Being Calorie Wise

Being Calorie Wise

Calories: we see them everywhere – colour coded food labels, restaurant menus and café boards. Despite this constant exposure, do we know how they relate and can we accurately judge them in terms of the portion sizes we choose?  

With this question in mind, the Sport Scientist in me came out and I decided a little experiment was in order.

I started by raiding Sainsbury’s for a selection of common foods that I felt people were likely to snack on or use in their meals, without really considering the calorific impact they may have on their total daily intake.

  • Peanuts – a high protein and healthy fat snack.
  • Honey – a non processed, natural sweetener
  • Olive oil – a heart healthy oil for cooking
  • Oats – a cholesterol lowering, high fibre breakfast cereal
  • Cheese – a product that, lets face it, makes food taste better
  • Pasta – perfect comfort food
  • Chocolate – the treat you look forward to each day
  • Carrots – vitamin rich, refreshing crunchy bites
  • Tuna – a high in omega 3, protein filled oily fish

I then bribed recruited a willing participant (who in the name of science will of course remain anonymous, love you dad), to ration out what they believed would make up 100 calories worth of each food to see how accurately they were able to judge the portion size: calorie ratio. The results weren’t startling and in despite of some cheating, my participant portioned out roughly a 100 calories of about half of the foods.

The more interesting result came from the discussions that followed. My participant isn’t someone who thinks about calories when making food choices and therefore wouldn’t think twice about how many peanuts they poured from the packet or how much oil they used to cover the pan when cooking. But actually having to think about how the numbers relate to actual tangible food portions for the first time made them see and and really consider what and where their calories were coming from and how everything was adding up. They were somewhat surprised by quite how many calories they may unknowingly be consuming by simply adding an extra little portion.

Now I’m not trying to advocate that calories are bad and we should refrain from grating cheese on our pasta and give up that extra square of chocolate. What I want to highlight in this post is that every extra spoonful, ingredient or snack adds up, no matter how small it may look. A lot of the time we tend to eat without thinking or even acknowledging how much we are consuming – we hardly even remember that teaspoon of honey we added to our porridge.

Fundamentally, calories are calories and they all add up. If you want to lose weight, you have to consume fewer than you burn and the smallest of additions can make a difference to the numbers at the end of the day. Similarly, for people looking to gain weight, an understanding of calorie densities for certain foods can be to your advantage, as that extra handful of peanuts you have whilst cooking dinner may not look or feel like a lot, but it will have an impact.

So, whilst not the most well thought out of experiments, my test ultimately made someone who never thinks about the calories in their foods more knowledgeable of the portion size to calorie ratio, which in my mind, is a really important awareness to have. By making an effort to be more mindful to the quantities we are consuming, achieving our health goals - no matter what they may be - becomes a whole lot easier.  

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