New Year’s Resolution: Stop Counting Calories

By: Cassidy Hall
Johnston & Wilson County Cooperative Extension
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences

Each year, people ask me if I have a New Year’s Resolution. There are certainly aspects of health that everyone can improve on, but “dieting” is not something I encourage people to do. What? How can a person who teaches healthy eating and cooking classes say such a thing?

The term “diet” has a variety of meanings, but the top connotation of the word is “a quick-fix, an elimination of favorite foods, and changes that tend to end in a few weeks all in efforts to lose weight.” Unfortunately, there are endless fad diets to choose from that are neither healthy nor effective long term. Quick-fix diets don’t teach you how to eat healthy, therefore, they don’t keep the weight off. Instead of “dieting” and counting calories, focus on the foods you are eating.

A few years ago, my mom wanted to begin losing weight, so she counted calories in hopes to have a deficit by the end of the week. I gave her a few tips and encouraged her to switch to whole grain bread. One afternoon, she said, “I checked the calories in whole grain bread and compared it to the white bread- there is no difference in calories, so how is it [whole grain bread] better for you?” I explained that calories affect the body differently based on the nutrients that make up the calories. For example, white bread is made using refined flour in which the layers of grain that contain the nutrients and fiber are stripped away and only the starch is used. In the case of whole grain bread, less processing occurs, leaving the grain in its whole form and providing nutrients, fiber, and starch.

Although the two breads may have the same calories, only the whole grain bread gives you fiber. Fiber helps keep you fuller for longer amounts of time- helping you eat less and assisting in blood sugar control. Each time you make a food choice, check the Nutrition Facts label. A few things to keep in mind are as follows.

Eat less foods with lots of saturated fat. According to the American Heart Association, saturated fat is correlated with heart disease and higher levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol. When you check the Nutrition Facts label, read the %Daily Value. Foods that have a 5% Daily Value are considered “low” in saturated fat. Foods that contain a 20% Daily Value or higher are considered “high” in saturated fat. These numbers apply to sodium as well.

Next, focus on choosing foods with more fiber. Fiber is the forgotten nutrient. Fiber helps keep you fuller for longer, helps manage blood sugar, helps clean up cholesterol levels, and encourages a healthy digestive system. In addition to these benefits, higher consumption of fiber is linked to lower amounts of belly fat and weight loss. If a food has a 5% Daily Value of fiber, that food is not a good source of fiber. Foods with a 10% DV are “good” sources and foods with a 20% DV are “excellent” sources of fiber.

Foods that contain lots of fiber are 100% whole grain or whole wheat bread, brown rice, oats and oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins. Plant-based proteins include beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. These sources of protein provide you with fiber and protein to keep you full and are naturally low in saturated fats.

When you focus on eating more foods that are lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber, discipline of calorie consumption will come naturally as part of portion control throughout the day. These foods will sustain you much longer and fill you up faster than foods that are just “empty calories.” I oftentimes hear of people whose diet means eating salads with fat-free dressing and snacking on rice cakes because those foods have very few calories. Not only do those foods contain few calories, but they also contain few nutrients.

Your body needs calories and it needs nutrients; however, it needs the right kind of calories and nutrients! Your body needs healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and yes- even carbohydrates. The kinds of food you choose matters. Instead of focusing on calories, focus on the food.

Healthy Eating Tips:

o   Roast a variety of vegetables by tossing in olive oil, spices, and roasting at 425 degrees (F) for 20-25 minutes. Even non-vegetable eaters will enjoy roasted vegetables.

o   When you plan meals, plan the vegetables first. Stir fry recipes easy and can be prepared using a variety of vegetables and spices.

o   Keep your favorite recipes, but add in extra vegetables and serve with whole grains.

o   Snack on nuts and seeds. Try making your own trail mix.

o   Fruit and protein works well together! My personal favorites are apples and low-fat cheese, oranges with nuts, and bananas with peanut butter.

o   If choosing meats, white meat poultry has less saturated fat than dark meat. For red meat, choose lean cuts such as 93% lean. The redder the meat, the less saturated fat.

o   If part of your healthy eating plan means using less meat, try substituting half of the meat with beans or lentils. For beef, substitute half with mushrooms that have been through a food processor. Mushrooms take on a meaty flavor, and I promise no one will know!

For more healthy eating resources, please visit www.johnston.ces.ncsu.edu and look under the “Family and Consumer Sciences” tab. In the meantime, try this delicious recipe served over brown rice for a heart-healthy, simple meal.

*Featured Recipe Tip: If you are unfamiliar with fresh ginger root, you can substitute with 1 teaspoon of ginger powder.

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