Calories: Poor dictators, Good indicators

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calories hellochef

This is what we’ve been told: a calorie is a calorie. Really?

We recently introduced an addition to Hello Chef recipes: the calorie content. When doing all that calculation I noticed that the dishes I eat very often, are actually quite high in calories. First I was alarmed. The myth “calorie is a calorie” started ringing in my ear. It’s something we’ve all heard during our entire life! How can you not panic, when you see that a portion of food contains 700 calories?? But after a while I snapped out of my anxiety. I said to myself: really? Are calories the most important part of the diet, and the sources of those calories don’t matter at all?

What I’ve learned from studies AND from experience, is this: the body processes different foods in totally different ways. It’s not only the calorie intake while I’m eating, but also what happens after I’ve finished my meal. Some foods decrease hunger, increase feelings of fullness and reduce energy intake for the next few hours – and some do just the opposite. Two different portions of food may contain the same number of calories, but have vastly different effects on hunger later on the day (or evening).

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The ongoing battle still seems to be carbs vs. protein and fat. I personally find that I need all three of those macronutrients. So, call me a criminal, but I do eat carbs! I just choose the right source, the right amount, and most importantly, all the right things to eat with the carbs. The keywords are absorption, blood sugar, protein, fiber and volume. You want to have nutrients hitting your system slowly, to keep the blood sugar steady. That’s why you need protein, and also a reasonable amount of fat. Protein and fat delay the absorption of carbohydrates. So I always have a generous amount of one or two protein-packed ingredients on my plate – things like beans, lentils, meat, chicken, fish, cheese, nuts, and seeds.

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From the things that have carbs, we also get most of our fiber – and that’s what makes us feel full for a long time. For example beans, lentils, oats, whole grains, and quinoa contain the good kind of carbs and lots of fiber. When calories actually really come into the picture, is the volume. We can’t really feel satisfied unless our tummy is full – that is, unless the food we eat takes enough space. Adding volume without adding too many calories is super important. So, every meal needs to have at least two handfuls of vegetables included, or about half of the plate.

So, no panicking during the calorie calculation spree anymore. Just a glimpse at a recipe or at a plate of food tells me everything I need to know.

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