There was a time when many Nigerians didn’t really care about the Nutritional Value of their diet. They had basic knowledge of balanced diet but that was just about it. Companies that added the label to their products only did so to fulfill all righteousness. Food was eaten for the sole purpose of satisfaction and not for their calorie counts. Not surprising as most of the Nigerian populace saw food as a necessity, not luxury.
However, things are changing. Exposure to quality food has changed the game. Check the phone of a young adult and you are likely to see a workout app of some sort. These apps come in with calculators for Body Mass Index (BMI). People now have deliberate exercise routines to get their desired shape, they are picky about food, and roads are now — more than ever — filled with people who go on jogs.
The end goal of it all: to take the right calorie counts and achieve the goal of a perfect body and to stay healthy.
Because of this fit-fam wave, many have become mini nutritionists. People add up the calorie levels of meals they eat hoping they meet a desired target. While calorie calculations are important to weight gain/loss programs, they are not as accurate as we think it is. And this is a problem.
What exactly is calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy. In nutrition, calories are used to denote the energy people get from the food and drink they consume, and the energy exerted in physical activity.
Because we all have different levels of burning energy (metabolism), we all need different levels of calorie. A thin person with high metabolism needs to eat more to make up for the ones lost. An obese person, on the other hand, needs to cut down calorie intake in order to lose weight.
What exactly is wrong with calorie counts calculation?
In the 19th century, Wilbur Olin Atwater created a system for calculating how many calories are in one gram of fat, carb or protein. But this has been dismissed as simplistic.
New studies have shown that the number of calories we get from meals are dependent on a lot of factors that Atwater didn’t take into consideration. Some of them include: the method of preparation (warmer foods offer more calories than colder ones since it doesn’t stress the digestive system to assimilate), the digestive bacteria in our intestines, and the class of food generally.
The studies have also criticized the old method for its lack of account of how certain meals (nuts, for instance) have evolved and are less easy to digest. In one study, Janet A. Novotny and her colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture discovered that people receive just 129 calories per serving as opposed to the 170 calories reported on the label.
This means we might be getting more or less calorie than what the label says. Digestion is really tricky and it is impossible to accurately calculate how many calories are in meals.
How should we check our weight then?
By carrying out self-observations and thinking carefully about the energy we get from food. For instance, processed meals are easier to digest. This means that they will give us more calories, because the body doesn’t stress to digest it. On the other hand, vegetables and nuts are a lot harder to digest (and they also provide more nutrients). Thus, a person interested in cutting calorie intake is better off eating more veggies.