Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Google’s new calorie counting app may be dumb but that doesn’t mean counting calories is


Apparently Google is developing a “smart” food diary that allows you to track calories simply by taking photos of your food. This concept has been around for a little while and is still notoriously inaccurate. From that standpoint, I agree with the reviewer in the verge who called the smart food diary “dumb”. However, I disagree with their reason for calling it dumb.

He states that “calorie counting doesn’t work”. Um. What? Tell that to the countless people who have successfully maintained weight loss with the help of tracking their food intake. Sure, no one thing works for everyone and calorie counting is not 100% accurate. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful weight management tool.

You see, the thing about calorie counting is that it’s not really about the calories, or the counting. It does give people a rough idea of how many calories they’re consuming and a sense of how much to increase or decrease depending on whether they want to gain or lose weight. In addition to that, it increases mindfulness. When you have to record everything you eat it makes you pause before you mindlessly snack out of boredom or anxiety or whatever non-hunger related reason that you might be tempted to eat. It can also help you to get a better idea of what and when to eat. If you see that you’re skipping breakfast and then snacking all night then you might be prompted to aim to start your day with a more substantial breakfast to help curb excessive snacking later in the day. Or if you find that you’re always tired in the afternoon you might see that there’s room for improvement at lunch time or that you might need to add a snack and more water to your afternoon routine.

Yes, in the sense that cutting 3, 500 calories does not generally translate to a pound of weight lost over the course of a week, calorie counting “doesn’t work”. However, as a tool to help guide your food choices and timing, food diaries can be invaluable.

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Google nutrition search

avocado with options

As much as I love google (I’ve joked that they own my soul) I’m not sure about their new nutrition in-search feature.

A fitocracy friend recently told me about this feature and since then it’s been all over the Internet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t yet appear to be available everywhere, just in the US, which means that I’m unable to check it out myself.

Looking at the blog post they wrote to tell us about it is where I developed my reticence. The blog post indicates that you can ask the google nutrition search any nutrition related question and it will give you an answer; both written and aloud. They provide examples like: “How much protein is in a banana?” or “How many calories are in an avocado?” They also write: “Tempted by some popcorn at the movies? Ask “how many calories are in popcorn” and you’ll get your answer. [Hint: it’s 31 calories per cup]”. Interesting, because aside from that very much depending on the theatre chain and the toppings, I’m pretty sure that movie popcorn contains more calories than that. Also, a small is about 11 cups so honestly, who’s eating only one cup of popcorn at the theatre?

According to an analysis of movie theatre popcorn in the Globe and Mail, popcorn servings and calories tend to be larger than stated and several hundred calories more than stated. Can we trust the information that google is providing us in these nutrition searches? Where are they getting their numbers from? According the the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, a single cup of popcorn at a major movie chain in the US would have about 62 calories, twice as many as stated in the google nutrition search.If this is the example that they’re providing on their blog, I can’t help but wonder how inaccurate the rest of the nutrition information they’re providing is.