Nutritional values of foods are typically given in kilojoules or kilocalories, standard units of energy. However, it's the different macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) that interact to regulate appetite and energy intake. Achieving the correct nutritional balance is more important than overall energy intake.
Counting calories suggests that vitamins and minerals are not very important because they don't contribute to overall body composition since they don't contain calories, however, its common knowledge that these nutrients are very important for general health and wellbeing. So if we are counting calories and not macros to change our body shape, we can eat whatever we want as long as we don't exceed our calorie intake?
To put that into perspective, if I was counting calories with a restriction of 1200 calories a day, I could eat 5 mars bars without exceeding my calorie intake. Would I achieve my goals of losing weight and increasing muscle tone? Unlikely. In my opinion, we achieve our individual goals by measuring our carbs, proteins and fats each day to ensure our body is properly fuelled for exercise and daily energy requirements.
We seem to prioritize protein over carbs and fats when we need to get the balance of each macronutrient right. High protein diets might help us to lose weight short term, but if they involve other imbalances, health problems and deficiencies will be introduced. However, same rules apply if we have a diet low in protein. If we aren't consuming enough protein we will over eat on fats and carbs to get the target level of protein that our body requires.
Many foods have a macronutrient imbalance. Processed foods are made to have specific levels of macronutrients high in protein, low in carbs and fat etc. Our bodies and appetites are not made to digest and adapt to industrially made sugars, starches and salts, which explains why human obesity has increased over the past 60 years.
So, how do we ensure we keep our macronutrient intake balanced? When foods are nutritionally balanced (whole foods), and one nutrient requirement is satisfied, so are the others. Food itself very rarely consists of a single macronutrient. Oats, potatoes and rice for instance, are commonly thought of as carbohydrates. While these foods may consist predominantly of carbs, they also contain small amounts of fat, protein and fibre. Same thing applies to other singularly dense macronutrient foods such as chicken (protein) and avocado (fat).
I believe if we eat a healthy balance of carbs, proteins and fats based on our personal goals and fuelled by whole foods, we can achieve anything from losing weight, gaining muscle and increasing energy for fitness. Forget the calories, count your macronutrients!
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