This entry is NOT about counting calories. I have never really been a proponent of calorie counting for two reasons: 1) While it is relatively easy to count your calorie intake using calorie counting apps and books, it is very difficult to track calorie output. This is because each of us burns calories at a different rate and even within that some of us burn fat more efficiently than others, whether at rest or during activity. That metabolic rate is influenced by various hormonal factors such as hypothalamus, thyroid and adrenal function. 2) It is not only impractical, but very stressful to keep an accurate log of calorie intake and output for very long. And if you don’t already know, stress is a big contributing factor to weight gain and many degenerative and disease conditions. In lieu of calorie counting, I recommend developing an awareness of hunger and satiety and tracking them throughout the day. This will help you manage portions and maintain your caloric needs.
What this IS about is eating for nutrient density. how to get the most from the foods you eat. The idea is to maximize the nutritional benefit while minimizing the empty or unnecessary calories. The obvious ways to accomplish this are to avoid sweets and highly processed foods, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that. What we are really talking about here is eating more efficiently and that means eating foods that are more nutrient-dense or have more nutrients per calorie. The great news is that by eating more efficiently you can not only get healthier, you can save money because you waste less on empty calories!
There are several factors to consider when choosing foods that are nutrient-dense. Let’s focus on produce (vegetables and fruits) first. There is a relatively new system for measuring the nutrient density of food. It is the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). The ten foods at the top of the ANDI scale are Kale, Collards, Watercress, Bok Choy, Spinach, Broccoli Rabe, Chinese/Napa Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Swiss Chard, and Arugula. Notice most of these are your leafy greens. The first three are 200 points higher than the fourth one on the list, so they are sort of in a league of their own. Of these foods, spinach is the most popular, probably because it has a relatively milder flavor and is more easily eaten raw. While spinach may be your go-to from this list, keep in mind that variety is the key to getting all the nutrients your body needs to thrive, so branch out and try the others. If you don’t know how to prepare them, there are countless recipes online so start surfing! I periodically post recipes on this blog for vegetables, so if you want some, tune in or contact me directly and I’ll send you a recipe.
My personal favorite on the list is Kale. I eat it several times a week and typically raw in the form of a salad. I simply take raw kale and tear the leaves off the stalks, place them in a bowl and drizzle some olive oil vinaigrette dressing over them. Then I massage the dressing into the leaves with my hands until the leaves are soft. This not only makes it more tender and palatable, but it releases many of the nutrients and makes it easier for you to digest.
As far as grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, the top ANDI foods are Lentils, Red Kidney Beans, Sunflower Seeds, Sesame and Flax Seeds, Oats, Barley, and Brown Rice. Generally speaking, the less processed these foods are, the better they are for you. What that means is different for each item. While the beans and grains should be soaked and cooked, the nuts and seeds are better eaten raw.
Soaking your beans and grains is easy. You simply place them in a bowl, pour in enough water to cover them add a little sea salt, cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and leave it on the counter at room temperature over night. This begins the sprouting process, neutralizing the phytic acid—an anti-nutrient—and makes the grain or bean easier to digest. The next morning, you simply place them in a colander or strainer and rinse them with cold water. Now they are ready to cook the way you like.
While the ANDI scale is not really applied to meats and dairy products, make sure your diet includes plenty of these foods as they are your source of complete proteins. If you are a vegetarian, that’s fine, as long as you are up to the greater challenge of properly combining your foods to get the full spectrum of essential amino acids your body needs to maintain optimum health. If you don’t know what I am talking about, contact me for a consultation.
Well, that should get you started on a path to getting more from the calories you take in. Now put your new superfoods to good use and make sure you work some calorie-burning exercise into your daily routine!