Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Are calories an enemy?

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I would like to propose that we stop demonizing calories. All too often I see products promoted as “low-calorie” or “calorie-free”. I hear jokes about things like it’s okay to eat a broken cookie because the calories all leak out. Consuming as few calories as possible is considered virtuous. This despite the fact that we need calories to live.

Just in case you need a quick refresher on calories, despite what many people will have you believe, a calorie is a calorie. The definition of a calorie is, “the heat energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram (rather than a gram) of water by one degree Celsius”. Calories provide us with energy. Energy to get through each day but also energy for your body’s systems and cells to function. Without a source of calories you will die.

So, why do we think that calories are bad and something to avoid? Because we’ve learned that excess calories, those we don’t use up, are often stored by our bodies for later use in the form of fat. And fat is bad because our society has rather arbitrarily decided that being thin is more attractive. Regardless of your body shape or size though your body still needs calories to function.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world and mental space where instead of choosing 100 calorie snacks or avoiding foods because they contain “too many calories” we could look at food as a pleasurable way to nourish our bodies? Not just to think of food as fuel but as an essential component of self-care. Calories are not the enemy, they are vital to life.

Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

6 thoughts on “Are calories an enemy?

  1. Pingback: Are calories an enemy? — – Bon Bon Lifestyle Webazine

  2. The new nutrition label was changed by the FDA to reflect new scientifc information including the link between diet and chronic diseases. It was developed to make it easier for consumers to make informed food choices. Added sugars are now included and actual amounts of Vitamins D, Calcium, Iron and Potassium are now included. As far as the Calories being in bolder and larger print and serving size is to let consumers know that eating the whole container may not be just one serving. As a Registered Dietitian I have conducted many grocery store tours with groups of people that are not only watching the calories, but also need to know sugar content due to Diabetes or sodium content due to high blood pressure, and any other health concerns including ingredients if they have allergies. I think of the Nutriton Label as a disclosure of the actual nutrients in a product opposed to what the front of the product might highlight. For instance, if the product makes a nutrient statement on the front you can flip over to the Nutriton label to see what the facts really are. The calorie content gives the consumer a comparison to compare products to help them make informed decisions. Some resturant chains now offer that information so you can choose between a sandwich that might have 900 calories, and 1000mg sodium to one that has 350 calories and 140grams of sodium. Does it make a difference, I believe so. Some clients I have counseled are shocked when I disclose that one of the foods that they regularly consume may not be the best choice and show how they can use the food labels or nutrient information to help them meet their dietary goals and make better food choices.

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  3. The calories leak out of Beanitos, too. Just finished a bag of the crushed ends…. :D

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  4. I was talking about just this thing to someone the other day. We’re taking a course, and she was annoyed that the dining hall didn’t have the calories (etc) listed for the menu items. While it may be great to realize how that menu item that in the restaurant compares to your daily requirement, I also feel people focussing to much on the calories and not enough on the food itself. When I see people getting stressed because they don’t know what to choose for lunch because the calorie info is not there, it makes my sad. Particularly because what they’re usually considering is the calories and fat, and not all the other nutrients that food can provide or even the satisfaction factor. So often I see people choosing their food simply on the calories…and often classifying a food as “more healthy” simply based on the calories. Nuts are higher in calories, but they can be a great snack and have lot of nutrients including protein and healthy fat. Personally, I usually don’t choose the 0% milk fat yogurt…yes 0% has less calories and less fat and less sugar (because it’s sweetened with sucralose)…but I also find it less satisfying (I find I get hungry sooner)…and its only one food within a lot of other choices in my day. Foods are more than their calories…but often people are judging their healthiness based on the calories alone.

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    • Excellent point. I agree that counting calories can be a useful tool for some people but basing dietary choices solely on calories means we’re not listening to our bodies and may very well actually be making less nutritious choices.

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