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Nick’s Nutrition Lessons: (2) Dieting

Young woman sitting in front a plate containing only one green pea --- Image by © SELF IMAGES/Photononstop/Corbis

The reason I discourage people from weight watchers or ‘juicing’ or whatever gluten-free, no dairy, no wheat diet Gwyneth Paltrow is plugging is because there are more enjoyable, sustainable and effective ways to achieve the body that you want.

When we have ‘diets’, thrust in our faces by magazines and newspapers; it’s easy to assume a strict plan of meals and calorie caution over a short space of time is proven to achieve results. Media outlets for years have discussed the calorie as some kind of brilliant statistical approach to eating. Where a person should eat less calories than they work off through exercise to set up a burn and therefore lose weight. People became transfixed by the calorie; completely boycotting common sense to focus on the number they are permitted. People obsess so much over the number on the packet they would plan all their food around it. And while I’m not saying a glance at the kCal category isn’t useful, planning our nutrition based solely on this is unwise.

e.g. kCal in a small Kit-Kat: 99, kCal in grilled chicken breast: 200.

The calorie is a measure of energy. It is, without getting too scientific, how much energy is in the foodstuff that will be given to the body. Mere focus on this number does not however take into account what is actually in the food, just the energy our body will take from it. The names of macromolecules, like protein, carbohydrates, sugars and fats may be familiar but if we are going to read labels on foods, and I believe it is useful to do so, we need to look at these categories in closer detail.

As seen above, a Kit-Kat is made up of 99 calories, so surely its better to eat a Nestle chocolate bar over a grilled chicken breast? No, of course not. Chicken is 100% protein. Whereas chocolate bars are composed of very little protein, the ‘bad’ type of carbs (refined sugar) and are high in saturated fats. The fact that the chocolate provides less energy is irrelevant when the energy from the sugar is being converted directly into adipose (fat) tissue anyway and not being used usefully.

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