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How Do Food Manufacturers Calculate the Calorie Count of Packaged Foods?

Did you ever wonder how the calorie counts on food labels are figured? Scientific American asked that question, and found that the process is a little more complicated than you might think. In the old days, a “calorie” referred to the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius. This method of figuring calories — “kcal” — is called the Atwater system.

If you think that sounds confusing, others thought so too, and that’s why the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 requires that calories be calculated on food content such as protein, carbohydrates, fat and alcohol, instead. But even that can be confusing, as the final count doesn’t include fiber content, which is subtracted from the total carbohydrates before calories are figured.

To say the whole thing sounds confusing, no matter which way you figure calories, is an understatement — especially if you’re counting calories in an effort to manage your weight. That’s why I recommend that, if you seek to lose weight and optimize your health, stop counting calories now and focus on the nutritional content of your foods.

Fortunately, even conventional health experts are now starting to catch on, and rather than looking at calories, they suggest looking at the nutritional value of the foods you eat. If you’ve read my blogs and newsletters very much at all, you already know that I have a much better way of addressing both weight and nutrition. But first, I can’t help but point out that if you’re reading calorie counts on labels, then most likely you’re eating the wrong foods to begin with.

This is because the majority of foods that come with nutrition and calorie-count labels are nothing but processed foods — and processed foods are something you should avoid completely. The sad fact is the struggle with weight gain and obesity is too often fed by cheap, (but convenient) prepared, packaged, processed foods.

And, not to belabor the point, besides the added calories you get from added sugars and fats, processed foods are also loaded with artificial flavors, seasonings, preservatives and dyes. So, instead of worrying about how calories are figured on package labels, I recommend that you consider adopting a ketogenic diet, which not only doesn’t count calories, but also can help you get healthy, stay healthy and lose weight.

This means ditching processed foods in all forms and switching to fresh, whole, organic foods and eating a high-quality, high-fat diet that is low in net carbohydrates. As I explain in my book, “Fat for Fuel,” and in my upcoming book, “Superfuel,” the way to ease into a ketogenic diet is to learn which fats are good, which aren’t and how to tell the difference.

Then, begin with a 1-to-1 ratio of healthy fats to net carbs. Adding MCT oil or coconut oil to your meals is one way of increasing the amount of healthy fat in your diet.

Just remember: The key to success on a high-fat diet is to eat high-quality healthy fats, not the fats most commonly found in the American diet (the processed fats and vegetable oils used in processed foods and fried restaurant meals).

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