Are the calorie counts on our food labels accurate?
Not necessarily, dietitian and nutrition columnist Ellie Krieger said in her recent online chat.
“Many foods’ caloric content have been overestimated because they did not take into account the way the foods are processed by our bodies,” Krieger said.
While a food may contain a certain amount of energy — calories — that doesn’t mean our bodies absorb them all, she said. This is especially true for nuts, where the fat (thus, calories) is trapped in the fibrous cell walls. A significant portion of those calories go through the body unabsorbed, she said.
“There is this kind of loss with all raw, fiber-rich foods, but with most vegetables the calories are so low in general, it doesn’t make a huge calorie impact,” she explained.
One way to minimize the calories and nutrients lost from these kinds of foods is to chew very well.
Overall, Krieger said, accurate calorie counting is not something to stress about.
“Calorie counts have always been an estimate, and our knowledge of how our bodies process food is always growing and changing. Unless you live in a lab and weigh every crumb you eat, you will not be able to exactly determine the calories you take in.”
Along with calories, be flexible about counting how much sugar or salt you eat, Krieger added. The general guideline for daily intake of sodium is about a teaspoon, while for sugar, it’s 10 teaspoons.
“You can’t be expected to walk around with a calculator all day,” Krieger said. “Use these numbers as a gauge when reading package labels and when you are cooking.”