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Why You Don’t Need to Count Calories

When it comes to food, quality always beats quantity. Here’s how to eat more and weigh less.

By Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D.

One thing you’ll notice about all my SilverSneakers Million Pound Challenge recipes: There’s no nutrition info, such as calories, protein, fat, and carbs.

That’s because my nutrition philosophy is all about quality, balance, and portions. I’m 100 percent convinced that this trio is more important than numbers alone.

After all, not all calories are created equal. One recent study found that when healthy women ate different meals that were similar in carb, protein, and fat content, they burned about 50 percent more calories when they consumed whole foods versus highly processed foods.

That makes sense, because eating a 300-calorie blueberry muffin loaded with sugar and refined flour definitely isn’t the same as eating 300 calories worth of oats topped with blueberries and almonds. This quality switch is one reason why I’ve had clients stop counting calories—and in many cases, start eating more food—and begin losing weight.

Balance is my second pillar. I aim for meals that provide a generous amount of filling, fiber-rich vegetables that are low in carbs and calories, paired with lean protein, heart-healthy fat, and moderate portions of energizing, nutritious starches. This eating pattern best supports weight loss, while optimizing overall nutrition, mental and physical energy, mood, immunity, and sleep.

Finally, portions are key—they’re tied to calories. A good rule of thumb is to cover half of your plate with low-starch vegetables, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter with either a starchy vegetable or another healthy source of carbs, like a whole grain.

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Pulses—a category of foods that includes lentils, peas, chickpeas, and many varieties of beans—actually serve double duty. They provide protein and fiber-rich carbs, so you can include them in either spot or use a slightly larger portion to cover both macronutrients.

If you want to continue tracking calories or even counting macros, that’s fine. Just remember to make quality your primary focus, and you’ll maximize nutritional value and best nourish your body.

Note: If you have a chronic condition or dietary restrictions, please consult your physician or dietitian before beginning a new eating plan to make sure it’s safe for you.

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