The nutrition facts label is required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be on almost every packaged food item. This food label provides us with powerful information about the food itself. The problem is, not many people know how to accurately read it!
Knowing how to read a food label is very important, and can prove vital for a person's health, especially if they have some sort of condition or special diet. Also, it can help a person actually know what is in a particular food in order to STAY AWAY FROM IT! :)
Along the way, we'll learn what is most important to look for on the nutrition label, how things on the label can be misrepresented (sometimes purposefully), and how the information on a package can be very misleading.
Today we'll be talking about calories. The graphic above will show you where the serving size information is located on a nutrition facts label.
What exactly are calories?
A calorie is a unit of energy. The number of calories in food is a measure of how much potential energy that food possesses. The calorie number listed on a food label shows how many calories are in one serving of that particular food.
What does "calories from fat" mean?
The label also shows us how many calories come from fat in that particular food. One gram of fat has 9 calories. With this equation, you could figure out how many calories come from fat even without the label.
Similarly, a gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories and a gram of protein also has 4 calories.
Not all calories are created equal.
Since a calorie is merely a unit to measure energy, we shouldn't rely on calories when watching what we eat. There are different amounts of calories attributed to different nutrients (as said above). This tells us that nutrients are what we should be paying attention to (yes, fat is a nutrient) instead of calories.
Your body burns more calories digesting and metabolizing protein than it does other nutrients. In other words, more calories (energy) are needed to process protein than to process carbs or fat. In turn, more energy is needed to process carbs than fat. This shows us that not all calories are the same: a 2500-calories-a-day high-protein diet adds fewer calories to the body than a 2500-calories-a-day high-carb diet, which in turn adds fewer calories to the body than a 2500-calories-a-day high-fat diet. You see? Same calorie intake, but a very different diet, which will yield vastly different results.
That isn't to say that protein is better than carbs is better than fat. They are all just different. Because, to stay in trend with this post, not all proteins are the same. Not all carbs are the same. Not all fats are the same. :)
There are many other factors attributing to why calories should not be treated equally. For instance, liquid moves through the body much faster than solid foods do. So while 100 calories of fresh squeezed juice and 100 calories of solid fruit are mathematically the same, liquid calories will not keep you full as long as solid fruit will.
Also, depending on the food, calories can differ when cooked or when raw. For example, in some raw starchy foods, calories are not 100% available, and so we digest it without getting all of the calories attributed to that food. Also, some raw foods take more energy (calories) to digest.
In conclusion, I have not even begun to cover all of the reasons why calories shouldn't be the main thing you look at when eating a healthy diet or why calories should be treated differently. This is something that many books and many articles have been written on, so I suggest that you do more research if interested.
Just remember that calories are merely units of measurement for energy. We need calories. But we need good nutrients and a proper balance of these nutrients to supply those calories. Calorie counting is never exact.
Do I count calories?
No. I do know food well enough that I can guess a roundabout number of calories I eat in a day, but calories don't really matter to me. I eat clean (meaning that I eat real food - no processed food at all) and I balance my carb intake (fruits) with my fat intake (coconut, avocado, nuts, and seeds), along with my veggie intake and protein intake (nuts and lentils). Since I eat clean, I don't have to worry about calories. When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm satisfied, I stop eating. Simple as that.
Stay tuned for more on the food label!!