Counting calories? You should be counting colours, says nutrition expert

It's all about nutrient density

Bowl of salad
(Image credit: Sonny Mauricio on Unsplash)

If you're trying to improve your health or lose weight, more than likely you're paying more attention to the calories in what you eat. While things like the keto diet and intermittent fasting have gained popularity in recent years, the idea of counting calories and eating within certain daily limits remains a constant in the diet industry. But apparently that's not the right idea at all: you should be counting colours, not calories. 

"Our bodies don’t see food in terms of macros and calories. They see nutrients and need lots of nutrient-dense foods to thrive," says Dr Lauren Lax, a nutrition expert at BreakingMuscle.com (opens in new tab). "Generally speaking, less colour means fewer nutrients, and less satisfaction from eating [those foods]. You might have hit your macro goals, but your body is still craving the rest of the many nutrients it needs to function at its best."

"When we consume lots of colourful veggies, body-boosting healthy fats, and essential proteins, our metabolism comes alive, extracting various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep your body revving. " Foods that work well with this approach, and Lauren recommends working into your diet include:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Colorful veggies (aim for 2-3 different veggie colors at each meal)
  • Berries
  • Citrus (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit)
  • Organic herbs (parsley, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, sage)
  • Organ meats
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut
  • Pastured eggs and poultry, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fatty fish
  • Coconut oil, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, ghee, and grass-fed butter
  • Avocado
  • Raw brazil nuts, walnuts, and macadamia nuts

Macro or calorie-based diet plans tend to fixate on numbers and measurements, and discard nutrient density, which can have a big effect on how your metabolism responds to the food. She uses the example of having a handful of gummy bears after a workout, to give your body a hit of quick-digesting carbs. Compare that to the same amount of berries or a small sweet potato and the nutrient composition and health benefits will be completely different. The fruit/veg should satisfy your body better, leading to a more ideal metabolic result.

Ruth Hamilton
Ruth Hamilton

Ruth is T3's Outdoors editor, reviewing and writing about everything from camping gear and hiking boots to mountain bikes, drones and paddle boards. To counter all that effort, she also runs the site's Wellness channel, which includes sleep, relaxation, yoga and general wellbeing. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy, for fear of getting smothered in the night.