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Counting calories is a waste of your time, says gut health guru DR MEGAN ROSSI

What’s the first thing you do when you think you need to lose weight? Chances are, you’ll start counting calories in your diet.

It’s hard not to fall for this count, when the idea of ​​balancing calories eaten versus calories burned is still the basis of most diet plans, government guidelines (calories must now be listed on menus), and even the advice of medical professionals when it comes to weight loss.

But what you probably don’t know is that the calorie count on the package, menu, food tracking app, or anywhere online isn’t as accurate as you’ve been led to believe.

What's the first thing you do when you think you need to lose weight?  Chances are you'll start counting calories in your diet (File image)

What’s the first thing you do when you think you need to lose weight? Chances are you’ll start counting calories in your diet (File image)

It's pretty clear that increasing body weight is much more complex than simply eating too much and not exercising enough, writes Dr. Megan Rossi (pictured)

It’s pretty clear that increasing body weight is much more complex than simply eating too much and not exercising enough, writes Dr. Megan Rossi (pictured)

That’s because the calorie count of a food is usually determined in the lab by burning the whole food and extracting every last calorie from it. This process was invented in the late 1800’s and the problem is that it’s very different from what happens to substances in our digestive system.

Take almonds for example. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that they contain 20 percent fewer calories than what it says on the package.

Now, without upsetting your breakfast or lunch with all the gory details, the researchers worked this out by feeding them to healthy adults and measuring in their stool how much of the nuts (and therefore calories) they didn’t absorb.

Did you know?

Have you heard that celery has fewer calories than your body uses? Unfortunately, negative calorie foods don’t really exist. Even celery, the “diet” of the Holy Grail, provides calories.

That’s because, contrary to the lab studies, people don’t extract every last calorie from plant foods like almonds. This has largely to do with what we call the ‘food matrix’.

Essentially, this is like the scaffolding of whole foods that encapsulate a lot of fat and calories, making them harder for our enzymes (and gut bacteria) to reach. In turn, we do not digest it completely and it is eventually excreted.

But with highly processed foods, most of the food matrix has already been broken down by machines for us, making the calories more accessible (so the numbers on the labels for ultra-processed foods are a more accurate measure of what our bodies absorb).

Another reason not to focus on calories is that not all calories are created equal, due to the thermogenic effect of food. This is when you burn calories while eating and digesting. In other words, your body’s processing will counteract some of the calories — and this is the important part — depending on the particular food.

Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts that need to be chewed, broken down and digested more have a stronger thermogenic effect than ultra-processed foods.

And the calories from highly processed foods are much more readily available. For example, a KitKat and a banana may have similar calories and your food tracking app won’t treat them differently, but your body will.

One study in particular (published in 2010 by Pomona College, Claremont, in the US) found that the body burns nearly 50 percent fewer calories digesting a meal containing processed foods than after a full meal, even if both contain the same total. . of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

It may not sound enough to make much of a difference, but in a month, a year, a lifetime, it sure makes sense.

Further research in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2019 found that people who were told to eat as much as they wanted gained more weight when they were fed ultra-processed foods than when they were given unprocessed options — again, even when the meals were geared towards carbohydrates, fat. and protein.

Aim for more than 30 plants per week.  It may sound like a lot, but looking at this list of six groups of plants might already have you on your way (File image)

Aim for more than 30 plants per week. It may sound like a lot, but looking at this list of six groups of plants might already have you on your way (File image)

Calories from highly processed foods are much more readily available.  For example, a KitKat and a banana may have similar calories and your food tracking app won't treat them differently, but your body will.

Calories from highly processed foods are much more readily available. For example, a KitKat and a banana may have similar calories and your food tracking app won’t treat them differently, but your body will.

Ask Megan

I take antibiotics every day because I had surgery to remove my spleen so my immunity is compromised. Should I take a probiotic – and any type in particular?

Audrey Harris, by email.

The spleen helps fight infection, and while you can definitely live a normal, healthy life without it, your immune system is a bit more fragile and is often prescribed a precautionary antibiotic.

While probiotics are generally considered safe, a little extra precaution is recommended if your immune system is compromised.

So it would be a safer (and possibly more effective) bet to focus instead on fertilizing your gut bacteria with a wide variety of plants.

This is because even if the antibiotics kill some of the good microbes, feeding them continuously will make the good ones do a better job of repopulating.

I would aim for 40 different types of plants during the week. Don’t be alarmed, that also applies to herbs and spices. Also, get plenty of prebiotic sources like chickpeas, garlic, onion, pistachios, and watermelon that gut bacteria feed on; if you have a sensitive gut, start slow and build up.

Sleep and de-stressing are also important for gut and immune health — prioritize seven to nine hours a night and ten minutes of mindfulness during the day.

This supports what I’ve seen in the clinic: limiting processed foods is a better weight management strategy than counting calories.

These kinds of findings are repeated time and again and explain why we often do not experience lasting fullness after eating processed foods. For example, you may feel full after a fast food meal, yet curiously ready to eat more an hour later.

If a food has already been broken down for you, your body has less work to do and is less satisfying. An apple takes longer to eat and is much more filling than applesauce, which itself is more satiating than a glass of apple juice. That’s because a whole fruit contains fiber and water bound in that food matrix.

So the more manufacturers break down a food, the more fiber it loses — along with that all-important food matrix.

So if you want to feel full for longer after a meal, opt for a piece of fruit instead of juice, or opt for jumbo oats over refined quick oats – think whole plants with minimal ‘message’.

So if the calories on the labels aren’t right, what’s the answer?

What the research shows is exactly what I’m seeing in the clinic: Switching to eating more plant-based foods can help with weight management, without me having to fixate on portion control.

A meta-analysis (where researchers summed up the results of individual studies, in this case 15) in 2015 showed that switching to plant-based foods can lead to a significant reduction in body weight (nearly 5 kg) without limiting weight. the calorie intake.

Another secret weapon is your gut microbes. These, and the chemicals they make when they digest plant fiber, can affect appetite.

These chemicals, such as short-chain fatty acids, tell our bodies that we’ve had enough. This stops the production of hunger hormones like ghrelin and increases the ‘I’m full’ hormones like leptin.

Other chemicals produced by our gut flora are thought to target the reward network in the brain, which influences our relationship with food and our tendency to emotionally eat.

Microbes and their byproducts have also been linked to ‘turn on’ genes related to fat distribution. Besides the fact that our microbes can influence our taste receptors, it’s pretty clear that higher body weight is much more complex than simply eating too much and not exercising enough. So feed your gut microbes and it probably keeps everything else in check.

What this all means is switching to mostly whole, diverse, plant-based foods — what I call the diversity diet. So put down the calorie counting calculator, forget about restrictive diets (like low-fat or low-carb), and just follow these three simple principles:

  • Eat mostly plants: Make plants the foundation of your diet (and optionally add eggs, fermented dairy, fish, etc.).
  • Diversity down to the last detail: Aim for more than 30 plants per week. It may sound like a lot, but if you look at this list of six plant groups, you may already be on your way: go for mostly vegetables, followed by whole grains, fruits and legumes (beans, legumes), topped with nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices.
  • Go whole, unrefined: Go for whole plants that have been minimally processed (think a homemade chickpea burger over ultra-processed vegan burgers).

TRY THIS: Nutty Chickpea Crunch

Fancy something salty? Instead of going nuts again, diversify your plant intake and satisfy those cravings with this easy, fiber-rich, protein-packed whole plant snack.

ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Squeeze lemon juice
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180c.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl so that the chickpeas are well coated. Spread the mixture on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Roast in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until crisp. Let them cool for five minutes before tucking them in.

PLEASE CONTACT Dr. Megan Rossi: EMAIL drmegan@dailymail.co.uk or write to Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT — provide contact details. dr. Megan Rossi cannot enter into personal correspondence. Answers should be taken in a general context; Always consult your doctor in case of health problems.

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