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posted: 7/11/2011 12:01 AM

It's calories vs. content when it comes to diet

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It's probably safe to say that most of us realize the importance of managing calories. Eat too many calories and you'll gain weight; restrict your calories and you'll lost weight. Although this is technically true, we put much more emphasis on the types of calories vs. the amount of calories when we teach our clients about healthful nutrition -- and so should you.

We may think that our bodies run by burning nutrients, not calories. Nutrients are substances your body absorbs from the foods you eat to create energy. You could eat 1,200 empty calories and probably get through your day, but that doesn't mean your body is getting the nutrients it needs to thrive, such as a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates and many vitamins and minerals. The list of nutrients you get from whole foods is almost endless in comparison to what you get in processed foods. For instance, two eggs and a banana have much more nutritional value than a typical bowl of cereal, even though they may have similar caloric values.

To maximize your nutrient intake while still keeping your calories in check, we recommend the following tips.

• Choose foods that don't have ingredient lists. That is natural foods that haven't been altered, like organic fruits, vegetables, nuts and meat. These foods don't have extensive labeling because what you see is what you get.

• Severely limit your intake of processed foods. These are the foods that have the long ingredient lists. Read carefully, and if you're not familiar with any of the ingredients, find a product that you are comfortable with. How can you take control of your health if you're not even sure what you're eating?

• Eat a colorful diet. Pick foods that span the rainbow of colors to ensure a multitude of nutrients. The phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, blueberries, spinach, squash and pomegranate diversify your nutrient intake while managing excess calories.

• Eat fresh and in season. These types of foods have the highest nutrient profile in comparison to frozen or canned foods and by changing your diet with the seasons, you also ensure variety. Don't miss out on fresh corn on the cob or a ripe watermelon bursting with flavor.

• Expand your cooking skills. What better way to confirm what you're actually eating than by preparing it yourself. This allows you to incorporate more nutritious ingredients while avoiding unnecessary additives like sodium, trans fats and artificial sweeteners. Cooking takes time, but it's time well spent. If you have your food prepared ahead of time, you won't have to rely on less than ideal options, such as fast food or even skipping meals.

So take these ideas and learn how to incorporate them into your lifestyle. No matter if you're looking for a fresh start or you just want to build on your current nutritional foundation, understanding how to make these tips work for you is the first step. You will see and feel the difference.

Joshua Steckler and Mark Trapp are co-owners of Push Fitness, a personal training studio in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning and nutrition. Contact them at