Consider theTruth about Calories

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Published: 20th November 2016
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Calories - Learn the Truth

Another dirty little secret just

In the pre-challenge information I spoke about the way in which calories are determined. It involves a lab, burning the food in question and measuring the temperature rise in a specific volume of water. This has no bearing on how our body metabolises (breaks down) food and certainly will have no bearing on how our body stores fat. So before we go any further, I'll explain to you a bit about food metabolism. It's not as simple we like to think it is and is vastly different from person to person.


Our body obtains energy via 3 sources; protein, carbohydrates and fats. These are collectively known as macronutrients (as is water) whilst micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. In terms of energy availability of the macronutrients they are as follows:

1 gram of carbohydrate yields 16kJ of energy (~ 4 calories)

1 gram of protein yields 17kJ of energy (~ 4 calories)

1 gram of fat yields 37kJ of energy (~ 9 calories)

So as we can see fat has the highest yield of energy per gram (hence the low fat message for weight loss). It dies however cost the body more energy to extract energy from dietary fat than it does from dietary carbohydrate and recent studies have shown us that the net energy availability from fat is actually closer to 5 calories. Fat and protein metabolism is quite complex and the amount of energy available for metabolism is limited as fat and protein are also needed in many cellular processes and structures. In this way, they are essential for human function as they are used in so many roles throughout the physical body. Carbohydrate metabolism is a little simpler than fat and protein metabolism as carbohydrate is mostly used either for immediate or future energy requirements. So whilst scientists are able to make reasonably good estimates on the macronutrient content of food, they are guessing, at best, as to the caloric availability of these macronutrients during digestion.

When we take a look at a label on a food, we should consider a few things but how many calories are in the food is not one of them. Things to consider are:

1. Sugar content (particularly fructose content)

2. Oils and fats

3. Carbohydrate content

The amount of energy we obtain from our food also comes down to:

- Our levels of stored energy (i.e. if we're low on stored carbohydrate, we will utilise and store a complete lot from our next meal. Conversely if we're at maximal carb storage already then what we can't use immediately will get stored as fat)

- Our moods (i.e. stress decreases nutrition absorption from food due to high levels of adrenaline)

- Our hormone control (hormones direct us to store energy and/or use energy)

- How we prepare our food (diced, chopped, cooked, raw etc.)

And more! Food metabolism is not a simple process so why do we keep trying to make it so?

So why calorie labels then? Well you've all heard of calorie counting, yes? Calorie counting is a recent phenomenon that was designed to assist in weight management. First you calculate metabolism using a basal metabolic rate (BMR) equation which then gives you an idea of how many calories you can consume in a day. To be fair, it was a reasonably logical idea as it was known that over eating leads to becoming overweight, but research is showing us that what is in the food is far more important than the calories in the food. This is because not only are calories in food an estimate but so are BMR calculations. We don't know on a day to day basis exactly what our BMR is as not every day is identical. Doesn't it make more sense to eat for the needs of each day? Each full day our energy needs vary and different people also have different energy needs. This is because many things influence our metabolism such as:

- Genetics

- Sleep

- Smoking

- Medications

- Stress

- Menopause

- Dieting history (particularly calorie restrictive dieting)

- Lean tissue

The best news of all is this; when we stop consuming large quantities of fructose and allow our in-built appetite control centre to do its job, our body regulates our hunger and we tend to not overeat naturally. So the upshot of it all is: stop counting calories but also STOP eating the foods that have calorie labels on them!!

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