The simple answer is yes, investing in the time to count calories and having a greater understanding of what makes up your foods, is a great idea, but nothing is ever simple. Before you become glued to the back of packets or constantly on tracking apps adding your foods, the first place to start is to understand how many calories you need on a daily basis, and just as important, is knowing where these calories come from, as in the macronutrients: carbohydrate, fat and protein.

Calories are not created equally and the human body finds it easier to use some macronutrients over others. For example, the body is more in tune with burning simple sugars rather than fatty foods. I’m sure that you would have heard that the average man needs 2500 kcal per day and the average woman 2000 kcal, but this is very arbitrary, especially as we are all different shapes and sizes, with different goals and when it comes to dieting, we are all starting from a different place. If an individual was trying to lose weight, the key is to create a calorie deficit by initiating a percentage restriction. For example, reducing the overall intake by 20%, rather than suggesting a reduction of say 500 kcal, as you can see, if we simply reduced the average daily intake for a man or woman by 500 kcal, that would be reducing the calorie intake by 20% for men but 25% for women. As such, a percentage restriction is a better more individualised approach.

What’s the downside to calorie counting? Well, in truth, it’s boring and you just become a slave to the numbers rather than having a healthy easy-going relationship with food. Calorie counting does provide some education on the make-up of foods, which is why the government is pro the on pack traffic light system and back of pack regulations, but that doesn’t help when it comes to putting meals together and most importantly, the whole process becomes too long winded to stick to. A different approach is to come at it from the other way, thinking more about what foods and nutrients you need to add into your daily diet, and what foods to restrict or avoid. Below is a few questions that you should ask yourself when planning your meals:

  1. Is there protein in this snack/meal?
  2. Does this meal contain less than 10g of sugar?
  3. Does this snack/meal contain fibre?
  4. Can I reduce the saturated fat?
  5. Have I eaten at least 1 portion of fruit and 4 portions of vegetables?
  6. If processed foods, can I make this from scratch?

You may not be able to answer Yes to all six questions but the more yeses, the better.

Convenience or probably more accurately laziness really dominates our food choices. We can all create time to plan and prepare the food we eat; it’s just a matter of whether we want to. It is back to that earlier point that we all start in a different place. I believe that we all think our health is important, but when does it become more of a focal point and placed higher on our important list? The more emphasis we place on it the more likely we are to succeed in eating more healthily.