Calories Don’t Count

Calories Don’t Count


Quality over quantity. A golden rule that applies to just about everything. Even – or maybe especially – calories.

Wait, what? Calories don’t count??

Apparently not.  

Turns out, I have been somewhat accidentally ahead-of-trend on this one since the 1980s. While my high school friends were eschewing olive oil and insisting on put everything on-the-side, from salad dressing to sour cream, my mom and I were avowed drenchers. A bagel was our vehicle for full fat cream cheese and we each ate an avocado a day. Beyond being dietary fat-ophiles, we also became label readers. My mom had this rule that seemed completely crazy at the time (still seems slightly wacked now, though far less so) that the most important criteria for choosing what to buy in a grocery store should be dictated by reading the ingredient list. Back in the day, though, nutritional information looked pretty different on a package. So she came up with this notion that if any ingredient on the list was impossible to pronounce or if it had more than five syllables, it must be a preservative or some other unnaturally altered substance, and that wasn’t coming into our house. Kid you not, my brothers and I would stand in grocery aisles reading ingredient lists out loud, desperately hoping that Frosted Flakes and Skippy peanut butter would pass her test (they didn’t).

Fast forward several decades and it turns out, my mom was right on several fronts. First, dietary fat isn’t the enemy. In fact, in many cases it is quite good for you. Certainly, we now know that most fat doesn’t make you fat. Second, we should all embrace reading labels. What’s in a product should compel us to buy it… or not. And third, calories don’t matter. My mom never mentioned them as part of her criteria for choosing foods, and she was 100% right there.

The evidence for the benefits of high quality diet has been around a long time: to name just a few, the writer Michael Pollan has led that bandwagon for over a decade while scientists like Robert Lustig and David Ludwig have been beating their own drums, albeit from a different angle, for much longer. This month comes an article about a big study looking at calorie consumption and weight gain. It was published in JAMA, a highly reputable medical journal. The findings aren’t news to me (thanks mom!) but they may be to you. And that’s why I am passing this link along. Because regardless of where you gather your nutritional information –- nutrition experts or major science journals or even wise family members – all that matters is that you get accurate information and can act on it in order to maximize your own health.