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Food & Health News

What You Need to Know about Calories

There’s a lot more to calories than most of us think. Here’s what I’ve learned about them over the years 
and how I’ve made my mind up about them.

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Many people think that a calorie is a unit of measure for what’s in food that makes them fat. Just ask me. I was once a 204-pound fatty who got that way by eating so many calories that my body had to store them as extra tires around my waist. I didn’t want to know a thing about what was in food other than its flavor and texture. Give me something creamy and sweet and I was good to go. Calories be damned!

Maybe I should have paid more attention to calories back then. Every time I opened my mouth to accept my choice foods – namely, peanut butter, ice cream and cheese – I was making a deal with the devil to become a fat person. How could I have been so ignorant? Apparently, quite easily! Forced into action, I began to count calories as I learned to do in the pages of Joy of Cooking. It was the only book I owned with a calorie-counting chart in it. I noticed, with a sinking feeling, that the foods I was gobbling up were loaded with the damned things. Well, it made sense when I looked in the mirror. What I saw had clearly not been built by clean food.

What is a Calorie?

A calorie, by definition, is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. Huh? Translated, a calorie is an amount of energy used to fuel your body. By overeating, I was fueling myself with an obscene number of excess calories, few of which I was burning up. Doing so made me lazy on top of being fat.

See also30 Delicious Low-Cal Meals.

All Calories Are Not Created Equal

The other mistake I made was not understanding that calories aren’t created equal and that various foods have different effects on the body. For example, the calories from an apple are not comparable to the calories from a doughnut. The apple contributes fiber, nutrients and natural sugars, elements that build the body into a stronger, healthier, more disease-resistant state. Those same apple calories contain natural sugars that are slowly released into the bloodstream by way of the fruit’s fiber in a way that does not overburden the blood sugar–handling organs (which include the pancreas, liver, hypothalamus and adrenal glands), making us less likely to binge.

See alsoHow to Balance Your Bites to Lose Fat.

The same cannot be said for the doughnut. Completely devoid of nutrients or purpose other than being a “treat,” the doughnut actually breaks the body down as it processes in the gut, making us weaker as it robs the bones and organs of valuable minerals. At the same time, refined flour and other refined sugar products in the doughnut arrive in the bloodstream like a herd of elephants hitting a watering hole after a trek across the desert – way too fast for the pancreas to handle. And so we get irregular spikes, crashes and ultimately metabolic disorders that make us sick.

See alsoHow to Recover from a Sugar Binge. 

Should You Count Calories?

The Eat-Clean Diet series has never been about counting calories, even though I did try it in my earlier days. I know too many calorie-counting people who look like my dog does after she gets quilled by a porcupine – prickly! And I looked that way too, trying to record everything that passed between my lips. The sheer effort of it made me crazy.

Then I got smart. I began to see that counting calories misses the point entirely. It is what we focus on to be sure, but it is not the actual problem. Focusing on the number of calories instead of the quality of food you are eating is a lot like painting a house before fixing its rotten structure. The house will crash and so will you. Totaling up the calories you consume through the foods you eat is a hopeless task in the face of the quality of food you eat. Tracking calorie consumption accurately is very taxing – unless of course you have access to scientific equipment like a calorimeter. I don’t! I often got confused as to how to record the number of calories from even a healthy item like an apple when one apple is as big as my fist while another is half its size. Practicality trumps all in my lifestyle. I must be able to eat and go, knowing how much, what kind and how healthy a food is. That is why I live a clean lifestyle. It makes eating simple. I stick to nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods that are well sourced and prepared. You won’t see me counting calories, yet I know foods that fit into the Clean Eating lifestyle are often light by nature because they are not infused with other ingredients that may push hard against caloric intake. Often foods labeled fat-free or calorie-reduced still make us fat because they are engineered in labs to taste good using flavor systems heavily based in sugars – and that spells trouble.

See alsoLow-Fat Dairy? Not so Fast!

The only exception to lighter fare is the need for healthy fats, which always have a higher caloric value. But I don’t care about that and will eat an avocado with abandon because fat keeps me happy, hormonally balanced, healthy and satisfied. Check out my Massaged Kale and Avocado Salad recipe below and see if you don’t agree. Calorie count? Less than 400 per serving!

See alsoHow We Got The Fat Thing All Wrong.

Massaged Kale & Avocado Salad


  • 2 bunches organic kale
  • 1 avocado
  •  1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 1/2 cup coconut vinegar
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • Juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup dried wild blueberries
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Wash, rinse and dry kale. Remove tough ribs and tear leaves into bite-size pieces. Place in a large salad bowl.
  2. In a high-speed blender, add avocado, tahini, tamari, coconut vinegar, lemon juice and lime juice. Process until smooth. Pour dressing over kale. Using clean, bare hands, massage dressing into kale leaves until well coated. Peel and thinly slice onion, then sprinkle over kale. Add pine nuts and blueberries; toss well. Season with salt and black pepper.