example of zero calorie soft drinks. Plain and simple, the correlation between calories and the amount of energy garnered from food, is quite low.
#3 Eating the daily recommended value for calories does not mean we will be healthy
So is there some kind of middle ground, an optimal level of calories per day such as the guideline of eating around 2,000 calories per day? The answer is no, because it depends where those calories are coming from. If all 2,000 calories are coming from processed foods or refined sugars, there will definitely be negative long term health consequences, even though we are eating the recommended amount of calories. There are different types of fats, carbs and proteins, some of which have health benefits and some of which are harmful. Calorie counts do not take this information into account.
#4 Eating less calories does not necessarily help us lose weight
Calories do not give any useful information about the effects the food will have on our body. Calories are simply a measure of the potential energy, in terms of heat, contained in the food. Again, it all depends on the source of the calories. There is no optimum level of calories. There are foods which work for our body, and there are foods that do not. By choosing foods that our body wants and needs, we will lose weight if that is our intention, regardless of how many calories we are consuming. Always remember that everyone’s body is different. The diet that works for me may not work for you. There is no “cookie cutter” approach to health or to losing weight, especially when it comes to something like calories.
#5 Calorie counts may be completely inaccurate
Calorie counts are no longer determined by burning foods in a bomb calorimeter, as this would be too expensive and time consuming for food companies. Food companies now use averages to calculate the calories. Here is how it works:
1 gram of fat= 9 kcal
1 gram of protein= 4 kcal
1 gram of carbohydrates= 4 kcal
So if a food contains for example, 5g of fat, 8g of protein and 9g of carbohydrates, the amount of calories listed on the label would be calculated as follows:
Calories from fat: 5g X 9 kcal= 45 kcal
Calories from protein: 8g X 4 kcal= 32 kcal
Calories from carbs: 9g X 4 kcal= 36 kcal
Total calories: 45 kcal+ 32 kcal + 36 kcal = 113 kcal
So the calorie count of the food is never actually measured, it’s derived from averages and does not even take into account the fact that there are a vast array of different proteins, carbs and fats, all of which have different levels of calories!
#6 There’s really no such thing as “burning calories”
We can’t burn something that does not physically exist! Since a calorie is not a physical substance, saying we are burning calories makes no sense. What’s actually happening is that our body is breaking down proteins, carbs and fats into very small pieces so that those substances can be absorbed into the bloodstream and used by your cells for energy. Different substances require different amounts of energy for our body to break them down. There is a very low correlation between how many calories something contains and how much energy our body needs to break that substance down into a usable form. For example, there are many different types of proteins and each of these different types require different digestive processes in the body. Calorie counts on food labels simply list “Protein”, and do not take into account the sources of those proteins.
Eating a diet containing whole and natural foods will help us lose weight and have more energy guaranteed. As long as we’re not overeating, there’s no need to worry about how many calories we’re consuming. Plain and simple, counting calories is complete nonsense and a waste of time. Instead, we should focus on identifying foods containing vitamins and minerals that our body needs. It is definitely important to be aware of how much we are eating, but a better way to measure this is by listening to the subtle signals our body sends us relating to hunger, as opposed to counting and measuring our caloric intake.
Stay happy and healthy,