I'm not sure I did before, but I do now, LOL!
I'll be really interested to hear all of you chime in with your take *AFTER* reading through all of this... yeah, yeah, yeah... I know it's long, but it really is worth the read!
You'll find my own commentary in the... comments!
SOURCE (and thanks to my GUEST BLOGGER):
Eathropology... Eat what you want. Get the facts.
by Adele Hite, RD MPH
Calories? Again? Already?
Are we not sick of this subject already?
There have been some excellent articles and lots of "food for thought" on this topic recently.
Robb Dunn did a guest post at Scientific American about "The Hidden Truths About Calories,"
which—to summarize in a way that does no justice to the article at all—basically boils down to the fact that most of the hidden truths about calories are so hidden we simply don't know much about them at all.
(I second this: Why Calories Count Fo' Shizzle.)
Calories are the Radical Terrorist Plot of food. We don’t really know what they are, where they are, or how to successfully avoid them, but they affect all aspects of our lives: how much we eat, how often we exercise, whether or not we feel good about ourselves (our notions of “good” and “bad” behavior frequently revolve around how many calories we’ve avoided/consumed/burned/sat on). Like the Radical Terrorist Plot thing, sometimes it means our lives can get a little weird.
We do know one thing about calories though. According to Marion Nestle, [“. . . many people in the world are consuming more calories than they need and becoming overweight and obese.“]
Simply put, we’re fat because we eat TOO MANY CALORIES—whatever that means.
So—exactly why do calories count?
Luckily, Nutrition Expert Marion Nestle has now written a whole big book to help us understand the mysteries of calories. She very thoughtfully posted an interview of herself being interviewed about the book on her website so we could all see [what she thought about her own book].
But she’s such a smart person, being a Nutrition Expert and all, I was concerned that some folks would have trouble figuring out exactly what she was saying. I hope this helps clarify things.
• Calories count because they are easy to understand
• Calories count because calories are very confusing
• Calories count because we don’t count them
• Calories count because we do count them
• Calories count because we can’t count them
• Calories count because we can count them
• Calories count because we should count them
• Calories count because counting calories is the only way to keep track of how many calories are in your food
• Calories count because they are the only thing in your food worth counting
• What can we do about the “calorie” problem?
Calories count because they are easy to understand.
According to Marion Nestle, “Calories are a convenient way to say a great deal about food, nutrition, and health.” This is true. For instance, calories can tell you a great deal about how many calories are in your food, without having to take into account anything about nutrition or health.
Marion Nestle explains that the idea behind calories is abstract, but simple: “They are a measure of the energy in food and in the body....” This is also true. In addition, calories are a way to measure the guilt quotient (lotsa calories) and marketability (teensyweensy amounts of calories) of food, making calories an exceptionally useful concept to both [food manufacturers]
and those working on developing an unhealthy relationship to food.
Calories—as well as guilt and marketability—in food can be determined directly by using a [bomb calorimeter],
which measures the exact calorie content of food by igniting and burning a dried portion of it. In case you’re wondering, this is EXACTLY how your body measures calories too!
Marion Nestle explains that “Calories measure energy to keep bodies warm, power essential body functions, move muscles, or get stored as fat.” I would add that I don’t really know what calories do either, but if you use calories to keep your body warm, I guess my hot flashes make me “da bomb (calorimeter).” [I so crack myself up]. Hey, but then wouldn’t menopause turn us all into skinny bitches instead of fat ones?
Calories count because calories are very confusing.
Marion Nestle explains that the reasons we haven’t been able to grasp the whole calories in-calories out thing is that “Even talking about calories is difficult. For starters, calorie counts are given in no less than five different units — calories, Calories, kilocalories, Joules, and kilojoules (along with their abbreviations cal, Cal, kcal, J, and kJ).” These concepts are so confusing to regular folks that only Nutrition Experts like Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan actually KNOW how many calories people should really be eating; the rest of the country is just guessing.
And when Americans “self report” on how many calories they eat? Well, let’s just say they are [“underreporting,”] shall we?
Calories count because we don’t count them.
Government-Approved Nutrition Experts—not unlike Marion Nestle—MUST make a Big Statement about the Plight of Fat Americans, oh, about every year or so (it’s in their job description). When Slender Motivated Upper-class Gainfully-employed (code name: SMUG) Americans who read the New York Times need to know why we just can’t seem to get those fat stupid Americans to stop being so fat and stupid, they can call on Nutrition Experts–not unlike Marion Nestle–who KNOW the problem is that Americans eat too many calories—whatever that means. By keeping the focus on calories in-calories out, Nutrition Experts and food writers know that they can [count on Americans to continue not counting calories],
just as they have not counted them for hundreds of thousands of years, thus guaranteeing job security and future book contracts all around.
Calories count because we do count them.
According to Nutrition Expert Marion Nestle, “The U.S. diet industry is worth about $60 billion a year.” Clearly Americans are willing to shell out for just about anything if they think it will help them figure out [why they can’t lose weight when they are doing everything they’ve been told to do for the past 30 years, including eating less fat, eating more carbohydrates, and exercising.]
As long as Nutrition Experts can keep Americans counting calories, the food industry, the diet industry, the exercise industry, and the Nutrition Expert industry can keep counting the Benjamins. No calories in a Benjamin—it’s all fiber, baby.
(A high fiber Benjamin)
Calories count because we can’t count them.
According to Nutrition Expert Marion Nestle, you can’t see, taste, or smell calories. This means calories are like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. You would have no way of knowing they even exist if there weren’t a giant academic-scientific-industrial
-media complex devoted to the worship of calories and keeping them alive in our hearts and minds!
Calories count because we can count them.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to keep track of your calories even though you can’t see, taste, or smell them.
Marion Nestle says that the best way to measure calories is to step on a scale. So, lessee. I stepped on the scale and I weigh 160 pounds. If I’m 55% water (hooray, no calories there!), and 4% minerals (wait, does calcium have calories?), and then 13% protein (4 calories), 24% fat (9 calories) and 4% carbohydrate (4 calories), well then, hmm multiply by and convert and carry the one and—got it!—I’m exactly 206112.371 calories.
That means if I decrease my calorie intake by 500 calories a day (this where all that helpful calorie information on the side of the box of [low-fat, high-fiber, individually calorie-control portion food]
comes in handy) and increase my activity by 500 calories a day (which I understand I can do simply through [insanity],
which—according to my children—should not be much of a stretch), that means that on November 10, 2012, sometime around noon, I will disappear altogether because all my calories will be gone. See how easy that is.
Calories count because we should count them.
Because counting calories is sooooo easy, anybody should be able to succeed at maintaining energy balance. There are lots of ways to demonstrate to the world that YOU have the intelligence, willpower, stamina, time, money, and Fine Upstanding Moral Character to keep your calorie balance in check.
• Eat Twinkies, but not too many.
But if you get hungry after you exercise—
[and I don’t know why you would]—
whatever you do, don’t eat any food with calories in it. Turns out many Americans are making this serious mistake. [We seem to be exercising more than ever, but we’re also eating more than ever.]
If you get hungry after you exercise, you’re probably not really hungry, [you just think you are.]
Drink some water, take a nap, or go for a walk. Or you could just suck it up and quit your whinging.
• [Throw up after you eat] (Hello? Calories out?)
• [Don’t eat if you’re going to drink.]
After all, despite the fact that vodka tonics look like water, they STILL have calories and CALORIES COUNT.
• [Eat eggs for breakfast.]
Protein for breakfast creates the intelligence, moral fiber, character, and willpower that will allow you—for some magical reason—to not eat about 400 calories a day. Of course you’re likely to be [dead from a heart attack] within a week, so you might want to rethink that.
Calories count because counting calories is the only way to keep track of how many calories are in your food.
As with most other important things in life, if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count.
According to Marion Nestle, calories are derived from food. This is true of course, but only if you actually eat it. If you do decide to eat food, it’s really important to know how many calories are in your food.
This is why accurate calorie counts on everything we eat are so important! [Turns out that your 500-calorie Leen Quizeen entrée may really contain—brace yourself—540 calories!]
With such inaccuracies in the calorie labeling of food, it’s no wonder Americans are fat.
According to Marion Nestle, this gross inaccuracy of calorie counts means that, “it works better to eat smaller portions than to try to count calories in food.” Lucky for us, food manufacturers make handy little portion-controlled packages of healthy whole grain food for us. And thoughtful Exercise Experts have given us [calorie counts] for every activity you can think of!
For example: An hour of coal mining equals 5 bags of 100-calorie whole grain goldfish, but since those food companies probably snuck in some extra calories in just to mess with us, if you’re coal mining for an hour, you should probably only eat 4 bags.
Calories count because they are the only thing in your food worth counting.
Marion Nestle says, “Although diets with varying proportions of fat, carbohydrate, and protein may be easier for you to stick to or be more satiating, the bottom line is that if you want to reduce your body weight, you still need to consume fewer calories.” In other words, [whether or not you feel full or satisfied has nothing to do with whether or not you’ll consume fewer calories.]
The reason we consume too many calories is because portion sizes are bigger, soda is cheaper, TV shows are more interesting, and couches are more comfortable than ever before. Plus the intelligence, moral fiber, character, and willpower of the American people are in serious decline.
What can we do about the “calorie” problem?
According to Marion Nestle, “many groups have a stake in how calories are marketed, perceived, labeled, and promoted”—with the obvious exception of Nutrition Experts writing books about calories. They have NO dog in this fight.
Food manufacturers want Americans to eat a lot of calories, which totally explains why they sneak extra calories into our food for free without telling us.
This is why efforts to do something about obesity must focus on eating less of the foods that don’t come from food manufacturers—like eggs and meat—and focus on eating more foods that come in boxes and bags and cans that have a CALORIE count on them! Of course, Americans should also consume less soda, fast food, snacks, and other highly profitable items. That is, unless these are highly profitable items [that Nutrition Experts really like!]
And really, it would go a long way towards solving our childhood obesity problem if we could only get calorie counts on beer for goodness sake! Darn that alcohol industry.
As Marion Nestle says, “On the societal level, we need measures to make it easier for people to eat less.” We need to work to change the food environment to one that makes it easier to eat healthfully, because—just between you and me—most Americans are just not willing to take charge of their own health.
Things YOU can do to “make the healthy choice the easy choice” for all those poor stupid fat people:
• Support labeling laws—those poor stupid fat folks need accurate calorie counts on their movie popcorn, darn it!
• Insist on more Government Approved Information about Nutrition (code name: GAIN)—because it’s been such a smashing success so far!
• Support controls on food advertising to children. The current childhood obesity crisis clearly demonstrates that parents can’t be trusted with complicated decisions like how to feed their children. This is where Nutrition Experts–not unlike Marion Nestle–can advise the FDA, the FCC, NASA, and NASCAR about the nutritional differences (i.e. calorie counts) between a whole grain bagel (OK! @330 calories)* and a frosted donut (Oh no you don’t! @270 calories)** so parents won’t have to worry their pretty little heads about it anymore.
• Support agricultural policies that encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables (but not eggs and pork chops) from local food systems. Everyone knows that 90 calories of kale and kohlrabi are less fattening–and even more importantly, many times more virtuous–than the 90 calories in an egg.
• Help create environments that encourage physical activity, like cities without public transportation. Those fat people standing in line for a bus would burn a lot more calories if they were WALKING to work!
SMUG Americans must remember: those stupid fat people are not just fat and stupid. In the face of our “obesogenic” environment, they are helpless. You need to be the change you want to see—especially in the seat next to you on an airplane.
That right, SMUG Americans, only YOU can prevent fat people.
Go Kaleo has a great post on this topic called "Putting the (Calorie) Pieces Together."
"Tracking calories is NOT about restriction, and reaching/maintaining a healthy weight is NOT about being hungry and denying ourselves proper nutrition. Quite the contrary, it is about feeding ourselves adequate amounts of nutritious foods that support health, energy and vitality.... The only true dietary bad guys are refined sugars and starches and trans-fats, and by reducing processed food consumption you will be reducing your intake of those."
A very precise metabolic calculator:
A basic energy counter:
And Regina Wilshire has a puzzle for us at Weight of the Evidence called "Working Through A Stall."
Sooooooo - do calories in general matter, or is only the "kinds" of calories (i.e. the "good" kind vs the "bad" kind) that matter?
I think Go Kaleo said it very well: "All that black and white thinking has got people believing a [false dilemma]: It's EITHER 'calories in vs. calories out' OR 'the kind of calories you eat' that matters!" She's right in saying that it is a false dichotomy.
"black-or-white: You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.
Also known as the false dilemma, this insidious tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument, but under closer scrutiny it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than the either/or choice that is presented. Binary, black-or-white thinking doesn't allow for the many different variables, conditions, and contexts in which there would exist more than just the two possibilities put forth. It frames the argument misleadingly and obscures rational, honest debate.
Example: Whilst rallying support for his plan to fundamentally undermine citizens' rights, the Supreme Leader told the people they were either on his side, or they were on the side of the enemy."
Neither approach comes close to acknowledging the complex interplay of factors that is human metabolism. I'm down on the calories in/calories out paradigm because it is so limited in scope, but I am equally down on any paradigm that says they don't matter at all.
There are far too many unknowns about how the energy content of the food we eat interacts with the energy needs of our bodies to insist upon a singular health-maintenance paradigm based on "calories in, calories out." At the same time, there are far too many unknowns about insulin metabolism (we currently don't even have agreed-upon ways to measure and discuss insulin dysregulation) to create a new singular health-maintenance paradigm based on "fat in, carbohydrates out."
One thing that complicates the picture is that we equate the metabolic situation that causes fat gain with the metabolic situation that will induce fat loss. My understanding of the biochemistry is that there are two necessary aspects to weight gain: excess calories to store (although we seldom know how to measure or even estimate what we mean by "excess") and the insulin signal that provides the mechanism for storage to take place. Remove one of these factors—again with the caveat that we have a limited understanding of what "excess calories" means—and you won't have weight gain.
Weight loss may be a different matter entirely. For weight loss to take place, we have to figure out NOT ONLY how to not create a metabolic situation where these two factors are at play, we also have to figure out how to convince our body to reverse the fat-storage process. This may involve processes which go beyond just one eliminating insulin-stimulating carbohydrate foods because—unless someone has Type 1 diabetes—some basal levels of insulin (and we may or may not know what they are or if they are "normal" or how that matters) are always present. This may also involve processes which go beyond just eliminating "excess" calories because, as I hope I've made clear, we don't really even know what that means.
Some people can reduce overall calorie intake and lose weight (this usually also involves a lowering of carbohydrate foods that stimulate insulin release) ; some people can just reduce their carbohydrate food intake and lose weight (this usually also involves lowering calories available for storage); some people have to do both–deliberately and carefully—in order to lose weight.
The trick is how to do this without
1. inducing willpower-withering hunger pangs
2. depriving the body of essential nutrition
3. creating other metabolically-unfortunate side effects/consequences.
The answer will not be the same for everyone. Reducing the number of nutritionally-empty carbohydrates gets at both the calorie and the carbohydrate issue--so that's sort of a no-brainer, but carbs and calories are not all that matter.
Metabolism matters. Nourishment matters. Information signaling—provided by your body's encounters with the environment, including food encounters--matters.
Do calories affect these things? YES!!! Do carbs affect these things? YES!!! Are there about a bazillion other things that affect these things? YES!!!
When the clinic doors at the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic open, the first two patients through those doors were both very much alike and radically different.
Both were "obese" adult white males, but that's about where the resemblance ended. One gentleman, who was almost as big around as he was tall, was actually pretty healthy. Most, if not all, of what we think of as meaningful or predictive health biomarkers (blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, etc) were normal. His problems were primarily orthopedic; i.e. his weight was impacting his hip and knee joints.
The other gentleman was far less obese, but his weight (as you may guess) was concentrated in his abdomen, his predictive health biomarkers were in the toilet, and he had a bag of prescriptions meant to normalize those biomarkers to prove it.
I (now) think of the first gentleman as having "simple" obesity and the second gentleman as having "metabolic" obesity. Such fat patterning has also been referred to as gynoid obesity ("pear") and android ("apple") obesity, and the different health consequences of each have been recognized, but even these differences are over-simplified concepts.
Android obesity (Gentleman #2) has been associated with excess insulin and with more metabolic derangement than gynoid obesity. It has been fairly well explained at this point that, aside from its role as a fat storage mechanism, excess insulin causes other metabolic problems.*
Is gynoid obesity (Gentleman #1) primarily associated with "excess" calories or "excess" storage of calories, rather than insulin dysregulation? We don't know. Can "excess" calories cause other problems besides those leading to fat storage? We don't know that either. One of the problems with asking these questions is—again—how we define "excess."
Either way, the next step is to recognize that how we address different types of obesity may also need to be different. One type of obesity may be best addressed by a focus on reducing carbohydrate intake. The other type could be addressed by a focus on decreasing calories in and increasing calories out—however you want to do that. (As above, either approach involves some aspects of the other.)
But even differentiating dietary approaches based on fat-patterning must acknowledge that if there is a spectrum—with simple obesity on one end and metabolic obesity on the other—that any individual can be located anywhere along that spectrum and thus a combination of approaches would have to be used to address the needs of the individual, which may need to go beyond both carbs and calories.
It is crucial to remember that our bodies are not really designed to either "gain"or "lose" weight, but to respond to our environment by small shifts in-- up-regulating and down-regulating—the production of proteins, enzymes, and other biomolecules to meet the pressures of the environment. We are adapted to adapt. Food is one of the primary signals our bodies get about our environment. Food lets the body know what the conditions are like "out there" so that we can make appropriate adjustments "in here." These adjustments, we know now, can be passed on from one generation to the next, so that our offspring are also prepared for what is "out there."
What the body is looking for—all the time, without exception—is essential nourishment and adequate energy (and again our definition of "adequate" is as problematic as our definition of "excess"). Note to paleo-thinking readers: the origins of the paleo diet emphasize acquiring essential nutrition, rather than forbidding non-essential foods. This point may be the most important aspect of ancestral nutrition. (And thanks to Katherine Morrison for calling this to my attention.)
An eating pattern that conveys to our body that the environment is lacking in either of these things is going to result in metabolic adjustments to this information. What the adjustment looks like is going to depend on genetic factors (What food environment were your ancestors adapted to?), and epigenetic factors (Did you have an adequately-nourished mom?), and previous adaptive adjustments (Does your body regularly have to respond to caloric highs or lows? to regular bouts of intense energy expenditure? to reduced nutrition?), in addition to those other bazillion things we don't know about yet.
So what are we going to do about it?
(Stay tuned... Adele is working on her answer to the question!)
So, what did you think?
Low-carb humor (Hitler spoof)
Calories In, Calories Out
Hitler's Subway Rant