Healthy Eating 101: The End of Calorie Counting

February 07, 2020

With so many diets promising to be the one that finally works, it’s hard to know what to believe. Low fat, high fat, low carb, and high protein, are just a few of the diet types that claim to be the best. And for decades now a host of programs like Weight Watchers, and others have claimed that counting calories or points is basically all that matters, regardless of the diet’s actual content. Newer programs, like Noom, claim to be different but really only put a slightly different spin on the same concept, focusing on the caloric density of foods.

However, recent reports of growing nutritional deficiencies show that there is more to healthy eating than just calorie counting. The same could likely be said about popular macro-counting, as well. Read on and learn what calorie counting and tracking macros is all about, and how such counting based diets may actually hurt you. Plus learn what top nutritionists are now saying about how to start truly eating healthy.

What Is Calorie Counting?

The theory behind calorie counting is to eat less calories than your body expends each day, in order to lose weight. To do this, you’ll need to do a few calculations. You calculate your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and multiply it by an activity factor. However, the simplest way to calculate caloric needs is to multiply your weight in pounds by an exercise factor. This factor is 15 if you exercise at least 30 minutes per day. 

Once you’ve figured out your caloric needs, then you should try to eat less than that number to create a deficit. By creating a deficit, you should lose weight.

Calorie Counting Versus Tracking Macronutrients

You may have also heard of tracking macros. This eating plan involves keeping track of the amount of macronutrients — protein, fat, and carbohydrates — you consume. There are real benefits to eating like this since it can help ensure you consume enough of each macronutrient for optimal health, and that is important. This type of tracking may still involve counting calories, but it does focus more on the ratio of calories consumed from each macronutrient.

So, Is the Tracking Macros Method Recommended for Healthy Eating?

Tracking macros can help you to eat healthier. However, there are many diet plans out there that use tracking macros along with macronutrient restriction. These types of diets may severely limit carbohydrates and/or significantly increase fat intake. And although this type of eating may help some lose weight, it may not be appropriate for everyone.

This is because some people with digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, pancreatitis, or gallbladder disease may not tolerate fat as well as others. Not to mention that some diets high in fat (even healthy fat) may be harmful for those with or at risk for heart disease.

What About Meal Timing?

There is no one sure-fire healthy eating method that works the same for everybody. It really depends on your current health status, nutrient needs, medical conditions, activity level and other factors. Therefore, one diet won’t work for everyone. Experts suggest that counting calories and tracking macronutrients is just part of the equation. And some research reports that the timing of your meals may also have an impact on your overall health.

A 2019 study looked at the potential impact of time-restricted feeding, known as intermittent fasting on metabolic health. Study results showed that this type of meal timing can reduce fat mass and increase insulin sensitivity when fasting periods routinely extend more than sixteen hours. This type of meal timing restricts eating to a certain period of the day for several days a week. There are multiple intermittent fasting schedules, so this eating style is adaptable to different schedules. 

How Can I Eat a Healthy Diet Every Day?

Taking all this information into account, is there a healthy eating plan that helps your body perform its best, mentally and physically? Health experts suggest that you should follow the guidelines below to eat your healthiest.

Eat Mostly Whole, Unprocessed Foods Every Day

This means that over half of the foods you eat should be whole foods like fresh produce, whole grains, and proteins. Eating more whole foods will ensure that you receive a diverse array of nutrients like fiber, protein, and antioxidants. Experts report that eating a diet full of whole foods can lengthen life and lower risk of certain chronic conditions.

Consume Enough Nutrition to Support Health

Sometimes restrictive diets can leave you with cravings and feelings of deprivation. Not only that, but without a diverse diet you’re at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Being deficient in essential vitamins and minerals can lead to vision issues, fatigue, and decreased quality of life, among other things. Therefore, be sure your diet includes enough essential nutrients to satiate your body, as a balanced diet helps prevent nutritional deficiencies. And visit your doctor each year to have your vitamin and nutrient levels checked. If you are low in any nutrients, changes in your diet and/or add dietary supplements to make up the deficit.

Include as Many Plant-based Foods In Your Diet as Possible

Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, which is beneficial for gut health. Many are also rich in a variety of antioxidants that help fight inflammation and reduce chronic disease risk. For example, plant-based diets can be beneficial for combating type 2 diabetes. A 2018 study shows that plant-based diets can improve HgA1C levels, weight, and quality of life in those who suffer from this condition.

Creating a diet that includes mostly whole, plant-based, and minimally processed foods may seem difficult, not to mention expensive. Try out some of the following tips for eating healthy on a budget.

  • Buy in bulk and freeze food for later. Even if there are only you or a few of you at home, buying meat and frozen produce in bulk can save money. You can separate the packs of meat or poultry into freezer bags for later use. You can also still get nearly as many nutrients from frozen produce as from fresh. Also, frozen produce can help you waste less food and spend less in the long run, since fresh fruit can go bad before you have a chance to eat it. Although some produce (like salad greens) will need to be purchased fresh, buying mostly frozen can save you money overall.
  • Purchase store brands when possible. When it comes to common foods like frozen vegetables, butter, milk, and cereal, the store brand is often similar in quality to name brands, with less cost. You can also use this tactic for certain cleaning products (or make your own non-toxic cleaning products) as well as trash bags and napkins to save money.
  • Look for specials. Scan the weekly circular online or in the newspaper for specials at your local store. Try to plan meals and snacks around sale items to save money.
  • Make a list and stick to it. When you’re planning meals, jot down what foods you’ll need for those meals on a separate list. Having a grocery list with you at the store can prevent unnecessary spending. Stick to the list and avoid throwing excess snacks and other spontaneous purchase items into your cart. This can help you avoid buying unhealthy foods and save you money too.

Bottom Line On Healthy Eating

No matter what the media says about various types of calorie counting for better health, balance is ultimately the real key to health. The body requires a balance of all macronutrients to function at its best. And consuming these macronutrients from whole, minimally processed foods is best.

Although a smartly formulated multivitamin and mineral is essential, you should get as many nutrients as possible from your diet. Consuming a wide variety of foods will provide a diverse form of nutrients, and a high-quality supplement will fill in the gap.

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