Is counting calories the best way to live our lives? Everyday, we hear the term calorie as an expression of how much we eat on a daily basis. Technically, a Calorie is a unit of heat measurement used to measure the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. In this article I will discuss why is it so difficult to accurately count calories.
In America it has become increasingly popular to see calories on menus, see people reading food labels at the grocery store, and in general people obsess about calorie content. So how do those numbers make it on labels and menus? In order to see those nutrient values, scientists burn food samples in a bomb calorimeter. The result of this reaction then becomes the value for nutrient databases that are used today. Unfortunately, there are several issues with the process.
- Analytical methods are imprecise
- Product variety
- Soil and growing conditions
- Ripeness at the time of harvest
- Animals’ diets
- Preparation method
The way we currently test nutrients and energy doesn’t always provide reliable results, so the analysis can only be as good as the testing method. Besides the analysis we have to look at food as a whole. No food is ever going to be the same, different batches of the same food will have different nutrient values, thus testing a food at a single point in time to describe all batches is extremely inaccurate. Produce is grown all over the world in different climates and varying soil conditions. It would be improbable to say that produce grown in different regions would have the same nutrient estimates. Nutrient values are also different when picked during peak season versus out of season. Nutrients in milk, meats, and eggs, vary based on how the particular animal lived and ate. Eating raw will have a much different affect that cooking produce. In fact, research has shown cooking provides more energy available for humans to use. So with all these contributing factors related to food how accurate are the labels?
Foods listed in the nutrient database, or on food labels are as much as +/- 25% off. Additional research has shown some frozen foods contain 8% more calories, and some restaurant meals are as much as 18% higher than listed on the menu. All this leads to one undeniable fact; you can’t rely on calorie counting for an accurate way to measure your weight. While this article is not meant to answer what is the best method to lose weight, hopefully it has shown that managing your weight by counting calories is time consuming, difficult, and extremely inaccurate.