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Making Food Count

Apr 22, 2024

This post is by Cindy Chen.


For years, the food industry had us counting calories. It didn’t matter what those calories were, but it seemed we needed less of them. Low-calorie foods popped up everywhere, and we ate celery because we heard it had negative net calories (it took more energy to chew and digest it than it gave us). But that has led to some degree of paranoia over the number of calories without considering where they came from.

However, I’ve learned, and teach my kids, that a calorie is a unit of measuring how much energy food gives our bodies. More calories mean more energy, and if we use energy, we need to refuel our bodies with more calories. It is worth it to be aware of our calories, but it’s probably best for our health and peace of mind to consider where the calories come from

Over the last several years we’ve been hearing more about “counting macros.” What’s a macro? What our body needs are macronutrients, which are what our bodies convert into energy. These macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Our bodies also need vitamins, minerals, and of course, water. Vitamins, minerals and water aren’t measured in calories and aren’t listed in the same way on ingredient panels. 

Our family went through a tremendous change in our diet over the last few years, when my husband, Sam, had significant health events that led to surgery, a scary diagnosis, and then a process of returning to health. We had been decently “healthy” in what we ate, but now we are more conscious of our foods. Because of our family’s needs, our meals consist primarily of protein, carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and fewer grains, and fats. This swap happened gradually, not all at once, and we are still improving.

Proteins build our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even our blood. They are vital for cell formation. Protein is found in so many foods, primarily meats, eggs, fish, but also nuts, dairy, beans and legumes. It is also found in lesser amounts in whole grains and many vegetables. When we exercise and get our Move Time, we need protein to rebuild our muscles to avoid soreness and refuel after using so much energy. Proteins take a while to digest and will help us stay full; they stabilize us and help us keep from being “hangry.” I try not to have important conversations on an empty stomach. If we’re talking and it gets a little too intense, Sam has been known to ask me, “Do you need some protein?” before we continue. Usually we can come back to a productive conversation after a meal or at least a spoonful of peanut butter. 

Carbohydrates give us energy. Refined carbohydrates (sugar, things made with refined flours, juices) are easy to burn through, increase our blood sugar level, and usually taste delicious. Our bodies need carbohydrates for energy, but where they come from will vary. Grains are mostly carbs, so things like bread, pasta, starchy foods like potatoes, yucca, corn, will fill you with carbohydrates and give a burst of energy. Depending on what other macros you eat with it, the energy may stay or it may peak and then drop. Unrefined carbohydrates, such as beans, whole oats, vegetables and fruit, which also have a lot of fiber with them, will stay in your system longer, and take a while to run out. For example, cake will give us lots of energy (calories of carbs from refined sugar) all at once; sweet potatoes also give us lots of energy (calories of carbs from unrefined sugar) but take longer for the nutrients in it to be absorbed into the body. Calories (energy) from the sweet potato will hold without the sugar high and inevitable sugar drop from cake.

Fats are necessary for our brains, our hormones, and absorption of vitamins. Fats help us stay full. A full body doesn’t need to snack as much, and deliberate fat consumption can help us make good food choices. Some fats are better for our bodies than others–omega 3 fatty acids (fat) from fishes and seafood, olive oil, avocado oil, and other minimally processed oils, plus some foods like nuts, olives, and avocado, are great for us. Other fats come from animals–cream and butter from dairy, animal fat, lard, etc. Less desirable fats come from highly processed oils like vegetable and corn oil. 

We need all kinds of foods in our daily lives, and it’s more important to make our foods count toward giving us the energy we need to accomplish what we have in our days than it is to count everything we eat. It is good to be aware of a balance to our intake. But let it be for our nourishment and fueling, rather than restriction and consumption. “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,” 1 Timothy 4:4. We can enjoy and be fueled by what we eat and drink, to the glory of God. 

Cindy Chen lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, Sam, and 4 kids, 2 dogs, and 5 hens. She is a preschool teacher, a children’s ministry leader, and an avid podcast listener. Cindy has recently taken up running, though observers would call it “slow jogging.” 

Photo by Pickled Stardust on Unsplash


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