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Friday, 18 March 2011

Watch Your Amounts! and Keep in Perspective to Energy Requirements!

I've lately noticed that dietary recommendations are getting more 'you MUST eat' vs. 'you must NOT eat'. In principle, this is a GOOD thing, BUT -- do NOT let this make you feel that this means to eat MORE FOOD THAN YOU NEED!

For example, the emphasis on getting optimal amounts of omega-3-fatty acids in our diets -- an essential fatty acid that has been found to help tremendously with protecting us from cardiovascular disease, many cancers, skin ailments, mental dysfunction, and a host of other disorders -- is making many nutrition experts and institutes publish recommendations on what foods to INCREASE in diets so as to result in people getting omega-3-fatty acids. So, sources of 0mega-3's are foods like oily fish, flaxseed, walnuts, Brazil nuts, purslane. GREAT! But this does NOT mean that one has to gobble Brazil nuts all day or eat copious amounts of salmon and sardines.

The recommendations mean to increase PORTION-CONTROLLED servings of these foods more regularly into your daily dietary needs. GOT THAT!?

So, how much food DO you need?

This information depends on many factors and a registered dietitian or your GP or a practice nurse, or even, now, many personal trainers and gym instructors can help you determine the amounts of food you need to be eating for optimal weight regulation while affording you the best mix and amounts of nutrients for your individual needs. Alternatively, there are many websites that can help you calculate and derive this information for you, such as the MyPyramid Tracker site:

The bad thing about getting your information online is that it can miss a few issues in your particular situation that can really make the difference between getting it right for you and getting it wrong.

I am not a fan of any one particular diet. Some diets emphasize protein as the main source of nutrition, some emphasize carbohydrates, and even now some diets are coming into the mainstream advocating HIGH FAT. This last dietary regime, called the KETOGENIC diet, is NOT for the general public!!! It is a diet that has been used for children and some adults suffering from a particular pathology (epileptic seizures) that seems to respond to the high fat dietary intake in alleviating symptoms of the pathology. It requires tedious titrating and lots of supplementation of the other nutrients that are lacking in a high-fat diet and has NO place in the diets of people without this pathology. There's also been some noise about liberalizing intake of fat, even SATURATED fats, such as butter, whole milk and whole milk products, proclaiming that it makes no difference and may even help with losing weight and keeping it off. I stand by the practice of continuing to keep your intake of total fat at a prudent level of your dietary intake with MOST of it coming from sources of UNSATURATED (oils, nuts) or MONOSATURATED (olive oil, avocado). Of course, having A BIT of saturated fats like butter, cream, whole milk and whole milk products, here and there, is fine, especially if it is satiating and keeps you from overeating.

So, back to the protein vs. carbs issue -- I believe it really DEPENDS on how your body responds based on your genetic predisposition, your baseline nutritional status, your lifestyle, especially how physically active you are and what types of physical activity you regularly engage in, and your dietary preferences. The main issue is to choose the type of diet you will most likely STICK WITH that is a balance of all kinds of healthy foods such as whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, lean and low fat dairy, plenty of vegetables and fruits, and ENOUGH UNSATURATED FATS, especially sources of essential fatty acids.

What is actually MORE IMPORTANT is that your overall kcalories per day are not MORE or LESS than your needs. If you get the energy (kcalories) requirements right AND you get enough PROTEIN to support your body's needs for its tissue growth (mainly in children) and repair (both children and adults), the rest will follow. And this doesn't mean you have to be counting kcalories -- the point is to have a STARTING point of dietary intake that is MORE ACCURATE and individualized to your needs. Here is an easy, but uncannily accurate way to determine YOUR KCALORIE NEEDS:


1. Take your height in centimeters

2. Subtract 100 from your height measurement

3. This number gives you your IDEAL BODY WEIGHT in KG

4. Multiply your ideal body weight in kilograms by 2.2 to get your ideal body weight in pounds.

5. Multiply your ideal body weight in pounds by:

13 IF you are a sedentary person (no planned exercise per week)

15 IF you are MODERATELY ACTIVE (3 planned exercise sessions per week of AT LEAST 45 minutes duration per time)

17 IF you are VERY ACTIVE (5-7 planned exercise sessions per week of at least 45 minutes duration)

20 IF you are vigorously active (athlete in training, for example or someone who exercises 5-7 days per week for at least 1 hour HIGH INTENSITY sessions per time)

This final number will give you YOUR estimated DAILY ENERGY(KCALORIE) REQUIREMENTS.

Example: MJ is a moderately active 55 year old 5'4" woman. So, her height in centimeters is 162.56 (1 inch=2.54 cm). Her IDEAL BODY WEIGHT is, thus, about 62.5 kg. (162.56 - 100 = 62.56). Her estimated daily energy requirements = 2062.5 per day. ( 62.5 x 2.2 = 137.5. 137.5 x 15(moderately active)= 2062.5).

NOW, IF MJ finds that she is gaining weight or losing weight or eating more than she feels comfortable with or not eating enough, THEN, obviously the estimated calculated requirements have to be TWEAKED ACCORDINGLY. BUT, at least, it got her STARTED from a baseline workable point from which to work from. THAT is the whole purpose of this exercise. It is NOT meant to FIX or STATE ABSOLUTELY what the kcalorie requirement is.

And figuring out your energy or kcalorie requirements per day is just the BEGINNING!!  Ultimately, you need to know how to DIVIDE your kcalories into how much of your kcalories need to come from protein, carbohydrate, and fat and then how to translate these numbers into how much FOOD you need per day. I will cover this with you in subsequent postings. It sounds complicated, but it isn't.

So, stay tuned!

But, for now, it is helpful to know how to get a general idea of how many total kcalories you need so that you can look at food labels and start getting clarity on your dietary intake relative to your total needs. The good news is that foods that have no food labels are probably those items that you need to be eating more of, anyway, like fruits and vegetables!

Any questions or comments or for further information, feel free to comment or ask through comments at this site or contact me, directly:

Mary-Jo R. Overwater, MSc, MMSc, RD


shaun said...

Enjoyed reading this. Funny, I just wrote an article titled Weight Loss - Eat More Not Less. I do agree that total amount of calories is very important but I kind of like the shift that is happening because I think it refocuses people on why we eat in the first place which is to meet our energy needs and to get the nutrients we need.

I also think it gets us away from demonizing foods...and the thinking that as long as we avoid X our weight/health issues will go away. Plus, shifting to a positive message has a huge psychological benefit.

Finally, I think it helps provide a more consistent message...which I think is very beneficial. Most diet plans embrace eating more veggies...but it isn't necessarily the current focus. Most diet philosophies would embrace low glycemic load foods like true whole-grains...but again not really the focus of the low carb diets.

I personally believe that if people start eating more nutrient dense/less processed foods they will naturally consume less. In that sense it is a win-win.

MJ said...

In one of my first research papers in grad school, I focused on a concept which has now become passe called the Index of Nutritional Quality -- the INQ. it emphasized exactly what you are referring to and when I compared the free living habitual diets of an obese population with a non-obese populations, sure enough, the ideal weight guys had much more of the high INQ foods and felt full and satisfied. the obese guys were eating much much more, but of a low INQ and still complaining that they didn't feel satisfied because they were 'always watching every little thing they put into their mouths', but, in reality, they just ate more! You are right -- that negative vibe almost distorts the impressions of what is actually eating as so much energy is placed on trying NOT to eat too much -- food is the constant focus and as Aristotle said 'We are what we repeatedly do'. When we just STOP thinking so much about food and eat to live, we often make healthier choices. Thanks for your comment.