How many calories are there actually in food?
Imagine finding a new fruit in the Amazon. Between screaming monkeys, red flowers and lianas, made for Tarzan, she hangs there. Deep yellow and incredibly sweet scented. Let's just say that this fragrance does not deceive you and that the fruit is actually non-toxic. But how do you now find out how many calories this fruit has?
It is nowhere to be found on Google (how could you - you are its discoverer :-)) and both your apps and FDDB do not know what to do.
In which case, you do exactly what was done with all the other foods to calculate the calorie content. You grab the fruit, look for the fastest way out of the jungle and into the next lab. There you ask, if by chance a bomb calorimeter is available. You're in luck - it’s actually there - the fruit is thrown in - and gets burned. The researchers are proud to announce, after watching how much the outside temperature increases: This fruit has 170 kcal per 100 grams. Too bad that it is now burned ...
In fact, this is the right way to calculate the calorie count of a food. However, it is far too complicated to carry out this process with all foods. Therefore, the exact calorie content of many foods is simply estimated. And why this is often wrong, you will find out here:
Not all the calorie content of food is absorbed by the body
Depending on how much starch or how many dietary fiber it has, a large part of the food you ate is excreted again. As a result, fewer calories are absorbed by the body than the calorimeter wanted to make you believe. In addition, the body expends different amounts of energy when burning different nutrients. That should actually be part of the calculations.
Estimates are inaccurate
Even with the best possible resources, estimates are still estimates. The data used as a basis could be old. Calculations wrong. For combined foods (e.g., ready made meals), the individual components may influence metabolism differently than planned.
Not all foods are the same
3 oz apples do not always contain the same nutrients - just as the number of calories can vary greatly. Depending on how you prepare a product, where it has grown, how high the nutrient density of the soil was, how animals were fed or how long you have stored it, the calorie content can be higher or lower.
How many calories do you actually consume?
You have probably calculated your basic needs with an online calculator and your total calorie consumption per day. Maybe it was even an exact calculator, which in detail wanted to know from you how long you sit, stand or lie. But do you know on which formulas these calculations are based? I do not want to go into all too many mathematical details here - but just take this: there are many different calculation methods that can be checked in the laboratory in different ways. However, it is assumed that a calculation is still OK with max. 10% deviation of the values actually measured in the laboratory. Therefore if you actually consumed 1700 calories, the calculation could give you either 1530 calories / day or 1870 calories / day - or anything in between. And this only applies to normal-weight people - if you are overweight, this number could even be more than 40% off the correct value.
The additional calories burned from exercise are also often completely over or underestimated.
Where do all these mistakes lead to when calorie counting?
You now have a lot of products with inaccurate calorie information on it. At the same time, you expect a daily calorie need that is very likely to be wrong (or have you actually been in a lab calculating your personal expenditure?) And now add arbitrary calories from your exercise. If you are lucky, the values are maybe somewhat accurate. But still, it is not guaranteed that you are actually dealing with the right information. Because there are other chances for error when measuring calories:
Counting calories is not always suitable for everyday use
Calorie Counting requires accurate weighing of products. While you may learn over-time to estimate the calories of your meals - but a pizza can have anywhere from 500 and 2500 calories - hardly anyone in the restaurant will be able to tell you exactly. You always have to know what the meals are made of. Invitations to friends become complicated. And if you accept an invitation to dinner at a friend and then misjudge your calorie estimate, your whole calorie count for the day is destroyed again.
I am sure by now you will no longer wonder if counting calories works well or not at all.
What should you do instead?
Calorie information makes sense to just get a feel for the calories in a given food. A bar of chocolate has more calories than a banana. And in turn more than a cucumber.
However, once you have that intuition, instead of spending the whole day counting calories, I recommend you focus more on a balanced diet. To eat less processed foods. More vegetables. To take in adequate protein. Stop eating when you are full. To avoid sugars and refined carbs. To drink a lot of water. And to enjoy the food you eat a lot more. Then give your “system” a break between meals.
Have you ever tried losing weight by counting calories?
Your next mission is to do what’s best for you:
From here on, I ask you to skip viewing the calorie information of the food. Instead, think about how nutritious the food still is. How many vitamins and minerals it contains. And if it will do you good.
STOP counting calories!
START counting hours!