June 28, 2012

The myth that "a calorie is a calorie."

It's compelling because it sounds coolly scientific — truthy — but it's also what "Big Food" would like you to believe and it's not what actual scientific studies — not to mention personal experience — are showing. 


tim in vermont said...

If calories in are all the same, how come you can light a fart with a match?

The food pyramid was created by a Senate committee with a wheat state chairman, George McGovern. Your health was not the primary concern. Think if the food pyramid as a sumptuary law in all but force.

After today, they may just be able to make a law you have to eat so much bread and pasta.

Shanna said...

Surprised to see this from Mark Bittman. That 'healthy plate' he linked still said to limit the butter.

David said...

"Jeez. Why is it that we can't just enjoy our waffles?"

PierreLegrand said...

Unfortunately the advice given in that article is still not correct...but getting closer to the truth. Low Carb diets do not cause inflammation, grains and sugar does. Eating grain in any form is not going to make you healthy...


Subjects on a low-carbohydrate diet experienced a greater decrease in large very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) levels (difference = -0.26 mg/dL, P = 0.03) but more frequently developed detectable chylomicrons (44% vs. 22%, P = 0.04). Both diet groups experienced similar decreases in the number of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles (difference = -30 nmol/L, P = 0.74) and increases in large high-density lipoprotein (HDL) concentrations (difference = 0.70 mg/dL, P = 0.63). Overall, C-reactive protein levels decreased modestly in both diet groups. However, patients with a high-risk baseline level (>3 mg/dL, n = 48) experienced a greater decrease in C-reactive protein levels on a low-carbohydrate diet (adjusted difference = -2.0 mg/dL, P = 0.005), independent of weight loss.


In this 6-month study involving severely obese subjects, we found an overall favorable effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on lipoprotein subfractions, and on inflammation in high-risk subjects. Both diets had similar effects on LDL and HDL subfractions.


BarryD said...

There certainly IS such thing as junk food.

It isn't always what we have been told it is, however. See PierreLegrand's post, for example. Some objectively junk food is what the USDA was telling us to use for most of our caloric intake.

And people wonder why some of us don't blindly trust government "science"...

"Follow the money" doesn't just go for private grant funding.

Phil 3:14 said...

Putting all the diet research together suggests that both low-carb and low-fat diets lead to equal long-term weight loss.

bagoh20 said...

I don't care. I'm gonna die from what I already did - probably that day out in the sun swimming on the beach all day in 1969 was the culprit. I'd still do it again.

Nobody on their deathbed says: I wish I had followed a low carb diet. If they do, then they died a long time ago.

BarryD said...

"Nobody on their deathbed says: I wish I had followed a low carb diet."

Not true. I have been overweight and a functional cripple, in part because of it and in part because of sports-related injuries.

I've fixed both, through a lot of effort, and I'm feeling great and living twice the life I could be, otherwise. I figure that, when it's all over, I'll be glad I enjoyed my life to the fullest, instead of stuffing myself with more bread as a sad substitute for living.

cubanbob said...

A calorie is just a unit of energy. The difference is the usability of the energy, that is how easily the body can extract the energy net of the energy spent to extract it.
In short 2000 calories consumed by eating lettuce isn't the same as 2000 calories consumed by eating candy bars.

Pierre said...

Phil 3:14 said...
Putting all the diet research together suggests that both low-carb and low-fat diets lead to equal long-term weight loss.

But on one of those you are starving and the other you are full AND you are reducing inflammation and your risk of death.

Lost 55 pounds eating a lot of food, was never hungry or miserable one moment.

Jane said...

I am so thankful for discovering a low-carb diet. I am shocked at what I did to myself in the 10 years prior, consuming quantities of pasta and potatoes unwittingly. Ugh.

I lost 20 pounds last summer, eating vast quantities of bacon and eggs. I'm a petite woman, and I still have a ways to go, but for me it means being 130 instead of 155. Much better.

And my doctor (whom I despise, but who gives me a blood test and thyroid pills once a year, which is all he's good for) told me I was losing weight wrong and that I should eat low-fat foods instead. They never learn.

Jane said...

If anyone here wants a good read, read Marjorie Merriweather Post's biography.

The invention of breakfast cereals led to a vast empire and created the richest people on earth.

Margarine, too, was all a fabrication. I am so sad when I think of my hard-farming grandparents who died of heart failure. I chalk it up to the margarine they were told to eat from the 1930s. And they had all that butter on the farm...

David said...

"consuming quantities of pasta and potatoes unwittingly."

What? You thought they were celery and apples?

EDH said...

So where's the simple, definitive diet/recipe book?

bagoh20 said...

I still love carbs, processed, sweet delicious carbs. I control myself all week long and enjoy them like crazy on the weekends. You can overdue anything, so I moderate everything I do except Althouse commenting.

Being unhealthily overweight, is more likely too little living rather than too many carbs. Did you ever see a fat humming bird lying on a tiny couch in a tree watching cartoons? See, scientific proof right there. Have a carb, take a hike, ride a bike, screw like it's your last time, and everything will be just fine.

EDH said...

What's better than eating a pound of pasta?

Sopping up the left-over sauce with half a loaf of bread.

RonF said...

Carbohydrates can be roughly divided up into two classes, sugars and starches. The basic unit is a single 5- or 6- carbon sugar molecule (there are 4- and 7- and 8-carbon sugars, but they are not nutritionally significant). Call that a "saccharide". Examples of single-saccharide sugar are glucose, galactose and fructose. Glucose is the fuel of the body - pretty much all processing your body does to other sugars is to turn them into glucose before they do anything else. Your brain burns 10% of all the glucose your body ingests or converts. Then you have sugar molecules made up of two saccaharides (disaccaharides). The most prominent example of this class is sucrose - a.k.a. "cane sugar" - which is made up of one molecule of glucose linked to one molecule of fructose.

There are tri-saccaharides, but not too many. Chains longer than that tend to no longer taste "sweet".

Starches, the other main group of carbohydrates, are nothing more than huge chains of sugar molecules. Some are purely linear and some are branched (where one sugar molecule is joined to two other sugar molecules, each of which then starts a new chain). These are generally 1,000's of sugar molecules long. When you eat them the body uses enzymes called "amylases" to break them up into shorter chains and eventually into mono- and di-saccaharides that you can then metabolize.

Eat a bunch of starches and your body takes a while to break them down and get them into your blood stream. There's no spike of blood sugar and no impetus for your pancreas to produce a bunch of insulin to drop your blood sugar by getting cells to absorb the sugar.

OTOH, Eat a bunch of mono- and di-saccaharides (such as, say, high fructose corn syrup) and your body absorbs the sugar quickly and has to do something with it. One thing it does is to break each 6-carbon sugar molecule into 2 two-carbon components (the other two carbons go off as CO2, with some gain in energy) that are then linked head to tail to form fatty acids, combine them with glycerol that is also made from sugar and make triglycerides - a.k.a. "fat".

So if you eat carbs, preferentially stay away from simple sugars (candy, pop, etc.) and eat starches. You'll burn a lot more of it off and convert a lot less of it to fat.

edutcher said...

Makes sense, different foods require different means of utilizing what's in them.

Jane said...

I am so thankful for discovering a low-carb diet. I am shocked at what I did to myself in the 10 years prior, consuming quantities of pasta and potatoes unwittingly.

Usually, it's not the potatoes and pasta, it's the sauces and sour cream and butter we put on them that pack on the weight.

AllieOop said...

Ive never felt better than when I cut starchy carbs, for me Bagoh I agree with you, it's the quality of life that counts. BUT unfortunately eating those delicious carbs makes me feel like shit.

No more palpitations, my fasting blood sugars are now normal, I'm off a blood pressure med, my other BP med has been reduced, I've lost 35 pounds and kept it off for over a year I'm off statins, I feel strong. There are metabolisms that are no longer normal, called Metabolic Syndrome, which can be reversed with a low carb diet. Worth researching.

Michelle Obama does NOT endorse a low carb diet BTW.

AllieOop said...

I should also say I no longer eat wheat or grains that contain glutens, nor sugar. It's the best thing I've done for myself in years and if you are a good cook and baker you can still enjoy delicious sweets including cheesecake with chocolate on top. Just made differently, but every bit as good.

AllieOop said...

Jane, agree many doctors are behind the curve on this, but I see more and more of them jumping on board as the research continues to confirm what you and I know.

John said...

edutcher said:
Usually, it's not the potatoes and pasta, it's the sauces and sour cream and butter we put on them that pack on the weight.

Actually, no, it's truly the potatoes and pasta. Those carbs get burned up very quickly, and if you don't use that energy, your body goes into fat storage mode and saves them for later. Fats, such as butter and sour cream, don't burn nearly as easily, and so produce a much lower increase in blood sugar--and your body's fat storage mode isn't triggered.

deborah said...

Those carbs get burned up very quickly, and if you don't use that energy, your body goes into fat storage mode and saves them for later.

Also, according to Taube's latest book, the fat cells of the overweight are highly resistant to release fat for burning, so the body relies on spiking and falling blood sugars to stimulate appetite. Viscious cycle.

n.n said...

This is at least one reason why there is no universally meaningful diet. Our consumption should be defined by our physiology and behavior. It is critical that each individual learn the characteristics and requirements of their own body.

For many people, one of life's great mysteries is the function of their own body.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Actually a calorie is still a calorie. If you eat less than you expend you will have to lose weight. That's a fundamental physical law.

The problem is that in practice it is very difficult, on a low fat diet, to eat less than you expend, and that's why merely cutting calories is not enough.

It's only trivially true--but still true--that eating less and exercising more will make you lose weight. It is too difficult for most people to do for any long period of time, because living that way requires an obsessive monitoring of your caloric intake.

If you eat more than you expend you will gain weight on any diet. But some diets make it much easier for you not to do this.

deborah said...

To clarify, according to Taube's review of research, the constant presence of insulin in the bloodstream prevents the mechanism that releases fat from fat cells from activating. When you lower the circulating insulin, fat can be released from fat cells.

TMink said...

The research supports that a calorie is just a calorie. But the research also supports that to some people, a diet high in carbohydrates will turn on the bodies natural fattening response.

When in this caloric mode, the body penny pinches carbs and stores the excess as fat. low carb, high fat diets force the body to use fat as fuel, and it depletes fats in the body.

It is not about calories so much as it is about which metabolism you need to operate under. If I eat excessive carbs I get fat as butter. Now that I am limiting my carbs I am losing weight effortlessly. It is because I needed to switch my metabolism because I am sensitive to carbohydrates.

This is all backed by excellent research where the research regarding low calorie diets displays very poor outcomes.


TMink said...

"Usually, it's not the potatoes and pasta, it's the sauces and sour cream and butter we put on them that pack on the weight."

A perfect example of common sense, widely accepted thinking. It is just not supported by the research which is clear that obesity is malnutrition from over consuming carbohydrates.


TMink said...

House, my wife has been cooking some recipes from the South Beach Diet cookbook and there have been some real winners with no bad tasting dishes at all. Other than that, we just eschew carbohydrates as much as possible and both of us are slimming quite successfully.


Synova said...

It wasn't BIG FOOD that was distributing food pyramid nutritional information throughout elementary school, and it wasn't BIG FOOD that required the Daily Recommended Allowance and "serving" information on the side panel of every cereal box.

It was the government relying on independent scientific dietitian *experts*.

We're not supposed to trust BIG anything, and certainly not the scientists who work for any of them because they're corrupted by a profit motivation. OTOH we are supposed to trust any scientist employed by Big Government because their motivation is pure.

Clearly government money corrupts the experts related to the health industry, since dietitians have been lying to us for generations. Why do we not assume that government money corrupts scientists or others who angle to have their grants approved?

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Synova: since dietitians have been lying to us for generations.

Maybe we ought not to elide the distinction between "wrong" and "lying".

Lying would mean that for "generations" dietitians deliberately told us something they knew was wrong because they wished to deceive us.

And you have no evidence to back that. At best, you have evidence that they were wrong in the advice they gave.

Equating begin wrong with being a liar is going to bite you back.

Joe said...

In summary, the best diet is a balanced, well rounded diet.

The amount of money and government nonsense to get to that conclusion is astounding.

Unknown said...

Gabriel Hannah

The distinction between honest error and lies is an important one.

Unfortunately your repeating the "calories are all the same" error means that a lot of people are not going to listen to anything else you have to say.

I'll throw in my own anecdote. Since beginning a low carb diet I have lost 20 pounds and my wife has lost 25. My blood pressure is down as are my LDL numbers and fasting blood sugar. My HDL numbers are up. My doctor said that is a remarkable improvement and whatever it is that I am doing I should continue doing it.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Unknown:Unfortunately your repeating the "calories are all the same" error...

No diet repeals the laws of thermodynamics. Maybe you should have read more than the first line of my comment.

Since beginning a low carb diet I have lost 20 pounds and my wife has lost 25.

Which you means you both eat fewer calories than you expend. Your low-carb diet makes that easier to do than a low-fat diet would. But the laws of time and space are not suspended for either of you.

Chip Ahoy said...

Did the article say something useful?

I went there. There was a message plastered over the content the website so I left immediately. It was like being barked at.