Either for weight loss or having healthier eating habits, we need to know how to count our calories intake. Counting these is not just a matter of how many we eat, but also what kind of calories we choose. There are useful calories and the ones that do our body no good. And yes, our aim should be to eat the useful calories in the amount our body needs. In the lines below we will talk about types of calories, how to eat in order to keep balance and lose weight, and how to use a system to count your calories easily.
Count our calories
Each one of us has an individual calorie need, and before taking any measure in adjusting it, start by measuring your current calories intake. Calorie requirements depend on age, sex, occupation, exercise and general health. The average 30 years old man needs between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day, while the average 30 years old woman uses between 1,450 and 2,250 calories. But this average is quite irrelevant if you compare a telesales sitting all day at a desk with a field salesman always on the run or even more, with a sports player. Definitely the calorie intake is very much a personal matter and before starting to change anything to it, we need to count our calories we normally eat.
The easiest way for me to do this is to use a free app on my phone (called MyFitnessPal – you can find it for both Android and iOS mobile devices). They have a huge food database and you just need to add the foods you eat every day. You will get a total of the calories you eat, and also a view on the calories types you eat. In the next paragraphs, we will explain a bit more the types of calories there are and how some of them are more beneficial than others.
Our daily calorie intake come from fats, carbohydrates and protein. Besides these, vitamins and minerals are needed in order for the body to function properly, but vitamins and minerals are not carrying calories. No single food can supply all these at once, that is why we need a balanced diet for a healthy life.
Just as a rule of thumb, our daily diet should consist of 11% protein, 50% – 70% carbs and 20% – 40% fats. But all these are a bit more complex problems, as there are different types of each calorie type with different roles in the body that we need to account for.
Protein is vital in tissue growth and repair: skin, muscles, bones and blood all depend on the (22) amino acids found in protein. Some of these amino acids cannot be produced by our body, that’s why they need to be supplied by our diet.
Good sources of protein are: fish, poultry, white meat, milk, eggs, cheese. Vegetable sources of protein include cereals, nuts, pulses (beans and lentils) and wholemeal bread.
Red meat is not a highly recommended source of protein as it contains a lot of hidden fat.
Carbs supply energy for the body and help it digest and use fats and proteins. Stores of carbohydrates in the body are enough to only supply energy for a day or less. If these stores run low, the body will start using the body fat, which can supplement month’s of energy for the body. In a low calorie diet for weight loss, the principle is to supply less carbs for the body so that it will use the fat store instead.
Still, carbs are important as, besides supplying energy, they also play a crucial role in the correct functioning of our liver, brain, heart and muscle contraction.
There are three main groups of carbohydrates: sugar, starch and fiber.
Sugar is the simplest form of carbs, and it includes fructose (found in fruits), lactose (found in milk), glucose and sucrose. Sucrose, found is white or brown refined sugar, is unnecessary and contribute little to our dietary nutrition.
Starches are broken down to glucose by the body. They are found in most plant foods such as cereals, rice, vegetables and legumes. Bread and potatoes contain carbs as well as protein, minerals, vitamins and fiber.
Fiber is the indigestible part of the plant and it helps our digestion, therefore maintaining a healthy body. Fiber absorbs the moisture of the food as it passes the bowel, making its actions softer, bulkier and more regular. If you increase your fiber intake in your diet, make sure you also increase your fluid intake as well.
Fat’s main role is to provide energy for the body, providing more than twice as many calories per gramme than either protein or carbohydrates. Fats also fall into three main categories: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Most fats are a mix of these three.
Saturated fats are usually the ones that are solid at room temperature: butter, many margarines, cheese and lard, while coconut oil is an exception (liquid saturated fat). Animal fats contain more saturated fats than their vegetable equivalent.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils, such as groundnut, sunflower, vegetable and olive oils. They are liquid at room temperature.
Research into general health and heart disease has shown that a diet low in saturated fat is healthier and that unsaturated fats (such as the ones found in fish oils) may help prevent heart diseases.
Cholesterol is a product of fat metabolism, and is usually associated with heart diseases. As such, cholesterol is a vital raw material for making certain body hormones and bile salts. Only when its levels in the blood are too high the cholesterol becomes unhealthy.
How to eat
Depending on our objective, there are a few things we should change to our diet in order to achieve these objectives. Once you have tracked your calories intake (make an average of 4 consecutive days, 2 weekdays and 2 weekend days), you know how much you consume currently. Check this scale in order to see if, based on your weight and activity, the calorie intake is something below, within or above average.
If you are above average, you should lose weight. If you are below average, ideally you should gain weight. If you are within normal, then maybe you should just look into just eating healthier in order to balance your diet with the right nutrients.
If you want to lose weight: then, if you had a constant weight in the past months reduce your measured calories intake with 250 calories. On the other side, if your weight increased in the past months, then reduce it with 500 calories.
Below are a few tips on how to eat healthier to balance the right nutrients. Using the app I was telling you previously, track the calories you eat. Keep the calorie intake you previously had if your objective is just to eat healthier, or reduce them if you want to lose weight. Either way, the following tips will contribute a great deal to a healthy diet:
- Cut down on sucrose (processed sugar). This will help you loose weight without missing any essential nutrients.
- One third of your food should be comprised of starchy carbs: potatoes, rice, bread, pasta and cereals. Choose the whole wheat ones.
- Eat five servings of fruit or vegetables every day. It’s easier than you think it is 🙂 Smoothies, vegetable juice or fruit fresh can only count for 1 serving a day (out of the 5). But a banana chopped in your cereals count for one more.
- Eat at least 2 portions of fish every week. Fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which is beneficial to prevent heart disease and depression.
- Cut down on saturated fat (butter, cakes, biscuits, sausages, hard cheese) and replace them with unsaturated fats which are healthy (avocado, fish oil, vegetable oils).
I tried not to go into all details regarding a healthy balanced dieting. My aim here was to briefly explain the food categories and make you understand the difference between a healthy calorie and a useless one. Depending on your goals, you now know what foods are going to support you in that and which ones are not really your allies.
But counting our calories is something we should all do as an important step in having a balanced diet. If you want to never miss an article from the Work and Life Balance blog, register below for the weekly newsletter.