Food Quality and Not Calories Is What Counts

Relax and Enjoy Eating Right

We have been told for decades that counting calories is the only way to lose weight, gain muscle and reduce fat, but the dinner tables have turned. While calories are still very important, smart athletes know that they should focus on the quality of their calories more than the quantity of them—here's why. 

Focus on Quality, Not Counting

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Is it possible to reach our health and fitness goals when we stop counting calories? The American Council on Exercise says, “counting calories is tedious, time-consuming and a sure-fire way to never enjoy eating.” This has come as a breath of fresh air to those struggling and stressed with all the food calculations. Many nutritionists have emphasized simply writing down healthy meals in food journals tracking quality food intake in lieu of every gram, ounce, or calorie. Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN explains a calorie-controlled diet is not the best way to achieve health and often is void of essential nutrients. 

Focus on food quality and portion size, and don't stress about numbers.

All Calories Are Not Created Equal

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Tracking what you eat is a beneficial way to record eating habit patterns, but a waste of time when you count calories. The focus is now on quality real food selection first over counting calories.  Eating 100 calories of sugar is going to have a different effect on your body than 100 calories of vegetables. The American Council on Exercise questions the continuance of the flawed idea of calorie counting when eating for health is all about quality food. 

Just Eat Healthy for Success

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According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the best diet comes from quality food. Research is recognizing the relevance of calories but indicates the strongest evidence to attaining optimal weight and health is when the focus is on food quality. The Harvard department of nutrition conducted a study including 120,000 healthy men and women over a 20-year period to debunk the theory “a calorie is a calorie.” Weight gain occurring during this time was attributed to participants eating potato chips, processed foods, fatty meats and drinking soda. Weight loss was reported in the subjects who consumed vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt. 

Researchers also implied one-size-fits-all diets don't exist due to differing genetics and lifestyles. However, individuals can follow the Harvard School of Public Health Healthy Eating Plate for successful planning. The Healthy Eating Platefocuses on food quality and divides plated food portions into ½ vegetable, ¼ whole grains, and ¼ lean meat.   

Nutrients Over Numbers

Salmon dinner
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When our focus is on nutrient-dense foods in proper portion size, the need to count calories is really unimportant. You’ve heard the famous quote "nobody ever got fat eating too much kale,” and this is the point of the research. Kale, just like other quality foods, is full of essential nutrients but lower in calories. Eating right promotes a healthy lifestyle, enables us to maintain a healthy weight, improves athletic performance, enhances body functioning, and reduces our risk of illness. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics concludes that it’s the food we put in our body that matters, proving diets don’t work and counting calories isn’t the success of our health and fitness.  

Healthy Food Plate Recommendations:

1. Vegetables and Fruit: Comprises 50% of the meal. Fill ½ your plate with lots of colors, texture, and variety like spinach, kale, broccoli, peppers and squash for example.

2. Whole Grains: Makes up ¼ of your plate. Enjoy whole grains like quinoa, brown rice or barley. These foods are high in fiber and great complex carbohydrates. 

3. Lean Protein: The remaining ¼ of the plate is reserved for lean protein. Enjoy your favorite fish, chicken breast, tofu or beans.

4. Finally, drink plenty of water and stay active as part of a healthy lifestyle!

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