Calorie counting: What really counts?

Calorie counting is only part of what should be considered when making healthy decisions.

Much has been made of calorie counting, even to the extent that fast food restaurants have added the information right into their menus. But what significance does the calorie count alone have? In an item-to-item calorie comparison, baked or grill chicken and fish come out on top of burgers. However, there is more nutritional information to be gleaned just under the surface.

Knowing the average range of calorie intake for adult females is 2,000 and 2,400 for males (with variation for age and amount of physical activity) is helpful when making choices based on calories. A 400 to 500 calorie sandwich is 1/5 or 1/6 of the calories recommended, so more important questions arise:

  • What goes with it?
    Fruits or vegetables such as salads or apples are low in calories and fat, so avoiding meal combo and ordering sandwiches separately can be a healthier option.
  • What is the fat content?
    Four grams of fat equal 1 teaspoon. Knowing a burger could contain 18g versus a grilled chicken sandwich with just 8 grams is more meaningful than their equal calorie count of 420.
  • How often is it being eaten?
    Is high-caloric food a daily, weekly or occasional choice? This will determine what type of decision should be considered. The health effects of high-caloric choices, whether out to eat or snack foods, multiply with the frequency they are eaten.

A positive first step is to switch out one or two foods with “new” lower calorie choices until they become the new normal. For instance swapping out chips for pretzels could cut fat from 18 to 1 gram per serving.

Calorie counts should be considered, and when possible, taking the time to answer further questions could have a dramatic health benefit especially over weeks, months and years – and that’s what counts!

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