Have you ever found yourself standing in the supermarket aisle or looking at your plate, wondering, “Are there too many calories in this?” We asked nutritionist and Clean Plates founder Jared Koch if the number of calories is as important as we think, when it comes to weight loss. His answer might surprise you.
“The number of calories doesn’t matter nearly as much as the quality of the calories,” says Koch. “Or as I advise my clients, Don’t count your calories; make your calories count.”
Skeptical? No wonder: we’ve all been taught that cutting calories is the key to weight loss. Yet there are more low-calorie “diet” foods available than ever, and more obesity than ever. Why?
“The fact is, 2,000 calories’ worth of nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods will make you look and feel better than 2,000 calories of chemical- and sugar-laden candy,” says Koch. “Our bodies process different foods differently, even when those foods contain the same number of calories.”
Here’s how it works. When we eat foods that are low in nutrients (say, diet cookies), that sets off a craving for the nutrients you’re missing. Then, even after you’ve had enough calories, your body sends hunger signals. Some scientific proof: preliminary research suggests that high fructose corn syrup (a high-calorie, low-nutrient food) fails to adequately stimulate a hormone called leptin, which prompts the feeling of fullness. Check labels, and you’ll find lots of high fructose corn syrup in processed foods…even so-called diet foods.
But when you eat foods that are filled with nutrients, in adequate portions, your body gets what it needs. You actually start to crave less, eat less overall, and extra weight comes off naturally. “Truth be told, excess weight is just a symptom of the body’s chemistry being out of balance,” says Koch. “So if you want to get in shape, the goal shouldn’t be to lose weight, but to create healthy body chemistry. You can help make that happen by sleeping well, exercising, reducing stress and eating high-quality foods as often as possible.”
Wondering what to eat? Experts agree that a plant-based diet (think: fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices) is a great foundation for nutrient-dense eating. That doesn’t mean you have to cut out organic, grass-fed meat or dairy. Just pay attention to your body and what makes it feel best, and choose the best quality ingredients you can afford.
“Calories do matter, just not as much as we’ve been programmed to think,” says Koch. “Quality matters more.” So next time you’re tempted to ask, “Am I eating too many calories?” you might ask instead, ‘”Am I eating enough quality calories?”