Hey, it’s all about the calories, right? Not!

Dr. Jonny examines the myths and pitfalls of calorie counting. Read on for the straight dope on better eating.
Gather round, folks, because I’m gonna tell you a story.
Once upon a time, around 1890 actually, a scientist named Wilbur Atwater got the bright idea of putting food into a special machine, burning it and measuring the amount of heat it produced. The machine was called a calorimeter. Old Wilbur decided to call the energy produced by burning the food into ash “calories”. Thus, he was able to figure how many calories were contained in just about any food you could imagine.
Shortly afterwards, scientists applied the same concept to exercise. Using a few calculations, they soon figured out how many calories were “burned” doing everything from sleeping to cross-country skiing.
Within no time, an idea was born: weight gain happened when a person took in more calories than he burned up. The body, it was reasoned, behaves like a calorimeter. Put in calories (from food.) Use up calories (from living, exercising, digesting, etc) and look at your balance sheet. If more is coming in than going out, you gain weight. If more goes out than came in, you lose. Simple. Especially if the body behaved like a calorimeter.
But it doesn’t.
The people who sell empty, useless, nutritionally dead calories (sugar anyone?) love the calorie theory. According to them, sugar is perfectly acceptable since weight loss is only a matter of eating less calories. Just don’t eat so many darn calories and you won’t get fat. If you do, says the sugar industry, don’t blame us. Sugar doesn’t cause weight gain, as long as you don’t eat more calories than you “burn”.
‘Course that ignores all the other things that sugar does beside providing (empty) calories. Sugar raises blood sugar, depresses the immune system, robs the body of calcium and uses up mineral stores. But that’s another story.
The Body as a Laboratory
Then there’s one other itty bitty problem: the body doesn’t behave like a calorimeter. It behaves like a chemistry lab.
Here’s an example: eat a bar that’s 100 calories of sugar. Your blood sugar jumps up. The pancreas responds with a big shot of insulin, whose job it is to bring blood sugar down. In some people it doesn’t do such a great job, leaving them with high blood sugar and high insulin, both risk factors for heart disease. In others it does the job fine, but the sugar winds up in the fat cells. Either way, you lose. And we’re not talking about losing fat!
On the other hand, let’s say you eat a bar that’s 100 calories of protein, fat and fiber. The protein provides nutrients necessary for the building of the body’s architecture- bones, muscles, enzymes, neurotransmitters. It also makes you feel full so you’re less likely to overeat. The fiber slows the entrance of sugar into the bloodstream and also helps protect against cancer. The fat provides important building blocks for cell membranes and hormones. Protein has only a mild effect on blood sugar and insulin, and neither fiber nor fat have any effect at all. While both bars are equal from a caloric point of view, they are anything but equal from the point of view of hormones, fat storage and health.
The effect of different sources of calories on blood sugar and hormones like insulin is one of the most important concepts in nutrition, and one which dietitians still haven’t figured out.
The bottom line: eat foods that have the least impact on blood sugar – fiber, for example, and fat, along with green leafy vegetables, low sugar fruit and plenty of protein, all of which provide nutrients, building blocks and health benefits. Sugar, on the other hand, provides none of those. It will instead keep you on the blood sugar roller coaster that inevitably leads to health problems such as obesity.

Poliquin Performance is pleased to have Dr. Jonny Bowden as a member of the Poliquin Performance team! Jonny Bowden is a board certified nutritionist, life coach, seminar presenter and former certified personal trainer. His newest release “The 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth” (Fairwinds) will be available January 2007. Purchase Dr. Jonny Bowden’s latest CD sets, including “Change Your Body, Change Your Life: Diet Boot Camp”; “23 Ways To Improve Your Life” and “9 Essential Steps To Weight Loss” in our on-line store now! Please visit Jonny at http://www.jonnybowden.com !