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The Truth about Counting Calories: How to Maintain a Healthy Balance While Dieting

counting calories health diet

We've all been there: agonizing over whether we can eat the piece of chocolate or not by mentally adding up the calories we've consumed that day. Chocolate cake, like every food, is made up of calories—a unit of heat that indicates how much energy any given food will supply the body. We consume and burn calories every second of the day. However, not all calories are equal. Some provide lots of nutrition and energy, while others offer a short burst of energy that ultimately leaves us wanting more.

So how can you understand the differences between good and bad calories, the different sources of calories and how to eat these calories in proportion? Let us help.

Good and Bad Calories

apples and donuts good and bad calories

Even on the most basic level, calories are complicated. Calories measure energy. They do not, however, measure nutrition. Theoretically, you can consume an adequate amount of calories but still be malnourished. When we talk about good or bad calories, we're talking about the nutritional quality of those calories. Foods with more nutrients supply us with sustained energy over a longer period of time.

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, but high in vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that your body needs. White sugar, flour, and other highly processed foods may be high in calories but low in nutrients. The Metabolic Research Center puts it this way: bad calories create a fire in your body that burns quickly and fizzles, leaving you wanting and needing more fuel for the fire (e.g. you overeat). Good calories, on the other hand, create a fire that burns slow and steady. This produces a long-lasting supply of energy, leaving you feeling fuller and more satisfied for longer.

Carbs, Protein, and Fat

There are three forms of calories: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each of these performs a necessary but unique function in the body. So if you have too much of one type of calorie or not enough of another, your body isn't operating at its optimal level. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when finding a good balance:

  • Go for more complex carbs (found in brown rice, lentils, and beans), which will raise your blood sugar and keep you from feeling hungry for awhile.
  • If it fits within your dietary habits, eat some animal proteins, which serve up essential amino acids, but make sure to include some vegetable proteins as well. Eating too much red meat can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Aim to include more healthy fats (found in many nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pecans) and fewer trans and saturated fats (found in lots of fried and processed foods).

Weight Loss

bike exercise weight loss

Weight loss seems to involve a simple calculation: calories consumed must equal calories burned to sustain weight. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume, and to gain weight, you must consume more calories than you burn. However, as we know, this isn't as simple as it seems. Factors such as exercise, stress, sleep and genetics can all affect weight loss. That means you can't rely on foods alone to help you maintain a healthy weight.

Tips for Losing Weight

Consider these tips to help you achieve balance while dieting.

  • Choose fresh foods more often.
  • Cook at home to avoid unexpected added calories.
  • Eat regularly—don't skip meals!
  • Eat slowly and pay attention to what you're consuming.
  • Get plenty of exercise on a regular basis.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep too.

One of the biggest dieting myths is that only the quantity of calories matters. But the source of those calories matters just as much. And more importantly, listen to your body. If you pay attention to what your body needs, you won't have to worry about meeting your calories quota and your body will get the nutrients it requires to perform at peak level.

Photos: Dragon Images /, Anna Hoychuk /,