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  • The truth about counting calories

    Calories in, calories out—it’s diet dogma. Eat more than you burn, and you’ll gain weight; eat less, and you’ll lose weight. Finding ways to monitor where you fall in this caloric balance has never been easier. Hundreds of diet-tracking apps, from MyFitnessPal to Livestrong, boast databases of nutrition information for thousands of foods. Plug in your age, size, and sex, and they’ll claim to tell you exactly how many calories you need in order to lose or maintain your weight. But is it really that simple?

    Offshore wind has huge potential. Here’s how it could change the US.
    Likely no, according to experts. While consistent diet monitoring can help some people lose weight (maintaining that weight loss is a different story), actual calorie-tracking isn’t as accurate as it might seem. In fact, counting your daily calorie consumption doesn’t always correlate with the amount of energy our bodies consume and burn.

    “People should not rely on this as the Bible of food intake and expenditure,” says Susanne Votruba, a research dietitian at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

    What is a calorie?

    So, where did the calorie come from anyway? In the late nineteenth century, American chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater set out to measure the energy we put into our bodies by, quite literally, blowing food up. Atwater used a device called a bomb calorimeter, a sealed container situated in a known quantity of water, which measures the amount of heat produced during a chemical reaction. He’d place the food inside the device, run an electric current through it, then boom. The higher the energy of the food, the more it would heat the surrounding water—the calorie is the unit of energy needed to raise the temperature of one milliliter of water by one degree celsius. (The calories you see on a nutrition label are actually kilocalories—the energy needed to raise the temperature of a liter of water by one degree.)

    Of course, our bodies don’t use every particle of food we eat, so Atwater also collected the poop and pee of participants and… yep, blew that up too. Based on the energy difference between what participants ate and what they excreted, Atwater determined that there are 9 calories in a gram of fat, 4 in a gram of carbohydrates, and 4 in a gram of protein. That’s the system we use today. (Only rarely do we still blow food up.)

    Alas, people are not bomb calorimeters and all foods aren’t created equal. Atwater’s system was pretty accurate for the foods he measured—but it was never intended to be applied to every morsel we put in our mouths today, says David Baer, a research physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Apply it to some foods, and Atwater’s system kind of just falls apart,” Baer says.

    More specifically, Atwater’s system doesn’t tell us about what happens to different foods as they travel through our individual digestive system and how our bodies absorb those nutrients, says Peter Ellis, a biochemist at King’s College London. “We’ve known for a long time that there’s a wide variation in how foods get digested,” Ellis says.

    Not all foods are made equal

    Take nuts, for example. Nuts are rich in fats—if you entered a few handfuls into your diet-tracking app, that could put a serious dent in your daily calorie goal, based on the Atwater system. But research suggests that not all those calories are available to us. The fat molecules in nuts are encapsulated inside cell walls, which are made of dietary fiber that we can’t digest, Ellis says. And it turns out that our digestive system isn’t totally efficient at breaking into those cells and harvesting the fat. To test this out, Ellis and his colleagues had participants eat a diet high in almonds with only small amounts of other types of foods. Then they collected and analyzed the participants’ poop. Their research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that many of the almond particles had passed through the digestive system intact, still containing their fat molecules.

    Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture conducted a similar experiment with cashews, in which they compared the energy of the nuts participants ate and what they excreted. Their results, published in the journal Nutrients, found that the participants had absorbed less energy from the cashew nuts than what the Atwater factors would predict: only 137 calories on average, compared to 157 calories.

    “So the idea that all foods are digested to the same extent is certainly not true,” Ellis says. And it’s not just nuts. Ellis has found that our bodies aren’t all that great at accessing the starch and sugars inside beans, among other plants. Similar to nuts, those energy-rich molecules are tucked away inside fibrous cell walls. Then, we have to consider the effect of cooking food, which isn’t factored into the Atwater system. The energy you get out of a cooked meal is often greater than the sum of its parts—processing can make the macronutrients in food (starch, fats, and proteins) more accessible to our bodies.

    Finally, there’s interindividual variability—we’re not equally efficient at harvesting energy from our food. Those differences can be owed largely to our gut microbiota, says Kathleen Melanson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Rhode Island. Some microbes help us get more energy out of our food, while others steal some energy for themselves. Our balance of gut microbes helps determine many calories we’re actually consuming.

    The difference between 137 and 157 calories in a serving of cashews might not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to make a difference in the accuracy of a diet tracker, Melanson says. “You can’t count on it to be right on the spot.” A 10 to 20 percent discrepancy can add up to hundreds of calories over time. Though, Melanson adds, that human error—incorrectly tracking the quan****** of foods or failing to track certain ingredients—is almost certainly a greater source of inaccuracy. People just aren’t great at estimating how much they eat to begin with, nevermind the accuracy of Atwater’s system.

    Should you track your calories?

    Given the numerous potential sources of error, is tracking calories even worth it? Monitoring what you eat can be an important step in developing healthy eating habits and even losing weight, if that’s your goal, says Brooke Tompkins Nezami, a behavioral nutrition scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A 2013 study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found that when people simply tracked their diet for eight weeks, they ate two more servings of vegetables a day than they did at the beginning of the study.

    Consistency is a better predictor of success than accuracy, Nezami added. In other words, people who benefit from these apps aren’t hitting their calories on the nose every day—they’re just paying attention.

    Tracking the calories themselves might not even matter. People benefit from just writing down what they eat, without the calories themselves, Nezami says. And for some people, this system might even be more beneficial. “Calorie tracking is time consuming. It can be burdensome for some people. And that’s one reason that we started exploring alternative, potentially more simplified tracking methods,” Nezami says. One of those methods includes sorting foods into three categories: green, yellow, and red, based on their calorie content, and simply monitoring how many “red,” or high calorie, foods you eat.

    The bottom line: If calorie tracking is working for you, go for it. But there’s no need to obsess over whether you’re hitting your goals every single day, says NIDDK’s Votruba. “If people want to track and use these apps, I think that’s fine and can be helpful,” she says. “But if it starts to rule your life, then it’s not something that’s worthwhile because it’s giving you a number that may or may not be accurate.”

  • #2
    Originally posted by OctoberRed View Post
    Calories in, calories out—it’s diet dogma. Eat more than you burn, and you’ll gain weight; eat less, and you’ll lose weight. Finding ways to monitor where you fall in this caloric balance has never been easier. Hundreds of diet-tracking apps, from MyFitnessPal to Livestrong, boast databases of nutrition information for thousands of foods. Plug in your age, size, and sex, and they’ll claim to tell you exactly how many calories you need in order to lose or maintain your weight. But is it really that simple?

    Offshore wind has huge potential. Here’s how it could change the US.
    Likely no, according to experts. While consistent diet monitoring can help some people lose weight (maintaining that weight loss is a different story), actual calorie-tracking isn’t as accurate as it might seem. In fact, counting your daily calorie consumption doesn’t always correlate with the amount of energy our bodies consume and burn.

    “People should not rely on this as the Bible of food intake and expenditure,” says Susanne Votruba, a research dietitian at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

    What is a calorie?

    So, where did the calorie come from anyway? In the late nineteenth century, American chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater set out to measure the energy we put into our bodies by, quite literally, blowing food up. Atwater used a device called a bomb calorimeter, a sealed container situated in a known quantity of water, which measures the amount of heat produced during a chemical reaction. He’d place the food inside the device, run an electric current through it, then boom. The higher the energy of the food, the more it would heat the surrounding water—the calorie is the unit of energy needed to raise the temperature of one milliliter of water by one degree celsius. (The calories you see on a nutrition label are actually kilocalories—the energy needed to raise the temperature of a liter of water by one degree.)

    Of course, our bodies don’t use every particle of food we eat, so Atwater also collected the poop and pee of participants and… yep, blew that up too. Based on the energy difference between what participants ate and what they excreted, Atwater determined that there are 9 calories in a gram of fat, 4 in a gram of carbohydrates, and 4 in a gram of protein. That’s the system we use today. (Only rarely do we still blow food up.)

    Alas, people are not bomb calorimeters and all foods aren’t created equal. Atwater’s system was pretty accurate for the foods he measured—but it was never intended to be applied to every morsel we put in our mouths today, says David Baer, a research physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Apply it to some foods, and Atwater’s system kind of just falls apart,” Baer says.

    More specifically, Atwater’s system doesn’t tell us about what happens to different foods as they travel through our individual digestive system and how our bodies absorb those nutrients, says Peter Ellis, a biochemist at King’s College London. “We’ve known for a long time that there’s a wide variation in how foods get digested,” Ellis says.

    Not all foods are made equal

    Take nuts, for example. Nuts are rich in fats—if you entered a few handfuls into your diet-tracking app, that could put a serious dent in your daily calorie goal, based on the Atwater system. But research suggests that not all those calories are available to us. The fat molecules in nuts are encapsulated inside cell walls, which are made of dietary fiber that we can’t digest, Ellis says. And it turns out that our digestive system isn’t totally efficient at breaking into those cells and harvesting the fat. To test this out, Ellis and his colleagues had participants eat a diet high in almonds with only small amounts of other types of foods. Then they collected and analyzed the participants’ poop. Their research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that many of the almond particles had passed through the digestive system intact, still containing their fat molecules.

    Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture conducted a similar experiment with cashews, in which they compared the energy of the nuts participants ate and what they excreted. Their results, published in the journal Nutrients, found that the participants had absorbed less energy from the cashew nuts than what the Atwater factors would predict: only 137 calories on average, compared to 157 calories.

    “So the idea that all foods are digested to the same extent is certainly not true,” Ellis says. And it’s not just nuts. Ellis has found that our bodies aren’t all that great at accessing the starch and sugars inside beans, among other plants. Similar to nuts, those energy-rich molecules are tucked away inside fibrous cell walls. Then, we have to consider the effect of cooking food, which isn’t factored into the Atwater system. The energy you get out of a cooked meal is often greater than the sum of its parts—processing can make the macronutrients in food (starch, fats, and proteins) more accessible to our bodies.

    Finally, there’s interindividual variability—we’re not equally efficient at harvesting energy from our food. Those differences can be owed largely to our gut microbiota, says Kathleen Melanson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Rhode Island. Some microbes help us get more energy out of our food, while others steal some energy for themselves. Our balance of gut microbes helps determine many calories we’re actually consuming.

    The difference between 137 and 157 calories in a serving of cashews might not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to make a difference in the accuracy of a diet tracker, Melanson says. “You can’t count on it to be right on the spot.” A 10 to 20 percent discrepancy can add up to hundreds of calories over time. Though, Melanson adds, that human error—incorrectly tracking the quan****** of foods or failing to track certain ingredients—is almost certainly a greater source of inaccuracy. People just aren’t great at estimating how much they eat to begin with, nevermind the accuracy of Atwater’s system.

    Should you track your calories?

    Given the numerous potential sources of error, is tracking calories even worth it? Monitoring what you eat can be an important step in developing healthy eating habits and even losing weight, if that’s your goal, says Brooke Tompkins Nezami, a behavioral nutrition scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A 2013 study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found that when people simply tracked their diet for eight weeks, they ate two more servings of vegetables a day than they did at the beginning of the study.

    Consistency is a better predictor of success than accuracy, Nezami added. In other words, people who benefit from these apps aren’t hitting their calories on the nose every day—they’re just paying attention.

    Tracking the calories themselves might not even matter. People benefit from just writing down what they eat, without the calories themselves, Nezami says. And for some people, this system might even be more beneficial. “Calorie tracking is time consuming. It can be burdensome for some people. And that’s one reason that we started exploring alternative, potentially more simplified tracking methods,” Nezami says. One of those methods includes sorting foods into three categories: green, yellow, and red, based on their calorie content, and simply monitoring how many “red,” or high calorie, foods you eat.

    The bottom line: If calorie tracking is working for you, go for it. But there’s no need to obsess over whether you’re hitting your goals every single day, says NIDDK’s Votruba. “If people want to track and use these apps, I think that’s fine and can be helpful,” she says. “But if it starts to rule your life, then it’s not something that’s worthwhile because it’s giving you a number that may or may not be accurate.”
    This is why I stay away from counting calories too much.

    Comment


    • #3
      BS article. Counting Calories > any other method. Hell they are still counting calories in their method they just color coded them into groups. RED, YELLOW, GREEN, all these diets or methods are based off counting calories they just disguise it in a different way such as weigh watchers point.

      It does not matter if the food you eat is not 100% accurate because the inaccuracy will become the standard. Take for instance you eat an ounce of walnuts which is 190 calories but because our bodies doesn't fully breakdown the walnuts you only really ingest 150 calories. 40 calories is not going to make or break anything on a single day, now if you eat walnuts everyday than it also will not matter aswell because you would have adjusted your "daily calories" around this to reflect what your goal is, example say your daily calories are 2000 calories and your goal is to maintain, but because that walnuts are 40 calories less than advertised you see yourself dropping lil by lil daily by eating 2000 calories, so what do you do? you add lil more calories to counter balance it, you do not know you are counter balance it.. you think your body just needs a lil bit more calories and since the walnuts are not the advertised 190 than you do, you need 40 more calories to account for that lost. So if you eat walnuts occasionally it doesn't matters cause 40 calories isnt gonna hurt anything, if you eat daily you would adjust to it.

      Its just like if you weigh your food cooked and base your calories off the label which is based off the raw weight, how much you eat is going to depend on the results you want. You start to lose weight you will weigh out more cooked food or if you start to gain weight you will weigh out less cooked food and as long as you are consistent in the way you weigh out the food you will be able to track and count your calories. The inaccuracy will become the standard in your tracking so it all pans out in the end.

      Now this works for general tracking of calories not really macros, and people tracking macros and micro nutrients are more advanced and this entire concept of tracking calories/macros/nutrients they should have down and full understanding of, but to expalin lets take take a looked at cooked chicken; cooked chickenwill have more protein for the same weight than raw chicken for the same weight. So say you think you are eating 20 grams protein worth of chicken because you based your macros off the label however the label is based off raw weight and you weighed your chicken cooked so in reality you are eating more protein cause cooking makes the chicken loose water an fat weigt where raw it still has it.

      EDIT: also take into account where do you think you will have bigger discrepancies of accounting for calories; in eating foods such as nuts where you probably not able to utlized about 14% of the calories so 157 calories on label is really only 137 calories ingest into your system? or by grouping calories into 3 color groups like the article suggest? lol.
      Last edited by TheBoxGod; 05-18-2021, 06:10 PM.
      OctoberRed likes this.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by TheBoxGod View Post
        BS article. Counting Calories > any other method. Hell they are still counting calories in their method they just color coded them into groups. RED, YELLOW, GREEN, all these diets or methods are based off counting calories they just disguise it in a different way such as weigh watchers point.

        It does not matter if the food you eat is not 100% accurate because the inaccuracy will become the standard. Take for instance you eat an ounce of walnuts which is 190 calories but because our bodies doesn't fully breakdown the walnuts you only really ingest 150 calories. 40 calories is not going to make or break anything on a single day, now if you eat walnuts everyday than it also will not matter aswell because you would have adjusted your "daily calories" around this to reflect what your goal is, example say your daily calories are 2000 calories and your goal is to maintain, but because that walnuts are 40 calories less than advertised you see yourself dropping lil by lil daily by eating 2000 calories, so what do you do? you add lil more calories to counter balance it, you do not know you are counter balance it.. you think your body just needs a lil bit more calories and since the walnuts are not the advertised 190 than you do, you need 40 more calories to account for that lost. So if you eat walnuts occasionally it doesn't matters cause 40 calories isnt gonna hurt anything, if you eat daily you would adjust to it.

        Its just like if you weigh your food cooked and base your calories off the label which is based off the raw weight, how much you eat is going to depend on the results you want. You start to lose weight you will weigh out more cooked food or if you start to gain weight you will weigh out less cooked food and as long as you are consistent in the way you weigh out the food you will be able to track and count your calories. The inaccuracy will become the standard in your tracking so it all pans out in the end.

        Now this works for general tracking of calories not really macros, and people tracking macros and micro nutrients are more advanced and this entire concept of tracking calories/macros/nutrients they should have down and full understanding of, but to expalin lets take take a looked at cooked chicken; cooked chickenwill have more protein for the same weight than raw chicken for the same weight. So say you think you are eating 20 grams protein worth of chicken because you based your macros off the label however the label is based off raw weight and you weighed your chicken cooked so in reality you are eating more protein cause cooking makes the chicken loose water an fat weigt where raw it still has it.

        EDIT: also take into account where do you think you will have bigger discrepancies of accounting for calories; in eating foods such as nuts where you probably not able to utlized about 14% of the calories so 157 calories on label is really only 137 calories ingest into your system? or by grouping calories into 3 color groups like the article suggest? lol.
        A very good take here.

        Comment


        • #5
          Calorie counting is accurate enough, especially on average. I lost a lot of weight with it. I just need to lose 6kg/12lbs more to hit my ideal weight. Like, if a can of tuna says it's 120 Calories, it wouldn't be something like 300 Calories. It would be 110~130 Calories at worst discrepancy.

          Comment

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