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Brigham and Women's Hospital is open and seeing patients. All scheduled appointments and procedures will happen as planned on Monday, July 22.

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Nutrition Basics

How Calories Count

Losing, gaining or maintaining your weight depends on many factors. One factor is how many calories you take in and use up during the day. It's a concept called "energy balance". Generally,

  • If you eat more than your body needs to perform your day's activities, you store the extra calories as fat.
  • If you don't take in enough calories to meet your body's energy needs, your body will use the stored fat as fuel.

However, more than just the number of calories you consume matters. For instance, a calorie from soda affects our bodies very differently than a calorie from a walnut. The soda is quickly absorbed into our blood stream as sugar, raising blood sugar and insulin levels. This quick rise can cause the sugar to be stored as fat. A calorie from a walnut provides energy from protein or fat, which takes longer to digest and do not have the same quick blood sugar increasing effect as the calorie from sugar. The energy/calorie from a walnut may be used for energy, rather than stored.

Both food quality and number of calories consumed matter.

Quality of Calories

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” - Michael Pollan

To improve your overall health and wellness, focus on eating more whole foods that will nourish your body and eating less food that provides little nutritional benefit, like packaged junk foods and sugar sweetened beverages.

Look beyond the exact number of calories consumed, and putting more stress on where these calories are coming from is important to improve your overall health and wellness. That is, focus on eating more whole foods that will nourish your body and eating less food that provides little nutritional benefits.

When choosing food items, keep sodium, added sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat levels as low as possible. Some examples of foods to limit are packaged junk foods, and sugar sweetened beverages. Aim to eat plenty of fiber, protein, and healthy fats from whole foods. This means eating foods like fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados.

To improve your nutrition, adopt these healthy practices:

  • Incorporate at least one fruit and/or vegetable at every meal.
  • Eat foods that don’t have a package or food label like fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains.
  • Replace soda and sugary drinks with water and/or seltzer.
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
  • Buy frozen fruits and vegetables to cut down on cost.
  • Make extra portions of home cooked foods to bring for leftovers instead of eating out.

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