The Mighty Calorie!

By now, I’m sure everyone reading knows that the U.S. has an “obesity epidemic.”  Maybe you’ve seen it yourself and noticed that the people (and children) around you are a bit chubbier than they used to be when you were a kid.  Maybe you’re the one that has developed those stubborn love handles that just won’t go away.  Or, maybe you’ve been struggling with being overweight since you were a child.  What causes those extra pounds to add up over time?  Some people would answer, “Eating extra Calories!”  But what, exactly, is that?

Calories are just a measure of how much “energy” you get from food.  That energy is used in your normal daily activities—to keep your body moving and running, to give you the energy to play a game of tennis, or to allow you to keep up with an active child.  How many Calories you need is based on a number of factors, but current USDA daily recommendations for a moderately active adult are1800-2200 Calories for women and 2200-2800 Calories for men, with moderately active being defined as doing exercise equal to a 2 mile walk every day. The problem with us in the U.S., however, is that we generally eat more than that, and sometimes MUCH more.

So why is that a big deal?  Well, if you overeat a mere 250 Calories a day, that’ll end up being 7500 calories per month.  Considering a pound of fat is about 3500 Calories, that means you’re gaining just over two pounds a month.  That’s twenty-four extra pounds over a year.  I don’t know anyone who’d be interested in doing that.  And, as we’re about to learn, 250 Calories is not that much.

So let’s assume for examples sake you’re supposed to eat 2200 Calories a day.  Let’s look at a typical McDonalds meal:  a Big Mac hamburger (550 Calories), a medium fry (380 Calories), a medium 32 oz. soda with no refills (300 Calories), and of course a small fudge sundae (330 Calories).  That totals 1560 Calories, or nearly 70% of your total daily requirement in one meal.  Add in the rest of your meals and snacks, and you’re probably well over 2200 Calories for the day (and most likely over by more than 250 Calories).

So maybe you don’t eat fast food a lot?  Let’s look at a typical “healthy” meal at Applebee’s Restaurant:  ½ of a Spinach & Artichoke Dip appetizer (750 Calories) and a Grilled Shrimp and Spinach Salad (1060 Calories).  That totals 1810 Calories—more than the McDonalds meal above!  Even taking out the appetizer and eating just the salad would be 1060 Calories, nearly half your entire day—in one meal.

Finally, let’s look at something you may have at home.  Take, for example, the following ice cream, which promotes, “1/3 fewer Calories than regular ice cream” and “No Sugar Added”.  This seems like a healthy option!

Looking at the back nutrition panel, however, shows a different story.  It has a serving size of ½ cup, and has 140 Calories per serving.  If you were to measure out a ½ cup, you’d probably agree that even a small bowl of ice cream is at least 1 cup, and probably 1½.  Just your ice cream snack after dinner is 420 Calories!  That’s nearly a fifth of your total daily calories, and very close to what an entire meal should be.

So what’s my point here?  Most of us have no idea how many Calories we really are eating, and most of us assume we’re eating far less than we really are.  So if you don’t normally count Calories, try it for a few days and compare it to what you should be eating.  It might be an eye-opening experience.  When you find out, fill out the poll below, and see where you fall among others!

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Hello!  Thanks for taking some of your busy time and reading my blog at www.freshnibbles.com.  Being this is my first post, I wanted to let you know what you might expect out of this blog.  Currently a Registered Dietitian in training, I created this blog to share my thoughts and experience on all the wonderful things I am learning–from healthy eating tips to wonderful recipes to important lifestyle changes.  Feel free to follow along as I explore the world of nutrition, and let’s learn from each other as well.  If you would like more information about me, please head on over to my “About Me” page.

What I would like to talk about first, however, is really the core of what is important about nutrition and health.  I’m sure you’d agree with me if I were to say that everyone has his or her own opinions on what’s healthy.  These opinions come from a variety of sources–newspapers, magazines, television, parents, siblings, or grandma, who always did the holiday cooking no matter what!  Chances are you have some ideas from one source that may not fall in line from another–like an argument between two family members on how to prepare a certain family recipe properly!  With so many different opinions and sources of information, how can we tell what’s right and what’s not?  Good question!

The answer is evidence.  There’s a ton of research going on every day, done by doctors, dietitians, and other scientists.  This research doesn’t “prove” anything–but it does build strong ties between ideas.  Current and future evidence is likely to contradict information on television, in magazines, and from your friends and family members.  You must realize–things change.  Knowledge increases.  Twenty years ago, we had no idea what trans fatty acid, a.k.a., trans fat/partially hydrogenated oil, was.  Now, through many trials and studies, we know there is a correlation between trans fat and cardiovascular disease, and most take great care to limit the trans fat in our diet.  By keeping an eye out for true evidence and being open minded to change, we can understand, examine, and use new information for our benefit.  We must always act and make decisions on the current evidence, not the past or what we think should (or wish would) work.

To add to that, people often look for the one “correct” answer.  This is evident in how we live our daily lives.  Let’s say you want to lose weight. Likely, you will look for the single best diet that works, because you believe the others won’t work as well.  If you’re looking to get a new cell phone, you probably compare a ton of different ones, looking at their options so you choose the single best one.  If you’re pondering a cross-country trip, you likely will get out a map and check which is the single best route to get to your destination–you wouldn’t plan five different routes.  People want one solution to their problems, not many.  Unfortunately, however, nutrition doesn’t fit that careful mold.  If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, there are tons of things that you can do to help you meet your goals, and each thing will help a little bit.  Looking at a single issue–say being overweight (as roughly 2/3 of the U.S. is), there just isn’t a single, all encompassing answer out there.

So what’s my point?  It’s the basic truth to keep in mind when you’re reading my blog.  Most things (besides my recipes and the times of random chatter) that I blog about will be evidence-based, meaning they’ll be something supported by the research I mentioned above.  In addition, you might not like my solutions or ideas.  They may be too hard, too overwhelming, or have too many working parts.  I encourage you to try them anyways.  And if you don’t, I strongly urge you then to find out the facts and do something that is based in evidence, otherwise you’re just fooling yourself—and that’s not helpful to you at all.  So let’s take this journey, see what’s there to learn, and help each other into a more healthy lifestyle!  We’ll all feel great about it when we’re there!