Thursday, February 21, 2013

Calorie counting? Then get the sums right ...

More news on the “when is a calorie not a calorie” story. After 100 years, the nutritionists, dieticians, weight loss consultants and food regulators are now told by evolutionary biologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University that ''our current system for assessing calories is surely wrong.''

I’ve been saying for a long time that calorie counting is for dummies and that the “energy in = energy out” equation is simplistic in the extreme and as far as weight management is concerned, not really helpful. 

Now the researchers can give us some of the other factors that make isocaloric foods not “iso” at all. Start for example with the energy required to digest raw food, add the bite that the oral and gut bacteria take out of some foods, and the properties of the foods themselves which speed up or slow down their journey through the gut. Issues here include the indigestibility of some food components and whether the food has been cooked or is eaten raw. Cooked or raw in turn impacts the type of gut bacteria that thrive and the energetics of digestion ... and so the cycle goes round.

In addition, and this is where the particular research team at Harvard don’t appear to venture, there's the different metabolic effect of foods which for all intents and purposes are equal in calories. Case in point, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, both officially sugars, “isocaloric” in our original understanding of the word, but responsible for entirely different metabolic responses.

What does all this mean in practice? Healthy food, grown on healthy soil, as much as possible unprocessed, unrefined and eaten raw where possible, will promote beneficial gut bacteria and stimulate healthy metabolic pathways! Avoid any products that contain HFCS - soft drinks are particular offenders. And can the calorie counter!

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