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Beyond Trim: Aim for a slow burn with calories

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016 10:40 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016 7:56 a.m. CDT
Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center

I am not a fan of weighing and measuring every calorie that goes in my mouth.  

First of all, calculating calories is not an exact science. Scientists use a bomb calorimeter to measure energy in food. The food burns up in a chamber surrounded by water. The calorimeter measures how long it takes the burning food to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree. That measure of energy is called a calorie.

Let’s say the lab burns up an apple and determines that there are 10 calories in 1 ounce of apple. What the machine can’t determine is that the amount of energy in an apple can vary depending on the conditions in which it was grown, how ripe it was at harvest, how long it has been stored, etc. The apple you eat might not deliver the same energy as the apple that was tested.

Another consideration is how our body uses calories. The energy we absorb from food can vary depending on well we chew the food, on the health of our digestive system, and how food is prepared, among other things. Two people who eat the exact same portion might not absorb the same number of calories from that food.  

So, if calorie counts are just estimates and if our bodies may or may not absorb all the calories in what we eat, how can we determine how much we should eat? Here is where the quality of the food you eat becomes so important.  

Highly processed and refined foods usually contain a lot of sugar, oil, and white flour. Those ingredients deliver a lot of calories but they don’t contain much nutrition and often leave us wanting more. 

Foods such as fruits, vegetable, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds fill you up and your body has to work a little harder to digest them. Unlike the bomb calorimeter, your body doesn’t burn up all of the fiber in these foods. Those calories are not absorbed.  

If you do want to think of your body as a furnace, here is an analogy that might be helpful. Think of refined foods as white copy paper. If you throw a piece of white copy paper in the fire it is consumed in an instant. To keep the fire burning you will need to keep adding more and more pieces of copy paper.

Whole, unprocessed foods are more like oak logs. When you put an oak log in the furnace the log catches fire slowly and takes longer to burn. 

So eat more whole, unprocessed foods and take time to really enjoy them. Doing so might help you to avoid counting calories.  

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