Why are so many people obsessed with calories? Focusing on the calories in food is a fairly new concept. The human race walked the face of this planet for millions of years without ever thinking about ‘food energy’.
What exactly is a calorie? Whilst I’m sure many believe that calorie is some kind of little creature thats invade our wardrobes when we are not looking and sews our clothes a little tighter, it is actually a scientific way of measuring the energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
Huh? What has that got to do with food?
Well, back in 1896 Wilbur Olin Atwater invented a machine with a little help from some friends and began to experiment, looking to find a way to calculate the energy in food.
As well as calculating the energy in food, he also measured the energy people (and animals) were using through their daily activities.
His simple conclusion was that Americans were eating too much and not exercising enough. Oh, and he also showed that the unused energy was stored in the body.
During the 1900s the idea of calorie counting started to catch on and over time more and more packaged foods appeared with labels telling us how many calories were in them. Most products now list the number of calories ‘per serving’ or ‘per 100 grams’, but this rarely, if ever, equates to the amount anyone actually eats!
Oh and here is a question for you…
Which is healthier 250 calories of broccoli or 250 calories of cookies?
If the only thing we needed to focus on was calories then surely they would both be the same, but it doesn’t take a genius to know one is better than the other.
By the way, the amount of calories listed as being in a particular food is typically measured by completely burning the dried food in a machine called a bomb calorimeter. This is then adjusted to allow for “fecal loss”. In other words, scientists try to predict how many of the calories you will digest and how many you will end up flushing down the toilet.
With highly processed foods, where each portion is made to a precise formula, I suspect the calorie calculations are pretty accurate, but when it comes to natural whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds I have to ask if it is really feasible to ever know an accurate number of calories.
However, assuming you could accurately measure the number of calories we each take ‘in’ (which I suspect is unlikely unless you only eat processed food) you would still need to measure the calories we use, or calories ‘out’ too.
Now, you can get equipment that estimates the number of calories we use during various activities (some exercise equipment, for example) but do they work for EVERY activity? Is there, for example, a way to calculate how many calories you use when making love? (“Keep going honey – I need to get rid of 300 more calories before we can stop”)
Of course, just counting the calories doesn’t ensure you have your guideline daily amount (GDA) of the other things we are told we need in our diets. You know, the other seven main nutrients the experts say we need and so put on the nutrition labels (protein, carbohydrate, sugars, fat, saturates, fibre and salt).
This doesn’t even begin to address the things science is still ’discovering’ as beneficial in natural foods like fruit and veg. For example, at the time of writing there have been recent news reports of an experimental drug to treat brain haemorrhage, prostate and breast cancer that is being derived from broccoli. Whilst medicine has its place, I really do despair at the need to understand all of the components of our natural foods, rather than simply eat them!
Oh, and we don’t just break foods down into chemicals, we also add man-made chemicals to our food.
In an attempt to cut calories we’ve started adding chemical sweeteners in place of sugar. These are often sweeteners that have been shown to RAISE the risk of obesity and diabetes by affecting how the body processes sugar.
Maybe I’m being thick, but what is the point of cutting calories if they are being replaced with something that is as bad, or potentially even worse, for our health?
So here is my view on calories. The sooner we stop focusing on them and start focusing on all the f*cking chemicals being added to our food, the sooner we can get our families healthy again.
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