If you are someone who meticulously counts calories, I have some interesting news for you. An independent study has shown that the calorie counts
listed on nutritional labels are flawed, with some overestimating the calories by up to 25 percent.
Junk food and processed snack food labels are fairly accurate but foods high in protein and fiber are the ones where the most discrepancy exists. Talk almonds, for example. They calorie count on one serving is listed at 160. In reality, scientists say it only amounts to 120 calories. This is good news if you have been known to overindulge on the tastes little nuts but bad news if you are on a low carb diet or trying to count calories as a way to manage your weight.
These discrepancies happen because there is a difference between usable calories, or the energy your body actually gains from the food, and total calories, says Peter LePort, M.D., medical director of MemorialCare Center for Obesity in California. The Atwater system has been used to calculate the caloric value of foods for decades. It's a process that burns the food and then measures the amount of energy it takes to heat up one gram of water one degree Celsius. But the problem is, this method is not an accurate representation of what is going on in the human body. Proteins and fibers are not completely digested so we actually excrete some of the calories. The more protein and fiber a food has, the more inaccurate the calorie count.
This is just one of the reason more and more experts are discounting calories counting as a main method of weight management. "I wouldn't throw the entire calorie counting system under the bus," explains Wendy Bazilian, R.D., author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet
and co-owner of Bazilian's Health Clinic in San Diego, CA. "But when choosing food, I always advise looking first and foremost at the ingredient list. After determining the quality of the food, you can look at the nutrient fact panel for certain particulars like sodium, relative fiber value, and the balance of macronutrients. Only after all of that would I say to look at calories."
LePort believes this should serve as a reminder to people that calorie counts are always an approximation. "An approximate calorie count is all you really need to know. After that, your body will tell you what it needs. People need to be focused on eating healthy, whole foods and listening to their body about when they are hungry rather than relying on some number."
I was a little surprised by these findings. How about you? Does this change anything about the way you shop?