Calorie Counting 101

Calorie counting can play an important part in any diet that is geared towards losing weight.  There are tons of awesome calorie counting apps available, my favorite being myfitnesspal.  Myfitnesspal has a huge database of foods as well as the ability to manually enter your own home recipes and get quality nutrition information.  I encourage many of my clients who are not only interested in losing weight but also interested in learning more about what they are putting into their bodies to use these food tracking tools.  Food journaling brings more awareness to what we are shoveling into our mouths on a daily basis, however, the amount of calories you are consuming is not the end all be all number in the equation for weight loss and healthy living.  It is more important to shift your focus to the quality of your calories, not just the quantity.  Weight loss is more than just calories in vs. calories out.   Proper macronutrient ratios, sleep cycle, exercise frequency and intensity, stress management, and food quality all play a crucial role.  

For the purpose of this post I want to focus on the nutrient density of different foods.  Nutrient density identifies the proportion of nutrients in foods, in relation to their caloric content.  In other words, nutrient dense foods give you the "biggest bang for the buck." You get lots of nutrients, and it doesn't cost you much in terms of calories.  Paying attention to the nutrient density of foods not only will help fuel your body with all the best nutrients but it will also ensure that you keep your calorie count in check.  Below are a few examples of the most nutrient dense foods in each food group.

Green Vegetables 

Collard greens, Kale, watercress, bok choy, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts.


Radishes, bean sprouts, red peppers, radicchio, turnips, carrots, and cauliflower.


Strawberries, blackberries, plums, raspberries, blueberries, papayas, and oranges.

Nuts + Seeds

Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, pecans and walnuts.

Meat + Fish

Salmon, shellfish, liver, sardines and grass-fed meats.

Here are a few tips to maximize your quality of calories consumed:

1. Color your plate: the more bright and vibrant colors on your plate, the better!    

2. Don't fear the fat: low fat or non-fat doesn't equal healthier.  In many cases if the fat is pulled out of a product, sugar and other preservatives are added to it.  While fats are higher in calories than protein and carbs, good quality fats are packed with important nutrients.  Think avocados, coconut oil, nuts and fatty fish. 

3. Watch the sugar: sure, you could have a small cookie or 2 cups of sliced strawberries for the same caloric content, but consider the nutritional value differences when making snacking decisions.  Strawberries are packed with antioxidants, vitamin c, and fiber while a cookie isn't really bringing much to the table as far as nutrition goes.

4. Get good at reading labels: many packaged products that are labeled as "healthy" are really just junk foods in disguise.  Get familiar with what is in products and if you can't pronounce an ingredient on the label, then don't eat it!

Moral of the story is calorie counting and nutritional tracking are just one of many pieces in the equation to weight loss, but they are certainly a step in the right direction!