What Is a Calorie & Do They Matter?

Low or reduced Calorie foods abound on the shelves on grocery stores in this country. But confusion remains. What is a Calorie? Are they important? Why or why not? And how should one view them?

A Calorie is measure of energy. Technically a food Calorie is a Kilo-calorie in scientific terms. The bigger question is do they matter and are they all equal?

The short answer is that they matter within reason and they are NOT all equal. So what IS important? The ratio of nutrients in the food for the amount of calories you are consuming!

I can hear it now; many are thinking, “So if I eat a steak it’s better for me because it has more protein than another food?” WRONG! It also has a significant amount of fat and not very much nutrition beyond some (poorly absorbed) minerals  and protein. Compare that to many vegetables and you see a remarkable difference.

To demonstrate nutrient density, I arbitrarily picked a green and an orange vegetable  and compared the vitamin and mineral content to a steak. You can see on the graph, that I used 6 oz. of Filet Mignon, usually considered a small portion and 4cups of spinach and 2 cups of carrots. The purpose is to show you that you can significantly more nutrients with significantly less calories and fats by eating vegetables than you can by consuming animal based foods. The only nutrients on the list that are found in larger quantities in the meat are protein, Zinc, B6, B12 and D. One can easily add some grains and beans and get sufficient protein and make up the deficiency in Zinc and B6. Add some fermented foods to get your B12 and a little sunshine (expose your arms to the sun 5-10 minutes per day several times per week) and you’ll get a better quality (that is “activated”) Vitamin D. Furthermore, if you look at additional nutrients like Carotenes, lutein, lycopene and more, again you find that animal foods have zero and vegetables (and fruit) are abundant in these nutrients.

nutrient comparison

Many meat eaters look at this wonder, “How can that be enough protein?” You can take your hint from the picture at the beginning of this article! It’s now well-documented that humans need far less protein than we have been lead to believe. Basically, if you are eating enough to not be starving, you are getting sufficient protein. Here’s some simple practical evidence for you: We have all seen pictures of children in 3rd World Countries who are staving; they have rail-thin arms and legs, swollen bellies and edema (fluid under the skin; their whole body looks swollen). Have you EVER seen that in this country? Even among homeless children or poor children in the inner city? These are the signs of acute protein deprivation and it doesn’t exist in this country even among the poorest of the poor .

So in conclusion, people should be concerned about calories but only in a relative  sense. Make sure you are eating nutrient dense foods, primarily fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. If about 80% your diet is made up of these nutrient-rich foods, overall calories should be of little problem.

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