The universal measure of food is now accepted as calories (or kilocalories as they are really known – kcals) and this has been the way for a long time. For more information on the history of calories check the wiki page here. Wiki calorie page
The practice of counting calories for weight loss holds plenty of scientific and logical reasoning, in effect we burn X amount of calories per day through our body maintaining it’s normal functions (breathing/sleeping) as well as burning them off when we move or undertake daily tasks, from eating, sitting at our desks working, exercising and even thinking. Simply put calories in Vs calories out is what will decide whether you gain or lose weight. It is known as the energy balance.
Calories are a measure of energy contained within food and each macronutrient holds it’s own calorific value per g. These being: fat – 9kcals/g, Carbohydrates 4kcal/g and protein 4kcals/g. Therefore if we know how many grams of each macronutrient a meal contains then we can arrive at the overall calorific content of it too.
The theory goes that if we have an idea of how many calories we require each day we can manipulate our diets by counting calories to lose or gain weight or even maintain our body weight. There are a number of ways in which you can work out your total daily or weekly calorific requirements, at Nourish we use a measure of physiological measurements, analysis tools and different software programmes to gives us the closest answer possible however there are many variables which affect daily expenditure. There are many online calculation tools, we’ve linked a few at the end of this post
As explained the theory of counting calories certainly stacks up, however in practice counting calories is actually quite a laborious task, from weighing every food, or checking the labelling on everything you buy to putting it all in to a database to see at the end of the day if you are under or over your decided amount for your goals. All in all it’s actually quite a drag to continuously count calories on a daily basis, even with the apps available which can help such as fitday or myfitnesspal.
Furthermore there is the issue that not all calories are created equal as what matters more than counting calories is the quality of the ingredients, for example 500kcals from a nutrient dense meal containing lean protein, healthy fats and plenty of vegetables will be much better for your body than 500kcals from a sugary snack. The former will also leave you feeling fuller for longer. When it comes to nutrition quality trumps quantity every time and you are eating enough of the good stuff your appetite for the bad stuff will be low and a little wont hurt anyhow.
Certainly being aware of the calorific content of foods is not a bad thing, but the process of counting every calorie will take up too much of your time and detaches from what food is really about. Once you have a basic understanding of the calorie content of foods it should be a simple case of adjusting portion sizes to suit your goals.
All of that being said, as with any nutritional information there are always considerations to make and some people really do need to be specific when calorie counting, these are mainly athletes who need to make a certain weight category though or those who need to be in peak condition for a physique show, for them it pays to micro manage calories as every little % can make a real difference.
Calorie counting apps:
My net diary: http://www.mynetdiary.com/mobile-calorie-counters.html
Calorie king: http://www.calorieking.com/