Do you know who is thinking of that? nobody It’s stupid.
There’s a lot of confusion about calories in and calories out (often abbreviated as CICO), but it’s a fundamental truth about weight loss, so let’s clear it up. (And then you hear a voice say, “Good luck.”)
The debunking crowd seems to have the idea that calories are a unit of food. it’s not. It is a unit of energy. Your calorie count tells you only one thing about what you eat. It is the amount of energy that the body can theoretically absorb.
Saying that all calories are the same is like saying that all kilometers, ounces, or minutes are the same. All minutes are definitely the same! For example, you may feel that the time you spend watching baby panda videos is much better than the time you spend reading this column.
All things being equal, calories are contained in food packages, and there are many other factors in food that can influence both calories in and calories out of the equation. The real disagreement does not end with whether this is true. What matters is whether the effect is large enough to make a difference in weight loss.
So let’s see how what you eat affects how many calories you can absorb and how many you can burn.
Absorb first. Food is important in several ways.
Indigestible Carbohydrates: Some carbohydrates (think sugar) are easy for our body to break down, while others (think lentils) are hard to break down. Foods high in fiber and other digestion-resistant carbohydrates such as oligosaccharides and resistant starches are not completely broken down. If all goes well, they will leave your body first thing in the morning.
Particle size: The larger the food particle size, the less surface area the digestive enzymes have to act on, and the less efficient it is to absorb energy. For example, almond butter has more calories than whole almonds. So are instant and whole oats. And if you’ve ever eaten corn on the cob, you may have noticed that some of its larger particles pass through your body. (This is he one of the reasons why highly processed foods that tend to be pulverized are so dangerous.)
Your Microbiome: Microbes have to eat! And different foods feed different types of microbes. If microbes consume calories, they can’t. We are just beginning to understand how food content may or may not support different microbial communities.
Are all calories the same? It does not affect your microbiome.
Now let’s look at the write side.
Macronutrient content: Food is made up of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, all of which your body must break down to be able to consume calories. It takes energy (calories!) to break it down. I think of this as a digestive overhead, but scientists call it the “heat effect of food” and estimate it to be about 10 percent of the calories you consume in a day.
However, each macronutrient is different. Fat is the most accessible to the body, requiring less than 3% of calories. Carbohydrates are next at 5-10 percent and protein is the most at 20-30 percent. (People sometimes disagree on specific numbers, but on concepts and broad content.)
Metabolism promotion: Some foods can give you at least a little boost. For example, there is some evidence that caffeine and capsaicin (hot chili peppers) can increase your resting metabolism.
Hormonal influence: Food can affect hormones that regulate metabolism. Low-carb diets, for example, belittle the idea that if insulin (a hormone essential for fat storage) is released less, you won’t be able to store fat and your body will burn more calories.
There are undoubtedly other ways to influence the amount of calories you absorb in what you eat, many of which are yet to be discovered. Of course, there is also the issue of satiety. Obviously, if what you eat helps you eat less later, you absorb fewer calories. What all these influences have in common is that someone is trying to sell a diet based on them.
I have a compelling question here. Given how different foods affect calorie absorption and burning, why focus on calories rather than food?
Because all those methods are small. Because they are so small, no diet based on these things has significantly outperformed other diets in the long run, no matter how many times I try.
Nevertheless, the idea that what you eat is more important than the number of calories you burn has taken hold in the public understanding of weight loss. To find out why, I reached out to nutritionist Marion Nestlé. She co-authored the book Why Calories Count, so I know where she stands.
I started talking about how what we eat affects the absorption and burning of calories, but she dismissed them completely. “That’s trivial!” she said. “Studies that locked people in metabolic wards showed that if they were low in calories, they lost weight at a predictable rate, regardless of the composition of their diet.” It varied from ~90 percent fat.” And it didn’t make much of a difference.
This does not mean that food choices are irrelevant. Highly processed foods tend to be higher in calories, more nutritious, easier to eat and absorb, and less full.
This is a combination that can easily lead to overeating. In other words, as you can probably tell by now, there are more calories.
It is absolutely possible to eat foods that make it nearly impossible to keep the calories in balance. haagen dazs diet. pepsi diet. bacon diet. However, when looking at the right mix of plant and animal foods, things like the percentage of calories you get from protein or the number of grams of carbs you eat per day are largely irrelevant to weight loss.
If you don’t believe me or Nestlé, go to PubMed, our repository of scholarly articles, and have a look around. Look at meta-analyses that try to make sense of the body of evidence to find the results that certain types of diets do better than others by a few pounds or more in the long run.
Please send it to me when you find it.
I asked Nestle why are people so resistant to the fact that calories are central to weight loss?
“Because I can’t see it,” she said. “And you can’t even count.” You don’t know that’s right You don’t know how much you have in your food that’s right I don’t know how much of that you can absorb, that’s right how many will you burn? But you can read the label, check the calorie count, challenge your guesses, and have solid tools to see if you’re right. “Weigh yourself on the scale,” Nestlé said. If you’re not losing weight, you’ll have to find a way to change the equation.
It’s calories. It’s calories.