This is one of the most popular nutrition questions asked. Should I count calories? Like most nutrition topics, the answer is not cut and dry.
It is important to know what a calorie is, especially in relation to the food we consume. Calories in food are calculated by kilocalorie, which is the energy required to raise the temperature in the body. Kilocalories are also used to calculate expenditure through daily activity in “burning calories”. It’s important to note that the calorie totals in food are estimates, and can be off by 20%.
The big conversation in the nutrition field is whether or not all calories should be treated equally? And the quantity vs. quality debate.
Let’s start by saying that both are important to pay attention to, there can be “too much of a good thing”. Roughly speaking 3500 calories equates to 1 lb of weight gain or loss, this is a rough estimate.
Each of our macronutrients has a set amount of calories per gram:
- Protein 4kcal per gram
- Carbohydrates 4kcal per gram
- Fat 9kcal per gram
When it comes to caloric intake is not necessarily the number of calories but the overall effect on our systems metabolically, in particular with our hormones.
For example, eating 300kcal of potato chips vs. 300kcal of chicken breast will have a
different hormonal response in your body. The potato chips, due to the high carbohydrate content will raise blood sugar levels as well as insulin (fat storage hormone) which if not used as energy can be stored as fat.
The chicken breast, however, will provide a breakdown of amino acids (the building blocks of our cells) and amino acids cannot be stored the same way as carbohydrates and fats. When protein is consumed there is a release of the hormone glucagon (fat-burning hormone) and the hormone CCK which is responsible for telling our bodies it is full, helping to avoid overeating.
Calories matter but not as much as you might think and it is important to focus on both quantity and quality, which will help maintain a healthy metabolism.