ou may have noticed that calorie counts are everywhere: Stamped on packaged foods, plastered on restaurant menu boards and found alongside cookbook recipes. And if you’re a health- conscious eater, chances are you pay a great deal of attention to these numbers in the name of cleaner, calorie- controlled eating. / But what may shock you is that research shows calorie counting when it comes to dieting is at best overrated and at worst highly misleading. You see, calorie stats are based on a century- old formula called the Atwater system, in which the macronutrient components — carbohydrate, fat and protein — of a food have a set number of calories ( a unit of energy). Carbohydrates and protein have four calories in each gram and fat contains a more lofty nine calories. So if a food has 8 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein and 7 grams of carbohydrate, theoretically it should deliver 112 calories to whoever eats it. But this fails to tell the whole picture when it comes to the calories your body actually extract from foods. / Why? Because not all calories are created equal. The number of calories listed on a food label or fitness app can be very different from what you end up absorbing. That’s because the net amount of calories you obtain from your meals and snacks is heavily influenced by a number of factors. It turns out instead of counting calories you need to focus on eating more of the right kinds of foods so fewer calories are absorbed and you have a better chance of being leaner. That’s why it’s vital to take a look at the most recent research when it comes to calories and learn how to hack the science to keep you on track for physique greatness.
There is one very good reason why diets higher in protein have been shown to make it easier for you to hold onto your abs: Protein-rich foods make your metabolism burn hottest.
A big shortfall of the Atwater system for estimating the calories in food is that it fails to take into account the thermic effect of feeding. Think of TEF as the energy cost of chewing, digesting, absorbing, transporting and storing the food you eat. It turns out that protein has a significantly higher TEF than carbohydrates and fat. The TEF of protein ranges from 20 to 35 percent, whereas it costs us only about five to 10 percent of the energy consumed from carbohydrates or fats to digest and process them. In a study of people on a high-calorie diet, those who got 25 percent of calories from protein burned 227 more a day (and packed on more muscle) than those who only ate five percent of calories from protein. In other work, researchers at Tufts University determined that over a period of 16 to 24 years those who ate more protein at the expense of carbohydrates tended to pack on less weight. Protein contains nitrogen, which must be stripped off and eliminated by the liver and this extra metabolic step as well as other differences between the macronutrients is why the body requires more energy to handle protein. So even though carbs and protein have the same calories per gram (four calories in a gram), you net fewer of them from the latter.
Take Action: Owing to the abundance of protein, the true calorie count of a chicken breast, slab of beef or a bowl of Greek yogurt is likely lower than as advertised on the label. For this reason, you want to make sure that each of your meals and snacks includes plenty of protein at the expense of some carb and fat calories to reap the rewards of this calorie-burning (and muscle-making!) advantage. And continue to blitz whey protein, which has a particularly high TEF according to a 2011 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, into your postworkout shakes. Besides, protein is satiating, so you’ll be satisfied on less. Glazed doughnut? Not so much! one-ounce serving of almonds provides the human body with about 129 calories, which is about 22 percent fewer than the 167 calories determined by the Atwater system and what is currently shown on nutrition labels. A similar study conducted on pistachios and published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that nuts may contain up to six percent fewer calories than previously measured. And walnuts have been found to deliver 21 percent less energy to the body than once thought.
Strong cell membranes of plant foods like nuts may lock in some of their macronutrients, including fat, thereby preventing them and the energy they provide from being fully absorbed through the digestive tract. So although a handful of walnuts may contain 15 grams of fat, which translates into 135 calories, it’s likely not all of these fat calories are being absorbed. These fascinating results could help explain the results from studies showing that nut eaters are less likely develop a round belly. On the flipside, we may absorb more calories from a food when its cell walls have been broken down through pro- cessing. So peanut butter could very well provide more digestible calories than do whole peanuts.
Take Action: As with whole nuts, we may also absorb fewer calories from other foods like legumes, seeds, whole grains and vegetables consumed in their least processed states. Processing such as juicing fruits and milling grains ruptures cell walls and in the process reducing the energy needed for digestion. So to help in the battle of the bulge, more often try eating almonds instead of almond butter, apples instead of applesauce, wheat berries instead of whole-wheat spaghetti or whole-wheat flour, oranges instead of orange juice and cacao nibs instead of chocolate bars. Grinding meat into hamburger also may increase calorie absorption by making things easier for your digestive system, so consider steaks over burgers for a protein fix.