In preparation for a recent Google + Hangout, one of my Facebook followers asked a good question about weight loss. She wanted to know if calories matter, or if she should count fat grams, sugar or carbohydrates to lose weight.
Her confusion is understandable. Many experts preach about the pitfalls of eating too much sugar, eating the wrong kind of fat, or consuming too many starchy carbohydrates. So does anyone count calories, anymore?
Why Calories Count for Weight Loss
In order to lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit. That means you need to burn more calories than you consume through physical activity or eat fewer calories each day. So calories do count. But your intake of fat, sugar and starchy carbohydrates can affect the total number of calories you consume each day. That means you should pay attention to those numbers as well.
Here is a brief explanation of how eating fat, sugar and carbs can affect your total caloric intake:
Fat. A single gram of fat contains 9 calories. A single gram of carbohydrate or protein only contains 4 calories. If you eat foods high in fat, your total caloric intake can increase quickly because the calorie cost is so high. But eating a reasonable amount of healthy fat can actually be smart for your diet.
Fat helps you to feel full and satiated. If you eat a small amount of fatty food, you may feel satisfied sooner and eat less overall. For that reason, foods that contain healthy fats like certain types of fish, nuts or avocado can be a smart addition to your weight loss diet.
Sugar. Sugar itself isn’t necessarily bad for you. But many of us consume way too much sugar without even knowing it. Sugar is added to many of the processed foods we eat. Foods like ketchup, salsa or canned soups may contain added sugar even though they aren’t sweet. And many of the drinks we consume are loaded with sugar.
Aside from the health consequences of consuming too much added sugar, there are diet drawbacks as well. Many experts feel that the more sugar we eat, the more sugar we crave. So if you can reduce your sugar intake, you may be able to reduce your total caloric intake and lose weight.
Starchy carbohydrates. At four calories per gram, carbohydrates are a good source of energy for your body. But overeating starchy carbohydrates, like white rice and white bread is very easy to do and that habit can drive your calorie count through the roof. In addition, when you eat low nutrient carbs, those items displace healthier foods – including protein that will help you feel full and eat less. If you choose to count carbohydrates to lose weight, make sure that the carbs you keep in your diet are full of important vitamins and minerals like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Should I Count Calories?
To create a calorie deficit and lose weight, most people find it easiest to count calories. But if you can also watch your intake of sugar, fat and starchy carbohydrates, you’ll probably eat healthier diet and consume fewer calories overall.