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What Is a Calorie?

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The question of calories consumed and expended is omnipresent in the press and social media pages on a daily basis. In particular, I was moved by an article in the New York Times this week reviewing a very important documentary called "Fed Up," executive produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David, who was also a producer of "The Inconvenient Truth." The film tells stories about children struggling with obesity.

"But at the heart of the film is a question that is widely debated among scientists: Are all calories equal?" (Anahad O'Connor -- the New York Times -- May 9, 2014)

Last year, I was inspired by a Facebook post I received by a follower, Maryann, who was inquiring as to the number of calories she should consume to lose "the last stubborn 10-15 pounds." This is not the first time I've been asked the "how many calories" question. Simply said, a calorie is the unit used to measure energy. One could then deduce that to lose weight, you simply have to expend "more energy" than you are ingesting. That is only partially true. I think it's important to look at calories as energy for metabolic process and having your best body is a process of energy. I have always believed, and recent research has shown, that not all calories are created equally. For example, a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 138 calories, all of which are derived from (highly-processed) sugar -- 39 grams of sugar, which have zero nutritional value. I believe the focus should be on the quality of the calorie and the time of day it is consumed. There's an old saying that goes: "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper." The rationale here is that having the biggest meal of the day in the morning provides your energy for the day. In addition, the calories consumed earlier in the day are processed more efficiently than those foods eaten at night. The benefits are not only more even energy throughout the day, but weight loss. Again, eating to optimally fuel and energize your body should be the objective and not counting calories.

Your body is a temple -- nurture it, and it will serve you well for years to come. Choosing nutrient-rich whole foods is the surest way of deriving the optimal calories that will help sustain and enhance life. I love to cook and take advantage of the local farmer's market as much as possible. I love using herbs and spices and started introducing it in the meals I prepare for my 4.5-year-old daughters and me. Herbs like parsley, dill, turmeric, fresh ginger root, cinnamon and mint not only help flavor and zip up the foods we eat but also can help aid in digestion, boost immune system, and improve overall body function. Whether it's grilling, roasting, baking or light sautéing with my new favorite -- extra virgin coconut oil spray -- don't be afraid to shake it up a bit. Scintillate your taste buds -- foods will be more satisfying and result in greater satiety. When it comes to hydration, eschew sugary and diet soft drinks and drink plenty of water and green tea. If you crave fresh fruit juice, dilute at least one-third of it with water. When drinking alcohol, keep it clean. Whether drinking vodka and soda or a glass of red wine, sip and savor it. You'll enjoy it more and be less apt to have a second glass.

A couple of weeks ago, my family got together to celebrate Mother's Day. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. It's always a very special time when Emilia and Francesca get to spend time with grandparents, aunts and cousins. I sometimes find these times a test to my Sound Mind Sound Body philosophy. Although I think it is important to enjoy the occasional treat, I try to present the most healthful options. As it was warm, I treated everybody to an ice cream from a Mister Softie truck. The music and chimes ringing from the truck wafted through the park, transporting me back to my innocent childhood. Like Pavlov's dogs, those chimes would instantly make us think of ice cream and all the other frozen treats the truck was offering. We all enjoyed, indulged and reminisced. Fast forward 24 hours, my body rebelled. I believe the (highly-processed) ice cream pop may have taken me down. It has taken me the entire week to get my belly and body back on track. Looking back on the incident, I realize I could've done things differently: I could've chosen a healthier snack, like a piece of fruit, Kirsch bar, or a frozen fruit bar. As importantly, I could've just been more mindful and had a couple of bites and not finished the whole ice cream pop.

The morale of the story: Choose your calories and the time you consume them wisely. If it's a treat, try to go with a healthful, natural choice, taste, savor and enjoy every mouthful, and contrary to what you may have heard growing up, you don't need to finish the whole thing! Lastly, I believe that not all calories are created equal!

David Kirsch

@DavidKirsch

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