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Low Calorie Misconceptions

With the start of New Year’s resolutions food manufacturers are not surprisingly focusing their ad campaigns on weight loss. A primary focus will be on the calorie content of their products. While calorie content is important don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the only factor you should consider. Low-calorie foods are not always your best option especially when they’re processed or refined. In this post I’m going to show you how to spot some of the misconceptions in commercials and ads so you can make informed decisions with you diet.

Over the weekend I saw a commercial for Campbell’s Select Harvest Light Soups. The pitch was you should select their product over Lean Cuisines and other packaged meals because their soups only have 80 calories.

This would imply that the other products are too high in calories. Truth be told, both of these products wouldn’t be my top choices because they contain negative partitioning agents that help to send energy to fat cells instead of muscle cells.

Anything you eat from a can or a box will have to be processed and refined in some way. Remember, it’s not just about the calories but rather the nutrients you assimilate from the foods you eat. If the food isn’t in the natural state you’re likely to lose a good portion of the vitamins and minerals, not to mention alter the hormonal responses by your body.

Back to the calorie issue…

Campbell’s wants you to believe that you’re better off eating their soup for lunch since its only 80 calories. While the Select Harvest Light soup is a better option than other soups with less preservatives and sodium it’s not enough to make a meal.

At only 80 calories you’re going to be getting in less than half your energy needs. A key principal in weight loss is steady blood sugar levels which come from balanced meals eaten frequently through the day.

A big issue I regularly see with weight loss clients I consult with is not getting in enough calories or “back ending” the majority of their calories at the end of the day. An example would be eating a light breakfast, or no breakfast at all, eating a small lunch (like a can of soup), then eating a full dinner at the end of the day.

This puts too many calories at the end of the day when your hormonal systems are set for fat storing instead of fat burning.

I wouldn’t recommend eating an 80 calorie meal because it goes against having steady blood sugar and balanced energy through the day. Let’s look at an example so I can show you what I mean.

Let’s say your energy needs for the day based off your metabolism is 1500 calories. In order to minimize insulin secretion and keep steady blood sugar levels you’ll want to eat 4-5 small meals throughout the day.

If we do some simple math and divide 1500 calories by 5 meals you’ll get an average of 300 calories per meal. Now this doesn’t have to be perfect as some meals will be larger than others. For example, your dinner might be 500 calories and one of your snacks may only be 200 calories. This is ok since it’s all within range and you’ll still have balance with your energy intake.

The problem arises when you only have a total of 500 calories between breakfast and lunch then eat an 800-1000 calorie dinner. This is quite common and easy to do especially when you’re eating out a lot.

You can see from this example that even with a low-calorie diet at 1500 calories you still want to have an average of at least 300 calories at most of your meals. I don’t recommend eating less than approximately 1200 calories for anyone since this is a recipe for slowing down your metabolism.

Everyone will be different with their energy needs which is why I recommend finding out what your specific calorie requirements are with a resting metabolic rate test. Never-the-less, even with a slow metabolism and lower-calorie requirements you’ll find the 300 calorie number to be an average of the minimum calories for any of your meals.

Back to the Lean-Cuisine type packaged meals. In reality, they would really be a better choice than an 80 calorie can of soup since most contain somewhere around 300-400 calories. Still I would make these packaged meals a secondary choice since they’re refined and processed. Take a look at the ingredients for the Lean Cuisine Fiesta Grilled Chicken.


Cooked White Meat Chicken (White Meat Chicken, Water, Modified Tapioca Starch, Chicken Flavor (Dried Chicken Broth, Chicken Powder, Natural Flavor), Carrageenan, Whey Protein Concentrate, Soybean Oil, Corn Syrup Solids, Sodium Phosphate, Salt), Blanched Enriched Long Grain Rice (Rice, Ferric Phosphate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Folic Acid), Skim Milk, Tomatillos, Red Peppers, Yellow Peppers, Water, Black Beans, Onions, Corn, Pinto Beans With Water, Cheddar Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto Color), Monterey Jack Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Roasted Red Pepper Puree, Green Chiles And Citric Acid, Buttermilk Powder, Chile Peppers, Cilantro, Dehydrated Sour Cream (Sour Cream (Cultured Cream, Nonfat Milk)), Salt, Modified Cornstarch, Garlic Puree, Cultured Whey, Spices, Jalapeno Puree (Jalapeno Peppers, Salt, Acetic Acid And Calcium Chloride), Lime Juice Concentrate, Bleached Wheat Flour, Sugar, Potassium Chloride, Chicken Fat, Seasoning (Wheat Starch, Extracts Of Annatto And Turmeric Color, Natural Flavor

There’s a lot going on there with ingredients not found if you made this dish in your kitchen. You just can’t get around the weight loss benefits of eating whole, natural foods. I know that time is an issue for all of us but fast food doesn’t have to come from a drive-through.

A favorite recommendation of mine is to use a Crock Pot. If you don’t have one go pick one up today as part of your New Year’s resolutions. I use mine all the time and it’s a staple in my kitchen.

I’m by no means a gourmet cook and I’ve found it’s hard to mess up with a Crock Pot. You can make any number of dishes and just put it on low to cook all day. When you come home your meal will be ready.

Another great idea is to cook chicken breasts, etc in bulk then put in Tupperware containers to eat throughout the week. Preparation is the name of the game. You just don’t need to eat pre-packaged, refined foods if you do some preparation in advance and use Tupperware. The microwave is a wonderful thing to simply re-heat your meals and you’re good to go.

So there you have it. Your first nutrition tip to start off the New Year on the right track. Go to the grocery store and stock up on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and other “primal foods” that are the secret for optimal health and a trimmer waistline. You’ll be glad you left the pre-packaged meals on the shelf.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE, no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Nutrition.