IS Calorie Counting A BIG FAT CON? Once It Was Seen as the Bedrock of a Healthy Diet. but New Research Suggests We All Need Dramatically Different Numbers of Calories
Byline: Flic Everett
ACCORDING to a new survey, 63 per cent of us have no idea how many calories we should eat in a day -- and we're in danger of becoming 'calorie-oblivious'. Could that be the reason why 60 per cent of the UK population is overweight? Back in 1976, my family's meals always began with Mum consulting her dog-eared Calorie Counter book. Then she'd weigh what she was about to eat -- usually a banana and a cup of Complan -- and add up the calories.
I can't remember if she actually lost weight, but in the Seventies, if you wanted to shed pounds, that was what you did.
Thirty-odd years on, it's no longer that simple. Thousands of diet gurus offer easy, speedy answers.
Cut out processed food. Don't mix carbs and protein. Eat what you like. Eat babyfood.
Eat like the Japanese... or the French... or the skinniest woman you know. Then the Food Standards Agency pitched in with 'traffic light' food labelling, and the 'recommended daily allowance'.
And the result of all this conflicting advice is simple: we're getting fatter -- and more than half a million schoolchildren are classed as obese.
Yet there has never been more information available on how to eat healthily. Being calorie-aware is still considered by most experts to be the bedrock of a healthy diet, with the government recommending 2,500 kcals a day for men, and 2,000 for women. Almost all food, unless you shot it or grew it yourself, now carries clear labelling listing the calorie content. So why isn't it working?
The U.S. survey that found 63 per cent of people don't know how many calories they should be eating also discovered that only 12 per cent have a roughly accurate idea.
This is partly because, despite labelling advice, calorie requirements vary dramatically depending on a person's size and age, and can range from 1,200 a day for a small, inactive woman to more than 4,000 for an athlete in training -- and that's just to maintain the same weight. If you want to lose it, you may need to eat as little as 1,000 calories a day, depending on your requirements.
'For weight loss of one or two pounds a week, people need to eat 500 less calories a day,' says Jayne Brocklehurst, a dietitian for weight loss surgery clinic Gravitas. 'So if the average woman needs 2,000 to stay the same, she'll need about 1,500 to lose weight.'
HOWEVER, the problem is that most of us aren't the 'average woman'.
In order to work out how many calories you really should be eating, you need to work out your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) which is based on your age, gender and weight.
Your BMR is the minimum number of calories that your resting body needs simply to function (www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator). Any calories you consume above that need to be burnt off by activity.
A bit of number-crunching reveals my own BMR to be 1,277, which, given my 2,000-a-day calorie intake (and more on wine-nights) means I should probably be doing a bit more exercise to burn off the excess.
So what exactly is a calorie? It's simply a unit of energy. A gram of carbohydrate or protein is four calories, while a gram of fat weighs in at a far heftier nine calories. Which is why a piece of chicken that weighs the same as a slice of cake isn't quite as fattening.
But just cutting down on your calorie count isn't enough, explains Jayne Brocklehurst.
'For dieters, it's crucial to look at overall lifestyle changes, eating fruit and veg, and having a balanced diet,' she says. 'Otherwise, people tend to get bogged down in calorie-counting. That way, you might lose weight, but your diet can still be unhealthily high in fat.'
The problem with looking solely at the calorie content of food is that it can't distinguish good calories from bad. Eggs and nuts are high in calories but incredibly nutritious, so to cut them out could have detrimental effects on your overall diet. …