I have never been good at counting calories; it always seemed so difficult and arbitrary to me! Well, this short video posted by Scientific American suggests my avoidance might not be a bad thing; it does a great job of explaining where calorie counts came from and why we should be taking those numbers with a grain of salt.

Wilbur Atwater, a chemist, developed the method for determining the average calories in fats, proteins and carbohydrates way back in the 19th century. We are still using this same method today. The problem with calorie counts is that they don’t take into consideration what type of food it is, how it is prepared and who is eating it.

Biologist Rob Dunn says, “There’s no such thing as an average food or an average person.” Using averages doesn’t factor in the differences in foods and people. Take fruits and vegetables, for instance. Fruits are generally softer and therefore digested more quickly. Vegetables, on the other hand, are tough and have more fiber. There will be fewer net calories from eating vegetables as opposed to eating fruit because it takes more work to break down the fibers. Also interesting is the fact that steamed broccoli has more calories than fresh.

Furthermore, every person’s gut has different bacteria in different amounts. In fact, there have been studies done that are looking at the how the lack of certain bacteria could be helping to feed the rise in type 2 diabetes. Two people eating the exact same meal will walk away from the table with different amounts of calories.

It’s more important to consider what we’re eating and how it’s prepared than to look at the calculated average calories of a certain food. Relying on numbers that are calculated with a formula more than a century old doesn’t make much sense. Eating more whole foods and less processed foods does.