Calorie Counter Will Not Help

By Dr. Mary Butler
Calorie Counter
Throw out your calorie counter. Ignore the calorie count on food labels. Counting calories is a simple-minded and useless way to judge what you eat. Why? First off, a calorie is a unit of heat. Heat is not directly useful metabolically. Once a calorie is released, there is no putting it back.

A calorie is simply how much heat it takes to raise a cubic centimeter (milliliter) of water by one degree Celsius, starting at room temperature and at sea level. Saying that you can eat calories is like saying that you can eat heat.

Health professionals, trainers, nutritionists, and many other experts who ought to know better, wrongly equate food calories to metabolism. This is based on simple-minded reasoning that says calories from food provide you with energy. This is incorrect!



Since you now know that calories are merely heat, you can understand why the only thing they do is effect temperature. The help with maintaining body temperature, not directly with metabolism.

Do you know how we measure calories in food? We incinerate the food in an instrument called a bomb calorimeter. When a substance is completely combusted, until nothing but the charred remains are left, it has released all of the calories that it contained. A bomb calorimeter measures how much heat is released upon complete combustion, which is expressed in calories.

The maximum amount of heat released from different food groups is 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, 4 calories per gram of protein, and 9 calories per gram of fat. It is ridiculous to think that these food groups provide you with that much heat. The maximum number of calories from foods, as measured in a bomb calorimeter, is simply useless and misleading when it comes to weight loss.

If your body behaved like a bomb calorimeter, then the calorie count of foods, such as those on food nutrition labels, would have more meaning. Your metabolism, however, has nothing to do with what happens in a bomb calorimeter.

For one thing, you could never harvest all the energy out of food. You might get 10 or 20 percent of it, certainly no more than 30 percent. Sometimes you won't get any calories at all. Using a calorie counter tells you absolutely nothing about what your metabolism will do with different foods.

Consider this: in a calorimeter a gram of starch will yield the exact same number of calories as a gram of cellulose, which is indigestible fiber. As you already know, starch is a source of food calories for people. In contrast, cellulose is not.

Likewise, a calorimeter will derive the same number of calories from equivalent amounts of celery and potato, after correcting for water content. Obviously, your body could not possibly do that.

Instead of comparing food metabolism to a furnace (calorimeter), it is vastly more meaningful to understand the fate of different foods upon digestion. This entails how they impact different kinds of cells and tissues, such as fat vs. muscle, and what happens to these tissues because of different foods.

A possibly surprising comparison for you is the difference between two nearly identical sugars, fructose and glucose. They yield the same number of calories per gram. However, glucose passes through the liver intact and serves a metabolic energy for many kinds of tissues, most notably muscle and liver. In contrast, fructose never escapes intact from the liver. This is why counting calories for even nearly identical foods is so useless.

The consequences of the different metabolic fates of glucose vs. fructose are tremendous. Glucose serves your entire body, whereas fructose has to be converted to something else before it can move through your liver. That something else is largely fat. A simple way to look at it is that fructose will make you fat much faster than glucose will. The caloric potential of these two sugars is irrelevant.

By the way, you will be clearer about the uselessness of calorie counts for losing weight once you grasp the difference between calories and metabolism. Chew on that notion for a while (pardon the pun). This is the clarity of thinking that will guide you to a lifetime of success in whatever weight management or fitness program that you pursue.




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