You can put away your winter coat and earmuffs; spring has finally started!
Previous updates about food scarcity, global warming and overpopulation are all important of course, but not as important as today’s update. It’s about the question that every self-respecting human being asks him or herself this time of year, which is:
‘How will I ever fit in my bikini/shorts this summer?’
I am afraid I have already lost half my audience by now. But try to stay with me.
What contains most calories?
Two candy bars or one serving of this mushroom, chestnut & cranberry tart?
Think carefully, this may be another trick question! Continue when you have made up your mind.
The correct answer is the tart. Very well done if you said that! If you were wrong you fell into my carefully set-up trap, thanks for that.
But, now that you’ve seen the answer, we can all agree that it makes a lot of sense, right? One serving of Christmas tart contains a lot more calories than the two candy bars combined (760 vs 484 kCal).
However, despite having more calories, this Christmas tart is a better choice for dinner than the candy bars, don’t you think?
The point I’m trying to make is that just counting calories doesn’t make any sense.
The example of a healthy meal versus candy is very straightforward. But when it gets less obvious — for instance, whether or not you should add an avocado to your salad — people are easily misled. They might use the exact same calorie-focused reasoning that we just concluded is nonsense.
Don’t get me wrong; counting calories is a very effective way of computing energy intake. But energy intake alone is just not sufficient information to decide whether you should eat something or not. After all, we’re not eating paper, matchsticks or tea light candles.
If this is self-evident to you, I would like to wish you a very good week and hopefully see you next Monday for something completely different!
In case you want to know the real secret to getting fit, keep reading!
Tell me more!
First of all, you have to realise that nutrition is a relatively new field of research that is still very volatile. On top of that, it is extremely difficult to do controlled studies; our diets are so diverse and personal. Therefore you would do well to stay critical and read nutrition-related facts with a grain of salt (no pun intended).
However, that doesn’t mean it is all nonsense.
You might be wondering, if energy intake is not an adequate metric, then what is? Unfortunately, I don’t think such a metric exists. Simply because our metabolism is such an incredibly complex network of interactions and dependencies. Have a look at the figure below, which is just a tip of the iceberg.
Everybody is familiar with carbohydrates (sugar), lipids (fat) and proteins and everybody knows Lego. Let’s bring those concepts together. Imagine the carbohydrates box to have red coloured pieces, with a huge variety of sizes and shapes. The box for lipids has all sorts of blue pieces, and the building blocks for proteins are green.
Theoretically your body can burn all of them — some colours burn a bit longer than others — but your body can also start building structures with them and that’s when things get interesting. We are constantly building new things. Right now your brain is making new connections, your immune system is fighting intruders and needs ammunition, every year 10% of your skeleton is renewed, and so on… Having the right building blocks, the right shapes of the right colour, is crucial. Let’s go over the Lego pieces that we have in our boxes.
Carbohydrates come in different complexities and the ones that you eat are already combinations of various red pieces; some need a lot of work to be broken down into single Lego pieces and thereby your blood sugar level rises slowly. Other carbohydrates hardly require any processing and are absorbed right away. As a rule of thumb, if children love it, it probably contains those fast carbs.
Lipids are broken down to fatty acids. There are two big groups: saturated and unsaturated. We’ve all heard about those. Imagine those saturated fatty acids as long straight blue Lego pieces of different lengths and the unsaturated as mostly straight but with a kink near the end. If you have heard of omega 3, 6 or 9; the bigger the number, the further from the end the kink is found. We need to have a lot of different kinds of fatty acids to sustain our immune system and maintain cell renewal. Both saturated and unsaturated. However, it is very important to have the right balance. For example, in our western diets we have too few omega 3 unsaturated fatty acids and too many omega 6 unsaturated fatty acids. If our immune system doesn’t have the right pieces available it will have difficulty fighting off intruders.
Proteins consist of amino acids. While they are all attached side by side, together they curl up to very specific shapes that have special properties. Building the right proteins is crucial for cells as they take care of most processes. Some amino acids can be produced by ourselves and some, the so called essential amino acids, need to come from our diet. Not all things that contain protein have the full range of amino acids. That’s why variation in your diet is so important.
Then there are the minerals, the nutrients hardly anyone thinks of, but when they’re out of balance you’ll feel weak, miserable, tired, or depressed. I’m talking about Calcium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, Sodium, Zinc and more.
Finally we have vitamins and fibers. I picture minerals, vitamins and fibers as those cool extra little things that make your Lego complete; the wheels, the little yellow guys and their haircuts.
Long story short: it is incredibly difficult.
If you count calories because you simply love counting, why limit yourself to counting calories? Just count it all, from isoleucine to Lauric acid. However, if you count calories because you appreciate having one simple rule to make sure you do not get fat, I would suggest to do the following:
Try to buy as much unprocessed food as you can. I’ll give you three reasons:
- It usually contains more nutrients than processed food, which you need for health, skin, hair, mood, energy, libido.
- Digesting fresh, unprocessed food costs energy, therefore eating is also your work-out.
- When you cook with fresh ingredients you have more control over how much sugar, fat and salt is added.
If you would like to add or ask anything you can do that in the comments!
Have a wonderful week!