August 8, 2011

Low Cal versus Healthy Cal

I read an interesting article on Slate the other day about a strange lawsuit: a woman is suing the company that makes Nutella for having aired commercials billing Nutella as a good breakfast food. Apparently, based on these ads, the woman started giving her child Nutella for breakfast, only to "discover" from a friend that Nutella actually has a lot of sugar (ya know, since it's chocolate?) I'm not going to get into the legal questions surrounding this suit (except to point out that I'm pretty sure the nutritional information is right there on the container).

What I found more interesting (and relevant to Cookies and Kale) was the Slate article, which pointed out, quite rightly, that there is no reason that Nutella can't be part of a healthy breakfast - in moderation. Obviously, if you eat a quarter cup of Nutella every morning, that's probably not going to end well for you. And yes, even in small quantities, Nutella contains a lot of sugar. But, it does have some nutritional value. Slate went on to point out that Nutella actually contains a lot less sugar than those high-sugar kids cereals, and, although by itself it doesn't have as much protein or fiber, if you spread it on a slice of multigrain bread, it's probably better for you.

Anyhow, this all got me thinking about something that I've been working through lately - the idea of being "low calorie" versus "quality calorie." Let me preface this by saying I'm not a dietician, nor am I a parent - so I'm not going to comment on the related, but separate issue of what people give their kids for breakfast. What I will speak to is the experiences of being an adult who makes her own choices regarding food, and in an ongoing process of learning how to be a healthy and happy cook and eater.

When I first started trying to lose weight, I signed up for a free calorie tracker and focused on calories in/calories out. This makes sense if you're actively trying to lose a certain amount of weight in a healthy, but specific amount of time. In order to lose a pound a week, your body has to net a certain amount of calories. Because I enjoy the act of eating, I wanted to make sure that I got to eat the most amount of food for the fewest calories, so I went with whatever had the fewest calories (well, within reason. I wasn't eating like, celery for lunch). Makes sense, right?

But fast-forward to today. For the last several months I've been trying to "maintain" my weight - this allows me to eat a normal amount of calories (although I still track what I eat). As I become more comfortable with the changes I've made to my life in terms of cooking and exercise, one thing I'm trying to do is focus not so much on the number of calories in a given food, but where those calories are coming from. For example, I love eating cereal for breakfast every morning. Until recently, I tried to choose the lowest calorie cereals in the aisle - Kix, Cheerios and Special K were my go-tos.  I love them,  but I started to realize that even after eating a cup and a half of cereal, plus a half cup of almond milk, I got hungry again pretty shortly after. So even if my breakfast was very low-calorie, I still ended up consuming more because I had to snack later. I started doing some research (aka actually reading the nutritional labels) and realized that's because these cereals don't have any substance! They are very low in dietary fiber and protein. By contrast, Kashi Go-Lean Crunch is a lot more caloric per serving (190 cal. per cup vs. Multigrain Cheerios 110 cal. per cup); however, those calories have great nutritional substance - the Kashi has 9g protein and 8g fiber per cup, while the Cheerios have only 2g protein and 3g fiber. No wonder I was hungry!

The same is true of snacking - a lot of 100-calorie packs are great for portion control, and they are a good size for a snack, calorie-wise, but they aren't going to keep you full! A quarter cup of almonds or candy-free trail mix, on the other hand, while higher in calories, will keep you full for much longer due to the protein and fiber, and doesn't contain as much sugar.

Finally, let's face it. Most of us have a sweet tooth or some other food craving that maybe we wished we didn't. But indulging intelligently is better than trying to deny yourself and then binging later - which will happen. So, if you can find a way of pairing your craving with a side of protein or fiber (and exercising portion control), there is no reason that the foods you love most can't be part of healthy, balanced diet. So, if you have a sweet tooth, like I do, a handful of peanut M&Ms, or a tablespoon of Nutella on a multigrain bread might be just chocolatey-proteiny compromise you're looking for to get you through your day.

Read the original Slate article here: Go Ahead, Eat Chocolate for Breakfast by Nadia Arumugam

No comments:

Post a Comment