Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Health Care and Counting Calories

When you consider how much you eat, do you ever count calories? According to dieticians, fitness instructors, and weight loss management experts, your caloric intake has a direct affect on how much you weight you gain or lose. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that calories be listed on any packaged food product. Calorie counting is an easy way for you to manage your weight. This website has a calorie counter that will help you accomplish that goal: .

Why is calorie counting so popular? As Americans, we love easy sound bites, according to WebMD. Plus, counting calories (or fat grams) is far easier than actually understanding the complex effects food has on our bodies (and our waistlines). Calories do count, but they are far from the whole picture. Food produces hormonal effects in the body. Some hormones say 'store that fat'; others say 'release sugar'; others say 'build muscle.' Study after study shows that diets based on the same amount of calories, but different proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, result in different amounts of weight loss.

According to the Mayo Clinic, calories are the energy in food. Your body has a constant demand for energy and uses the calories from food to keep functioning. Energy from calories fuels your every action, from fidgeting to marathon running. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the types of nutrients that contain calories and are the main energy sources for your body. The amount of energy in each varies. Proteins and carbohydrates have about 4 calories a gram, and fats have about 9 calories a gram. Alcohol also is a source of calories, providing about 7 calories a gram. Regardless of where they come from, the calories you eat are either converted to physical energy or stored within your body as fat. These stored calories will remain in your body as fat unless you use them up, either by reducing calorie intake so that your body must draw on reserves for energy, or by increasing physical activity so that you burn more calories. Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you'd lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). Cutting calories doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, it can be as simple as:
--Skipping one extra high-calorie indulgence a day.
--Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options.
--Reducing portion sizes.

Where do those missing calories go? Into our mouths and directly to our waistlines, for the most part, according to WebMD. In fact, there's a lot working against us when it comes to staying slim and healthy. Big meals and large portions (think holiday feasts and most restaurant dinners) tend to undermine our calorie-counting efforts, studies show. And being overweight makes it even more likely that we'll underestimate the calories in our meal --a definite disadvantage when it comes to losing weight. In one study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found that all people, no matter what their size, are more likely to be able to accurately guess the number of calories in small meals than in large ones. Overweight people tend to eat larger meals and larger portions, which explains why they tend to make mistakes counting calories, researchers say.

According to WebMD, since it's hard to count calories outside the lab, you may want to pursue other methods of policing your energy intake. Think of your workouts. When you exercise, you're burning calories, but you rarely ever count calories when you're calculating how much exercise you need. Instead, you count miles, minutes, or heartbeats. Ready to jump off the calorie-counting bandwagon? Here's what to do instead:

1.) Instead of counting calories, eat smaller portions. It may seem like a basic concept, but it's easy to forget that bigger portions have more calories. Most people gauge a serving as "the amount you're used to eating," a recent study found. That would be restaurant food -- where meals are served on platters, not plates. And the more you look at (and eat) huge portions of food, the more you see them as normal -- to the point of serving ourselves the same amounts at home. Unfortunately, studies show that when you're served more, you tend to eat it. One caveat: there's no reason to eat fewer vegetables; they're much less calorie dense than other foods (they contain fewer calories per gram).

2.) Instead of counting calories, choose foods that use more calories. Some foods require more energy than others to digest and metabolize. For example, if a woman were to start eating only foods that take a lot of work to digest (high-fiber, protein foods) she might save about 12 to 15 calories per day, the same amount she could expend by walking for about four minutes. But for some people -- especially those stuck in sedentary jobs or crunched for time -- it just may be worth it. Besides, foods that take more work to digest, like those high in fiber, tend to be those that are better for you. And choosing the best nourishment for your body is a much healthier food focus than counting calories.

3.) Instead of counting calories, make sure you consume the right kind. Nearly one-quarter of Americans' calorie intake comes from sweets, desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages, research from the University of California, Berkeley notes. Another 5% comes from salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks. Nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, contribute only 10% to the average American's calorie budget. When it comes strictly to weight loss, a calorie is a calorie. However, when it comes to your health, it's best not to blow your calorie budget on foods that lack nutrients. Nutrient-dense choices like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, while those lacking in nutrients, like candy, soft drinks and white bread can contribute to a whole host of health problems.

Eliminating high-calorie foods, choosing lower calorie alternatives and cutting your portion sizes can help you reduce calories and improve weight control. For a successful — and sustainable — weight management plan, you also need to increase your physical activity. It's this combination of regular activity and healthy eating that will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Regardless of your personal health situation, with the exception of certain medical conditions you may have, you should watch what you eat, and don't overeat. Calories can be a contributing factor to your desire to control your diet and weight. Most experts recommend a healthy mix of the right foods with quality portion control, and you should also consider a good exercise program that is right for you. And always consult your family doctor or primary care physician about changes in your lifestyle, diet, and exercise regimen.

Until next time.


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