It’s not just calories that matter

Thought this was a good read and welcome reminder that it is not only calories that you need to consider if you’re trying to lose weight. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/may/17/number-crunching-why-ultra-processed-foods-have-a-calorie-problem?

Replies

  • perryc05
    perryc05 Posts: 151 Member
    edited May 18
    Good article indeed. It is largely in line with the sort of science behind GI and GL. The University of Sydney has an excellent resource about this called Glycemic Index Research and GI News: https://glycemicindex.com/gi-news/
  • corinasue1143
    corinasue1143 Posts: 6,510 Member
    Very good thought-provoking article.
  • nossmf
    nossmf Posts: 3,699 Member
    gpanda103 wrote: »
    That would violate the laws of thermodynamics

    I've studied thermodynamics in college, and fat storage is NOT thermodynamics. Total energy expenditure cannot exceed available energy, sure. But the storing or removing of fat is a biological response. People can indeed add to their fat stores in a low-calorie environment, if they also reduce other bodily functions which burn energy...less motion, slower digestion, etc. Learn about human starvation response before speaking about this topic further.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 25,224 Member
    Thought this was a good read and welcome reminder that it is not only calories that you need to consider if you’re trying to lose weight. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/may/17/number-crunching-why-ultra-processed-foods-have-a-calorie-problem?

    BTW, for clarity, I don't disagree at all with what you said here, that there are things that matter beyond just calories. I completely agree. (I just don't like the article's presentation/thesis much, even though reminders of some things it's useful to remember are embedded in it.)
  • Xellercin
    Xellercin Posts: 878 Member
    edited May 25
    AnnPT77 wrote: »
    nossmf wrote: »
    gpanda103 wrote: »
    That would violate the laws of thermodynamics

    I've studied thermodynamics in college, and fat storage is NOT thermodynamics. Total energy expenditure cannot exceed available energy, sure. But the storing or removing of fat is a biological response. People can indeed add to their fat stores in a low-calorie environment, if they also reduce other bodily functions which burn energy...less motion, slower digestion, etc. Learn about human starvation response before speaking about this topic further.

    I kind of agree with that, and kind of agree with the person you're disagreeing with.

    Sure, human bodies are dynamic. Some biological processes down-regulate when calorie intake is reduced. It's still about calories, still thermodynamics at the relevant level of abstraction . . . it's just that calorie counting as a method may become more confusing because of that down-regulation. Thermodynamics is a relevant thing, but not the only relevant thing.

    Personally, I'm not a fan of the article. I don't feel like it presents a coherent argument. It's more like a laundry list of various things that make calorie counting more subtle than it may superficially appear, things that make various people say calorie counting won't work, and some of the things in the article even seem to contradict each other.

    Yup, calories from ultra-processed food (UPF) may be more bioavailable, or more available more quickly, than calories from whole foods. (UPFs are kind of partly pre-digested, in effect.) Eating lots of ultra-processed foods may be less sating, making it more difficult to limit calories. On top of that, eating mostly UPFs may cause more appetite spikes, from things like faster digestive emptying rates, sharper blood sugar fluctuations, lower effective food volume, or unfulfilled nutritional needs. UPFs may have a lower TEF (require fewer calories of energy to be broken down during the digestive process), besides.

    The article even trots out the old saw about calorie counting being impossible because we can't be sure exactly how many calories we burn outside a metabolic chamber, or exactly how many calories are in a food because individual apples (or whatever) differ. The thing is, we don't need to be that exact. Close is good enough.

    Most of us just need to be in the ballpark, and willing to adjust based on experience, in order for calorie counting to work well enough to be useful. (There are a few metabolic conditions, like thyroid conditions that unpredictably cycle from hypo to hyper, where that may not be true. Those are quite rare.)

    It's all estimates, sure. We'll underestimate some things, overestimate others, and some of that will average out, over time.

    Big picture, most of us tend to eat in a somewhat standardized way as individuals, and if we adjust calorie goals based on weight loss experience, some of the theoretical problems don't really cause major disruption.

    For example, if Susie eats mostly UPFs and absorbs more calories, while same-sized, same-age, same-activity Jane eats entirely whole foods so excretes more of the calories she eats (or burns them via TEF, or whatever), then Susie may find that in order to lose a pound a week that she needs to eat fewer officially-logged calories than Jane can eat to lose the same pound a week. Counting still works, but Susie maybe struggles and is frustrated more.

    Same deal applies to exercise calories. If Susie finds she doesn't lose weight as expected, she can adjust her exercise calories (eat only 25% of them, say), or adjust her base calories. She doesn't even necessarily have to adjust the thing that's incorrect, in order for things to work out OK, as long as whatever adjustment she makes takes her average intake close to where it needs to be, as compared with her average calorie expenditure. In some circumstances, it may even make sense for Susie to eat a little more, in order to stop being fatigued, dragging through the day, resting more, and burning fewer calories because her energy level's tanked. (Those are things Susie can experiment with, figure out.)

    A calorie is a calorie, just like a mile is a mile. The calorie count doesn't tell you everything that's relevant about a food, any more than a count of miles tells you whether we're talking about multi-lane superhighway, or a narrow, rocky path only a mountain goat could love. Why on earth should be expect one metric to tell us everything we need to know about food? That's like saying a person having brown eyes tells us everything we need to know about a person. One characteristic, one attribute of a thing - not the whole story bout anything.

    Some of the issues in the article may make sense if we're talking about public health strategies for changing average behavior at the population level.

    If, instead, it's intended to apply at an individual behavior level, the article seems to believe that we're total idiots who - once we think about calories - can't simultaneously think about nutrition, or realize that eating an apple is different nutritionally from eating a candy bar, or notice that we feel more full and less crave-y eating one way vs. another, or can't recognize that the lowest calorie answer isn't always the best answer. That's silly, and frankly insulting, IMO.

    Exactly.

    Different bodies process different calories differently, and this can vary depending on different stages of life and state of health.

    However, none of that means that counting calories doesn't "work." If I am struggling to lose weight, the first thing I do is start counting the calories I'm eating to see what my baseline is, then I start modifying and count my calories from there to see if my modifications are working.

    I ABSOLUTELY find that different ways of eating affect how much energy I have, and therefore how many calories I can eat for my weight goals. This doesn't mean that a calorie isn't a calorie, it means that the Calories Out side of the equation is tricky to predict.

    Nothing changes the caloric value of a cookie vs a salad, but the salad may result in a net increase in calorie output due to numerous, difficult/impossible to calculate factors. An example on the CO side for me is that I no longer eat raw garlic. Raw garlic contributes basically *nothing* on the CI side of the CICO equation, but has a profound impact on the CO side for me because it makes me feel bloated, ill, and lethargic for hours after eating it. My energy expenditure would drop precipitously if I were to eat raw garlic 3-6 times a day.

    It's an extreme example to prove a point. Those myriad factors that influence how much we burn are only able to be very, very roughly estimated, and our food choices affect them in too many ways to even begin to understand, and the science doesn't even scratch the surface.

    A calorie is just a calorie, but no one should mistake this for meaning that food choices don't matter and have no impact on the NET calorie burn, especially over time. But counting calories and monitoring weight over time are excellent tools for monitoring and adjusting ones diet.

    For me, whenever my weight doesn't react in line with what I would expect from my intake, that's a signal to look a little closer at how the way I'm eating is making me feel. For me, it's pretty obvious that a diet that makes me feel more energized produces more weight loss, or makes it easier for me to maintain. A diet that makes me feel awful, bloated, and headachy makes it harder for me to lose or maintain my weight.

    Counting calories allows me to be more objective in my observations and more systematic in my modifications. It's allowed me to figure out my optimal diet for my particular body at this time in my life.

    What *is* very, very interesting is where the "a calorie is a calorie" messaging came from, and I've mentioned this before, but learning about how nutrition messaging is developed and how nutrition science is funded is VERY informative.

    FTR, the "a calorie is a calorie" and "everything in moderation" messages primarily come from research funded by companies like Coca-Cola, which have fought tooth and nail to prevent sugar from being scientifically evaluated as a poor nutritional choice.

    "A calorie is a calorie" and "everything in moderation" are not factually wrong in any way shape or form, but it's worth it to reflect on *why* these statements are so pervasive in a society that is definitely over consuming sugar calories, and *who* is making sure that this messaging is constantly being hammered into the collective nutrition discourse.

    Many people think that these statements are just an intelligent contrast to the diet-cult fetishism of single-nutrient or single-food vilification, and that is true, but they aren't messages that developed organically in response to diet-culture, they have been heavily, heavily funded and curated and disseminated.

    It's always worth considering where "common sense" comes from, because it always comes from somewhere. And when it comes to nutrition science, that means it almost always comes from a food manufacturer, because they have a strangle-hold on the science that should be holding those companies to account...but it doesn't.

  • ahoy_m8
    ahoy_m8 Posts: 2,853 Member
    @Xellercin Kinda like "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day"... if you are a cereal manufacturer. I'm no teetotaler, but I also kind of ponder the idea of "responsible drinking" as an oxymoron put forward by the alcohol industry.

    Good points to all above re: a calorie is a calorie AND nutrition matters. It is not either/or.
  • Xellercin
    Xellercin Posts: 878 Member
    ahoy_m8 wrote: »
    @Xellercin Kinda like "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day"... if you are a cereal manufacturer. I'm no teetotaler, but I also kind of ponder the idea of "responsible drinking" as an oxymoron put forward by the alcohol industry.

    Good points to all above re: a calorie is a calorie AND nutrition matters. It is not either/or.

    The moment you see *anything* citing science touting the benefits or harms of a specific food to overall health, you can pretty much bank on it being the product of science produced by food companies.

    If nutrition scientists had their way, they wouldn't bother with the vast majority of experiments they do, because they simply aren't relevant for actually human behaviour. It's well documented that food academics do nonsense research at the behest of the food companies that provide at least partial funding, and most of them are *required* to have outside, private industry funding in order to keep their research positions.

    If food companies didn't fund nutrition research, basically NO scientist would bother studying the supposed "effects" of individual foods or nutrients, because it makes no flippin' sense to do so and is of no use to anyone in any kind of meaningful, decision-making way.

    It's such a massive waste of resources for really, really expensive marketing.