When Calories Don’t Count

When Calories Don’t Count

Statistics have shown that at any given time, 40% of us are on a diet.  Many others may be watching calories anyway.  Probably most of us think about calories quite a bit. 

Remember the days when it was all about “calories in and calories out”? Those days are gone.  There’s been a ton of research about this now.  What does it tell us?  And, what does it mean for you?

How is Calorie Count Determined?

Have you ever thought about how they figure out how many calories are in your food?  Here’s how they do it:

  • Take a chunk of food, blend it, freeze dry all the moisture out of it, and then grind it into a powder.
  • Apply heat to the powder until it bursts into flames and all that’s left is ash.
  • As the heating process is going on, they measure how much energy is being given off by the food.
  • They declare that the food therefore has a specific energy content in it, measured in kilocalories, or “calories” for short. 

Only one problem.  This is not how our bodies use the calories in food.  Our stomach and intestines do not freeze dry and then combust food when we eat it! 

How Do Our Bodies Use Calories?

Let me cut to the cake (er, I mean chase).

Basically, we absorb LESS ENERGY from minimally processed carbohydrates, fats, and some proteins because a lower percentage of those foods get digested and absorbed

Here’s what you need to remember:  We absorb MORE ENERGY from highly processed foods because they are easier to digest.  Think of it this way…with processed food, some of the digestion work has already been done for you, including chewing!  One of the goals of processed food is to bypass some of the chewing required by whole foods, all the while flooding your tongue with things like sugar, salt and fat.  The mechanism here is that the plant or animal cells have been broken down for you.  For example, you absorb more calories from orange juice than from a whole orange. 

More Examples of Misleading Calorie Counts

  • Research has shown that we absorb more fat from peanut butter than from whole peanuts.  Turns out that almost 38% of the fat in whole peanuts gets excreted, whereas almost all of the fat in peanut butter gets absorbed.  Then it gets used by our bodies one way or another.
  • You may have heard that if you allow rice to get cold, it reduces the calories you get from it.  True.  What happens is that the rice forms what they call “resistant starches,” which means that you can’t extract as many calories from it as when it’s just cooked. 
  • The types of bacteria hanging around in your gut can make a difference.   For instance, if you are heavy on certain types of bacteria, you are super good at getting calories from many foods that others are not.  Recent research also shows that certain bacteria in your gut are better at letting you know when you are full or satisfied than others.  This is an important area to watch going forward.
  • There are a bunch of other factors that have to do with how we use calories (or not).  Honorable mention goes to hormones, how many calories we burn at rest and during exercise, stress, genetics, gender, medications, how long you have had more or less body fat, and the differences in how much energy it takes to digest protein, carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol. 

The Bottom Line

Once again, we are led back to the healthy eating recommendations that you very often see.  Eat whole, unprocessed foods in reasonable quantity and with as much variety as possible.  Not only does this make sense in light of what we know about calorie utilization, but general nutrition as well. 

All the best


© 2022 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Asiandelight | iStock

Design for Fitness - Personal Assessment

Similar Posts