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Is calorie counting still important?

By Angela Dowden BSc (Hons) Rnutr

For more than a generation, counting calories has been the basis by which many an overweight person has shed the unwanted pounds.

And as a Nutracheck member, you'll know it's the fundamental bedrock of our weight loss programme too.

So if you've spotted recent Press reports questioning the accuracy of calories as a measure of how 'fattening', or otherwise, a food is, you might be understandably questioning whether you're on the right weight loss plan or not!

The debate has arisen largely on the back of publicity surrounding a new plan (ProPoints) by Weight Watchers, which relies heavily on the work of respected nutritional biochemist Dr Geoffrey Livesey. It suggests that certain foods, particularly those high in protein and those high in fibre, take more energy to digest and so leave fewer net or useable calories to be ultimately laid down as fat.

As intriguing as this sounds, it isn't actually new science and its relevance to weight loss is very limited. Scientists have always known that calories can't be completely accurate, as they are worked out by incinerating foods to see how much heat energy they yield. At best this could only ever be a close approximation to the more subtle digestive processes that happen in the human body.

What isn't disputable, however, is that losing weight is about creating an energy deficit and if you throw calories out of the window altogether, you're left with no measurable way of telling whether you are successfully addressing the 'energy in' side of the equation.

And whilst it's true that one meal might be ever so slightly more or less 'fattening' than another meal of the same calorie count, the relevance to your weight becomes negligible in the context of a diet that includes a variety of different foods every day.

Furthermore, we're all exposed to exactly the same potential for 'calorie inaccuracy'. Minor errors affect us all in the same way and are of little relevance when all the evidence points to a balanced 1400 calorie-a-day diet producing successful weight loss for virtually everyone.

Does that mean all calories are equal?

Not exactly. To say so would be to ignore the growing body of evidence that suggest how you 'spend' your calories can impact on your weight loss success. So whilst managing calories is essential, what you eat is important too. Here are some tips to improve your chances of diet success:

  • Eat plenty of lean protein such as fish, poultry, lean red meat, quorn etc. Getting up to 30 per cent of your calories as protein can keep you fuller and positively influence satiety (the sensation of fullness). In practical terms it means eating 2-3 protein portions a day.
  • Choose low GI carbs - these are grainy breads, pulses, oats, pasta, brown rice etc., which release their energy more slowly than refined sugars and starches. There's evidence that on the same calorie count, weight loss is improved if the diet is low GI, perhaps because insulin levels are lower.

The bottom line? As ever it's all about eating healthily! But to say calories don't count is simply wrong - they're always behind any diet that works, including the Weight Watchers one that's caused all the furore!

Disclaimer
You are advised to seek medical advice before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle with an aim of weight loss. This website and the content provided should not be used by persons under 18, by pregnant or nursing women, or individuals with any type of health condition, except under the direct supervision of a qualified medical professional. The information contained in these articles, and elsewhere on this website, is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to replace, and does not constitute legal, professional, medical or healthcare advice or diagnosis and may not be used for such purposes. Continue...

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