Chia Seeds Are Blowing Up

Literally – these little suckers expand like nobody’s business. They’ve even been featured recently in the New York Times... the true measure of whether or not a seed has ‘made it’. 

So what’s up with their explosion on the health food scene?  Here’s a crash course on why these little powerhouses are good for you (+ my favorite chia seed recipe).

1. Oodles of Fiber

These incredible ‘super seeds’ contain 11 grams of fiber per ounce (2 tablespoons) – which is 42% of your recommended daily value of fiber in a single serving.  

Bonus tip: Since fiber slows digestion and makes you feel fuller by soaking up fluid and expanding in your digestive tract, it can be a great way to start your day, especially if you’re trying to lose weight! 

2. Rich in Omegas

Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are essential and most of us are not getting enough of them.   Chia seeds give you a boost of both.

Bonus tip: Omegas can also help you clear away that nasty brain fog that sets in every afternoon.  Add 2 tablespoons of chia seeds to a glass of water to get your fill.

 3. Healthy Fats

We’ve been down this road together before, but let’s go there again.  Fats are absolutely necessary in a healthy diet.  Chia seeds pack 9 grams of fat per ounce, which can be as much 15-20% of your daily required value.

Bonus tip:  If you want to get the skinny on fats, check out What’s Fat Got To Do With It from the archives.

4. Fill’er Up

Have you ever had a chia pet?  You know how it plumps right up when you add water?  That’s all because of the chia seeds.   When mixed with water, chia forms a gel. Why do you care?  Research suggests:

When this happens in your stomach, the gel may keep you feeling fuller longer.

The gel acts as a natural detoxifier, by grabbing and flushing out toxins in your system.

Bonus tip: The chia gel also allows you to make a super healthy & yummy dessert that satisfies in under 2 minutes prep time.

Chai Chia Seed Pudding

chia seed pudding
chia seed pudding

Prep Time: 2 minutes Wait Time: 2 hours Serves: 2-4 people

1 cup cooled decaf Chai tea (brewed strong) (sub: ½ cup Vanilla Unsweetened Almond Milk for a creamier texture) ½ cup chia seeds 1.5-2 teaspoons maple syrup (to taste) 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Dash Himalayan sea salt (to taste) 1 cup of your favorite fruits and nuts (optional).  I like: -Mixed berries & pistachios -Diced pears & cashews -Mashed banana & peanuts

Mix chai, chia seeds, 1.5 teaspoons maple syrup, and vanilla and refrigerate for 1 hour.  At 1 hour mark, stir the mixture and add in any additional maple syrup (taste first).  Refrigerate an additional 1 hr+, top with sea salt, fruits and nuts & enjoy!

What I Learned On My Whole Foods Detox (Plus Before & Afters!)

I finished up my 21 day whole foods detox almost 2 weeks ago and just last week I took my after pictures. 

It’s true – a picture is worth a thousand words.  Honestly, I felt different – lighter, clearer – and a little slimmer (and my husband kept telling me how skinny I looked), but my body itself felt largely the same.  That’s why comparing my before and after shots was really eye opening.

Over the 21 days, I lost a total of 12 pounds (a lot of which I think was muscle mass) and 8.5” inches – mostly from my waist and hips.  (you’ll note the difference in my love handles and abs – winning!)

weightloss detox
weightloss detox

But more than losing weight and inches, I learned a heck of a lot about myself and my body on this 21 day whole foods detox; THAT was my goal – to refine what I know about what my body needs.  Here are some of my main takeaways (remember: this is for ME and my body; your body might work completely differently).

  • Abs ARE made in the kitchen
    • I have heard (and personally say this) pretty often... this week just affirmed it’s true.  I didn’t do a single crunch, but look at my stomach!
  • My body thrives on VEGETABLES
    • I felt the absolute best during Week 3 – which was limited grain vegan and packed with lots of yummy veggies.  The trick is to keep it interesting with a variety of different colors, textures, and tastes.
  • I NEED exercise
    • Exercise is a major stress reliever for me and as a work-from-home’r it helps to break up my day and get me out of the house and away from my laptop.  21 days without any exercise except some gentle yoga and walking was KILLER – I really need some sweating and straining.
  • Too many grains really block up my system
    • During weeks 1 and 2 of the detox, there are grains at almost every meal.  I love grains and so does my tummy, but the rest of my GI system, not so much.  I’ve experienced this before when traveling to the Philippines; eating rice at every meal leaves me constipated.  I do best with grains every other day or so.
  • It’s OK to give myself a break
    • This was a tough one for me.  I’m a chronic go-getter and those who know me well know I am ALWAYS doing something.  During these 21 days, I made a conscious effort to SLOW DOWN, sleep in, appreciate more, and fill my days with intention and purpose.  Eye. Opening.  This is something I’ve kept with me and plan to continue.
  • I CAN live without caffeine
    • I really lucked out... I only experienced 1 day of caffeine withdrawal (the norm is 3-4 days), but that single day was debilitating enough.  I have no desire to go back to drinking caffeine regularly.  But, I love my morning ritual of coffee and a book, so for now it’s high quality, fair trade decaf for this girl.
  • 70-90 ounces of water is my sweet spot
    • Yowza!  That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  And, in all honesty, I’m running to ladies’ quite a bit... but this is what really helped boost my energy and provided me with mental clarity. (For reference, this is about 60-75% of my post-detox weight in do the math)
weightloss detox
weightloss detox

If you think this is for you, make sure you check out this post to determine if this is a good fit for you and then let’s talk.

Anti-Inflammatory Recipe: Spiced Squash with Cashews

There are two things that I am just absolutely head over heels for right now: acorn squash and ghee.  On their own, they’re both pretty freaking great... but the combo is legit OUT OF THIS WORLD.  This is hands down, my favorite fall combo this year (aside from a great boots and scarf combo, of course).Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you know what acorn squash is, but just in case you don’t (no judgment zone), I’m talking about this guy:

anti-inflammatory recipe
anti-inflammatory recipe

It’s squash season, so you should have no problem finding acorn squash in your local grocery store.

But, there’s a good chance you’re asking yourself, “What the heck is ghee?”

Ghee is “clarified butter” traditionally used in Indian cooking (note: I use the quotation marks because there’s a little more to the preparation process).  Ghee contains vitamins A, D, E and K, lipids that have anti-infective properties, and acids which have anti-viral and anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as omega 3 fatty acids.  Due to its preparation process, which removes all the milk solids, ghee is lactose and casein-free, perfect for our dairy-intolerant friends.  

Perhaps most importantly, though, ghee is known to be an effective carrier of lipid-soluble nutrients.  Herbs and spices coated in ghee can easily penetrate lipid-based cell walls in the body, where you really get the most bang for your buck – which is why this Anti-Inflammatory recipe is such a powerhouse.

You can get ghee in most natural food stores, or Whole Paycheck, but I’m personally really digging on OMGhee, which can be purchased right from the comfort of your own kitchen table.  It’s a bit pricey, but well worth the investment.

Ghee is still a form of saturated fat, so use it sparingly... it’s recommended to use no more than 2 tbsp per day.

Anti-Inflammatory Recipe: Spiced Squash with Cashews*

Makes 6 side-dish servings

½ tsp ground cumin½ tsp sweet paprika¼ tsp turmericPinch of cayenne pepper¾ lb (1 medium sized) acorn squash1 tbsp ghee2 tbsp chopped roasted cashews

1.    Half and remove seeds from squash and bake for approximately 30 minutes at 400oF (until soft)2.    Remove from oven and let cool, approximately 10 minutes3.    Scoop squash from skin and cube4.    Toss squash with spice mixture5.    Heat ghee over medium heat and add squash6.    Mash squash with a spoon as you stir, until completely mashed

*Recipe modified from Eating By Color for Maximum Health, Williams-Sonoma

What fall recipe or flavor combo are you totally digging right now?  Make sure to leave it in the comments so I can test it out (I double as a health food taste-tester in my spare time!).

Clean Out the Fridge Frittata Recipe

Why It Sucks to Be an Egg: You only get laid once, you only get hard once, and when you DO finally get hard, it takes under three minutes and you're already in hot water. Source: Comedy Central Food Comedy

Also, if you're in my house, you're likely to be in my belly VERY soon.

frittata recipe
frittata recipe

If you're trying to clean up your diet, but you're short on time and or funds, incorporating eggs is a great choice for you.  Decent quality eggs (cage-free, vegetarian-fed, organic) can be found in pretty much any grocery store for less than $5 a dozen.  If you REALLY want to step up your egg game, invest in pasturized eggs from a local farmer.

This summer, I participated in an egg share, which meant a farm-fresh dozen eggs every week, so I've done lots of egg-speriments.  I've scrambled, fried, boiled, and baked 'em.  What I've learned: no matter how you cook eggs, its crazy-quick and easy and they can easily be paired with practically anything in your fridge to make a more complete meal.

Bad Rap Busted

Eggs, especially the sweet little yoke, have been getting a bad rap for quite some time - too high in fat, too high in cholestorol - but recent research shows these claims to be unfounded.  

In fact, eggs are nutritional powerhouses - filled with protein, healthy omega 3 fats, and a whole host of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin D, Selenium, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B5, Phosphorous, Iron, Folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B2.  And, get this- a study at the University of Connecticut found that the fat in egg yolks actually helps to reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol).

As far as cholesterol goes, the real threat is saturated and trans fats, not dietary cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, the recommended limit of dietary cholesterol is 300 milligrams for people with normal LDL (bad) cholesterol levels; one egg (yolk and white) contains 185 milligrams of dietary cholesterol.  The problem isn't the egg, it's how you're cooking it and what you're eating it with.  My suggestion: ditch the butter and bacon and add in fresh veggies instead.

(Note: if you have a history of high cholesterol or heart disease in your family, talk to your doctor about how much cholesterol you should have.)

Clean Out the Fridge Frittata Recipe

Serves 4

8 eggsSplash of unsweetened almond milk or water (approximately 1/8 cup)Potential Clean Out the Fridge Add-Ins:

Dark Leafy Greens (spinach, chard, kale)OnionPeppersGreen or yellow squashBroccoliBasilWhite or sweet potatoesTomatoes, Salsa, or Tomato SauceMeat: Chopped Ham, Turkey, or SausageCheese: Feta, Grated Cheddar, Mozz, or Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 400F2. Whisk eggs and almond milk3. Fold in veggies, herbs, cheese, etc.4. Pour egg mixture into 9" glass pie plate5. Bake for 30 minutes or until firm

This week I made swiss chard, red onion, & green and red tomato frittata, served with a large (1/2 plate!) green side salad.  The pairing is perfectly refreshing.  The frittata can be served hot or cold, depending on your preference.  Leftovers double as a great grab-and-go breakfast.

What's your favorite "egg-cellent" recipe?

Olive Oil vs. Vegetable Oil: What's better?

“What's your take on olive oil vs. vegetable oil?”

Last week this question was asked on my Facebook page.  I put together a quick response then, but felt that the question really warranted something more detailed. 

Oils (and fats) are a touchy subject in the health world.  There’s lots of conflicting information and misnomers due to “low fat” and “fat free” food labeling.  Your body absolutely needs some fat sources, the trick is incorporating healthy sources.  This week, I’m comparing olive oil and vegetable oil.  Spoiler alert: olive oil is the clear winner in my book.


Olive Oil

The Source:Olive oil comes guess it: Olives.  High quality olive oils (virgin and extra virgin) come from pressing olives, while some lower quality olive oils can include chemical processing.

The Content: Olive oil has the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat of any edible oil.  You cou gan think of monounsaturated fats as a mix between polyunsaturated fats (unstable) and saturated fats (stable); monosaturated fats oxidize quickly, but not as quickly as polyunsaturated fats.

Quality olive oil also contains lots of antioxidants, substances that have provide cardiovascular and anti-cancer benefits, including Vitamin E, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds.

Body Benefits: Olive oil’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects promote heart health and protect against cancer.   

Since monounsaturated fat is more stable than polyunsaturated fat, it is less likely to generate the free radicals that create “bad” cholesterol, aka LDL. LDL damages blood vessels and can create changes in genes that may lead to cancer. Olive oil does not contain omega-3 fatty acids, but it does help to strengthen omega-3’s anti-inflammatory effects.  Research suggests monounsaturated oils cause less production of the bile acids in the digestive tract that promote colon cancer development and may help to control insulin and blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for diabetics.

Vegetable Oil

The Source: Vegetable oils are extracted from seeds like the rapeseed (canola oil), soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, etc.  Vegetable oils can’t be extracted by pressing or naturally separating; they must be chemically removed, deodorized, and altered.  It should also be noted that commercial vegetable oils may be a hybrid of multiple oil sources.

The Content:Vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, the least stable of the fats.  Polyunsaturated fats oxidize easily in the body and cause inflammation and mutation in cells

Let’s put oxidation into perspective for a second.  What do you get when iron is exposed to air and oxidizes?  RUST.  When polyunsaturated fats oxidize in your body, they create “internal rust”.   Doesn’t sound good, does it?

Body Benefits: Polyunsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol, however, due to their unstable nature, monounsaturated fats are preferred.  Vegetable oils, specifically, may contain omega-6 fatty acids.  Maintaining a good omega-3 to omega-6 ratio (approximately 1:1) in the body is important (many people are deficient in omega-3).  Consumption of vegetable oils can lead to too much omega-6 fats, throwing the omega-3:omega-6 ratio off balance, which can cause inflammation and increase cancer risk.

Tips for Selecting, Storing and Using Olive Oil

olive oil
olive oil
  • Virgin is best. Extra virgin means that the oil was not produced through chemical means; only by mechanical (pressing) means.  This makes EVOO the best quality olive oil, since being pressed without heat preserves antioxidants.
  • Go with quality.  Top quality extra-virgin olive oil has a natural peppery finish and a deep aroma of grass and artichoke.
  • Lights Out. Heat, light and air can affect the taste and health-promoting nutrient quality of olive oil.  Purchase oil in a dark bottle and store it in a dark, room-temperature cupboard, or even in the refrigerator.  The fats, nutrients, and taste can degrade over time, so its recommended to use it within a six months to a year once opened.
  • Drop it low.  Olive oil has a low smoke point and is best used over medium to low heat.  For higher temp cooking, like stir frying or pan searing, I recommend using coconut oil.

In the comments, tell me what other questions you have about oils and fats.  Let’s bust through to the truth together.

Paleo Burgers: Bison Fajita “Queso” with Chips and Dip

I met Laura a few months ago after following her yummy Paleo recipes on Instagram.  She has since joined my one of my online 30-day Fit Club challenge groups and I have gotten to know her pretty well over the past few months.  I'm happy to call her both a friend and an inspiration - she is a true testament to the fact that I commitment to clean eating and a healthy lifestyle can change you for the better - both inside and out.  I asked her to share one of her fantastic recipes and she created this one especially for us!

About Laura

I am 31-year-old a stay-at-home mom who has always had a passion for cooking and baking. After struggling with weight and food addiction my entire life, I discovered the Paleolithic lifestyle. I have been Paleo since November of 2011, and since then I have lost a total of 60 pounds and have dropped 5 dress sizes. My overall health has improved drastically as well, with increased energy, clearer skin, healthier digestion, significantly fewer headaches & sinus struggles, and better sleeping patterns. My new Paleo lifestyle and my passion for cooking are perfect companions, and I have been having a blast in my kitchen exploring all sorts of new recipes and foods! I believe whole-heartedly in a clean, natural approach to health, and that all begins from the inside. It starts not only with the quality of the food we consume, but also our relationship with food and with ourselves. I hope that my story can help others find their path to healthy living!

Fajita queso burger meal
Fajita queso burger meal

All American Cookout - Spicy Paleo Style!

Summer has officially arrived, and she has brought with her the All American Cookout! This iconic summer party usually includes a vast array of S.A.D (Standard American Diet) foods like potato salad, pasta salad, chips and dips, white buns, and of course soda and BEER! It all looks and sounds amazing, but for those of us who strive to eat clean and live a JERF (Just Eat Real Food) lifestyle, it poses some serious problems. Temptation knocks at our doors, and we stand with our toes on the threshold flirting with disaster. Solution? Have your own cookout--clean eating style!

For me, clean eating is Paleo (gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, and legume free). As the Paleolithic lifestyle gains momentum, many peopleʼs first reaction to the diet is that they will feel deprived. This recipe post aims to prove otherwise! Combining my two favorite things--burgers and mexican food--I have come up with a recipe that includes ingredients you can easily find at your local grocery and wonʼt cost you an arm and a leg. As always, buy your foods as organic and local as possible to ensure no GMOʼs or unwanted byproducts!

Paleo Burgers: Bison Fajita “Queso” with Chips and Dip (serves 4)


  • 1 lb ground bison (or beef if you prefer)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbs garlic powder
  • 1 Tbs onion powder
  • 1 Tbs ground cumin
  • 1/2 Tbs chili powder
  • 1/2 Tbs cayenne
  • 1/2 Tbs sea salt
  • Sturdy large leaf lettuce for “bun”

Mix all ingredients (minus lettuce) in a bowl with hands until egg & seasonings are full incorporated. Form meat mixture into 4 patties and grill to desired doneness. If you are unable to grill, you can always oven-broil them on high on the middle rack, flipping after 5-10 minutes, depending on thickness & desired temp.

Burger topping:

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 yellow onion
  • Dash of sea salt
  • 2 Tbs ghee or other Paleo approved oil (Ghee is Whole 30 approved. OMGhee is the best on the market)

Slice peppers and onions approx. 1/4 inch thick. Melt ghee in a pan at med-high heat on the stove top. Sauté peppers and onions in ghee until cooked through. Salt lightly. If you have a saute pan for your grill this can also be done on the grill. Just melt the ghee in the microwave and coat the peppers and onions before sauteing on the grill.

Sweet Potato Chips:

**Can be made ahead of time--let cool & store in an air-tight container or ziploc bag**

  • 3 medium-large sweet potatoes
  • 2 Tbs ghee melted (can also use olive oil)
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 200*. Thinly slice sweet potatoes and put into a ziploc bag. Pour melted ghee into the bag and sprinkle in some sea salt. Close the bag and shake it until all the potatoes are coated in fat & salt. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1.5-2 hours flipping halfway through. Remove from oven when light brown and crispy. You can do a quicker version, putting them in a 375* oven for a shorter period of time, however they wonʼt be as crispy.

Cilantro-Lime-Bacon Guacamole:

  • 2-4 ripe avocados depending on size
  • 4 Tbs finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 4 slices of bacon crispy fried & crumbled
  • 1/4 large red onion chopped (or 1/2 of a small)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Remove fruit from the avocado and place in a bowl. With a fork smash until desired consistency for dip. Mix until incorporated the fresh cilantro, lime juice, bacon crumbles and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste.


  • 1/2 cup ghee
  • 1/2 cup creamy cashew butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tsp salt (more if desired)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes & chiles

In pan on low heat put everything but tomatoes & chili. Stir and heat until well mixed.

Add tomatoes and chiles. continue to heat until hot. Take care not to cook too long, as the nut butter can get a bad consistency. Note: Without the tomatoes and chillies, this “cheese” sauce makes a great base for other sauces, and when cold can make a great base for veggie dip (as it thickens in the fridge).

To serve:

Place burgers on a couple lettuce leaves. Top with peppers and onions & “queso.” Put a couple more lettuce leaves on top. Serve up the chips & dip directly on the plate, or serve them buffet style and ENJOY!

For more of Laura's recipes and a glimpse into her everyday life, follow her on Instagram at "lpepps".

How to Read Food Labels (and ignore calories)

So, if you're no longer counting calories and you still sometimes need to eat packaged foods, what should you look for on a food label?  I created a graphic for you to show you how to read food labels and what's important to know - a little light (but super important) reading this week!

how to read food labels
how to read food labels

I'll be honest - I thought I knew how to read food labels before I wrote this post, but I learned a whole lot more while I was researching.  I never knew that I should be looking at the ratio of total carbs to sugar, for example.  Did you learn something new this week?  Share it in the comments!

How To Stop Counting Calories - For Good!

I hope after last week’s post you’re recognizing the limitations in counting calories.  But, you can’t just DO NOTHING.  So, let’s talk about what you should do instead.

Just Eat Real Food

You want to know the real secret to not counting calories from food labels?  Eat food WITHOUT labels.  Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, grains (think quinoa, steel cut oatmeal, rice), and healthy fats all fit the bill.  Ditch packaged and processed foods - anything with more than 5 ingredients in the label.

If most of your food is packaged, start by replacing just one item a day with something natural.  Ultimately, aim for 80%-90% whole foods in your diet.

Restructure Your Plate

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that growing up you were probably familiar with the food pyramid as a guide to what you should eat.  No wonder everyone started counting calories - the pyramid did a poor job of helping people identify real food portions! 

Did you know that in 2011 a new food icon was introduced in the US?  The MyPlate icon was rolled out in early summer of 2011 (shown below) and has since been improved upon by Harvard School of Public Health with the replacement of milk with a glass of water, incorporation of more vegetables, and the inclusion of a healthy fat.  The new plate icons make food portioning much more accessible by showing you what your plate should look like at every meal.

US GOV MyPlate
US GOV MyPlate

When planning a meal, use the Harvard School of Public Health graphic as a guideline.  I personally advocate making half of your plate vegetables, adding a lean protein roughly the size and thickness of your palm (approximately 3 ounces for women and 4 ounces for men), incorporating a healthy grain for no more than a quarter of your plate, and adding in a small amount of healthy fat such as olive oil, nuts, or avocado.

Be Mindful

In this day and age, we’re all guilty of it.  Whether it’s eating in front of the computer or TV or incessantly checking your phone at meal time, you’re probably distracted when you eat. 

Research suggests that people eat less at any given meal when they are focused on the meal in front of them (and conversely eat MORE when they are distracted).  Disconnect from electronic devices, focus on chewing each bite fully, and engage your senses to notice the smell, taste, texture and color of your food.

Reflect On Your Previous Meals

A report published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that we draw on memories about the satisfaction of our most recent meal when we make decisions about what and how much to eat next.

Simply taking a moment before each meal to acknowledge what was eaten that day is enough. Alternatively, consider photo documenting each meal with a quick cell phone snap shot and glancing through your photo roll before you sit down to eat.

As you can see here, healthy eating is as much about eating real, whole foods as it is being conscious of what you’re putting into your body.  Consistently focusing on both these practices will ultimately lead to health gains and weight loss without ever having to counting calories again. 

In the comments, tell me what practice above you struggle with and what step you’re going to take towards correcting it.  I’ll go first – I am always distracted when I eat. I need to stop that.  I know better!

Are you a calorie counter?

In the health and fitness world, one of the commonly proposed and supported strategies for weight loss is calorie counting.Have you used calorie counting to lose weight before?  Has it worked for you?   The readers I polled said they had had success with calorie counting , but they all threw in words like “quality vs. quantity”, “portion control”, and “label reading” – suggesting that they were, in fact, looking at a much larger nutritional picture.

The truth of the matter is that calorie counting, as a model, is too simplistic to address the complexity of each individual’s nutritional needs.  Further, counting calories puts too much emphasis on the wrong things (quantity) instead of focusing on right things (quality).

With that being said, I’m going to tackle the calorie counting issue head on over the next four weeks.  I’ll be discussing why calorie counting doesn’t work, what to do instead, and teach you what to focus on instead of just calories when reading food labels.  But first, let’s lay some ground work, and get really clear on what a calorie is.

calorie counting
calorie counting

What is a calorie?

Purely scientifically speaking, a calorie is a measure of heat energy or “the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C”.  From a nutritional standpoint, a calorie is the amount of energy that is derived from a specific food or the amount of energy needed to metabolically “burn” a specific food.  The term calorie or “Calorie” is routinely used in place of kilocalorie; food measurements are actually in kilocalories.

How is a calorie measured?

Here’s where things get kind of squirrely, so pay attention!

Originally, scientists would measure the number of calories in food by burning the food in a bomb calorimeter, a sealed container surrounded by water; the calories are measured by the resulting rise in water temperature.  Using this method, a scientist named Atwater developed average calorie values for the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Nowadays, the food industry typically uses an “indirect calorie estimation” method known as the Atwater system (based on Atwater’s standard values).  Food calories are estimated based on the average caloric values for protein (4 kilocalories/gram), carbs (4 kilocalories/gram), and fats (9 kilocalories/gram).  There are modifications to these values that have been made for some food groups including fruits, vegetables, and beans, but in general, the Atwater system provides the framework for estimating calories for packaged and restaurant foods. 

One glaring omission in this process is fiber; often, to account for fiber, which is slow to digest, the amount of insoluble fiber is subtracted from the total carbohydrates.  Unfortunately, insoluble fiber isn’t specifically listed on food labels, so replicating the calculations is tricky (says the girl who just pulled various items out of the pantry and tried to do just that).

As an example, here are the calculations for a handful of random items I pulled out of my cabinet.


**My apologies for this being so dang small!

Note, for most items the calories from the food label is in between the calculated calories and the calculated calories without fiber; I believe the discrepancy to be due to insoluble fiber, however, this cannot be confirmed.

Food for Thought

Next week, I’ll go more in depth about the limitations of counting calories, but based on what we’ve reviewed today, I want to pose two questions to you (and my thoughts on them).

Does your body operate like a closed-system furnace, like the calorimeter described above?

NO WAY.  Your body is not a closed system.  It’s a complex, adaptable, machine.   In this respect, the calorimeter measurements are woefully inadequate in determining your body’s response.

Are you average?

HECK NO!  Then what would make you think that using average burn rates (calories) to determine your body’s response will give you accurate results?

Leave your thoughts on calorie counting in the comments.