During my drive today to pickup my allergy medicine from the Walgreen's not too far from my house, I came across a very interesting story on NPR about weight loss and the misconceptions circling this subject. During this broadcast, I heard an Economist present his research findings as he attempted to explain some of intricacies he found on how we came to the current understanding of the principles, methods, attitudes on counting calories. His findings are presented in an article titled, "Death of the Calorie".
Not that I want to go through each point of his research, I will however highlight some of the main points as presented in article published in the magazine, "1843", a sister magazine of "The Economist".
Fat in food is not the enemy
At one point in our history, fat in food was the target of ridicule and ill-feelings. A University of California researcher found documents from 1967 highlighting that companies within the sugar industry secretly paid for Harvard University studies which were designed to make food fat the scapegoat and the bane of our existence. Since food fat was synonymous with body fat, it was easy to tie the two together as co-conspirators in causing the obesity epidemic. So the government and everyone else followed suit. However, as research progressed and people gained more practical experience, it is quite clear that the fear once caused by the word "fat" was unwarranted and that food fat isn't as bad as some made it out to be. Unfortunately, the FDA hasn't quite caught up. As of the writing of this article, the FDA still states that we should get less of "Total Fat" and there is not even an honorable mention of simple carbohydrates or sugars: the main culprits to the obesity epidemic.
Food labeling can be inaccurate
A nutritionist, Susan Roberts at Tufts University in Boston, found that food packaging in the United States misstated the actual calorie counts of their food products by an average of 18%. According to her research, the US government allows for some "fudging" of the numbers by up to 20%. Being a researcher myself, I had to look this up since I never take anyone's word for anything. Trust but verify!!
According to my research, the reference used from Ms. Roberts' research is partially correct. The FDA's website states that Class 1 nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein, dietary fiber or potassium, nutrients which are added in fortified or fabricated foods must be present at 100% of what is shown on the label. This means...a one-to-one ratio. Class II nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, fat or potassium which occur naturally in a food product must be present at 80% or more of the value shown on the label...hence the 20% margin of error presented in Ms. Roberts' research.
Some carbohydrates get special treatment and are added to a third group under Class II nutrients. This third group includes calories, sugars, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, which states that the label values must be 120% or less.... You do the math.....
Your body responds and processes food differently and differently to others.
It may take one person 8 hours and another person 80 hours to process the same food. The length of our intestines are different, resulting in the digestion of foods at different rates. The microbes in our gut are different. Cooking food actually may increase the amount of calories that your body consumes (As compared to chimps who spend a significant part of their days chewing-Remember MET or metabolic effect of food. Yes, we burn calories during the digestion of food which includes chewing.) Our bodies consume sugary foods faster than complex carbohydrates.
So what is the bottom line?
This article just reinforces what I've been advising people for years and what is written in my book . AND IT WORKS!!! Too much emphasis is placed on exercise, which only accounts for 20% of the equation. So let's not stress about hitting the gym. More emphasis should be placed on things that actually affect your metabolism. As we know some things we can't change such as our genetics, but knowing how you're built (body composition) and how you respond to certain stimuli such as food, internal (core) heat, external (ambient) heat, and carbohydrates, matter more.
Just remember, simple sugars drive insulin up, way up (When compared to fat and protein.). Bad thing. Yes, total calories still matter. Have you ever seen any skinny cows? And they eat grass all day. The type of calories matter more. As we used to say in the military, KISS or Keep it Simple Stupid. No need to make it more complicated than what is already out there.