Calorie Myths

Should We Replace the Calorie System for Weight Loss?
Calories may not be an adequate way to represent the energy we need or would store. We all know people who eat little but stay heavy, and those who eat loads of junk food but are as skinny as a rail. How can that be? Are the heavy ones sneaking excess calories (maybe) – are the skinny ones with nervous energy just have a higher metabolism (whatever that means – and maybe they do).

So here are six common myths about calories and a few simple eating rules for eating.

Myth: Calories provide our Energy
Calories are not what provide the energy to fuel our body’s metabolism. Our metabolism is fueled by complex chemical reactions and energy is obtained by breaking molecular bonds of chemicals like adenosine triphosphate. A calorie is not a biology/biochemistry term, but a term mechanical engineers first used and adopted by physics.  The technical term of a calorie is this: one calorie is the amount of heat needed to heat one gram of water one degree Celsius. The calories we use are kilocalories- so multiply that by a thousand.

So calories don’t provide energy but are a measurement of the potential energy in a food.

Caloric History –
Bridging caloric physics to biology is largely credited to Wilber Olin Atwater (1844-1907), who applied the first law of thermodynamics to food: energy can be transformed, but it cannot be created or destroyed.  With that he began the use of the term of calories to food – and started measuring how food affected people, by measuring their conversions of oxygen to carbon dioxide and the calories of food. Atwater concluded that people ate too many sweets and fats and didn’t exercise enough.

Using this equipment Atwater was able to determine the relative input of food and exercise

In the early years of determining calories they would put food into a machine called a “bomb calorimeter” burn it- and see how much energy the food contained. This process has been refined, so that we know one gram of carbohydrates has four calories, one gram of protein has four calories, one gram of alcohol has seven calories, and one gram of fat has nine calories.

Myth: A calorie is a calorie
It doesn’t matter how many calories you consume, it matters what your body does with them. Your body will process those 100-calorie snacks differently than 100 calories of beef, or 100 calories of fish.

Your body cannot store protein, so when you need protein to rebuild cells, or after some muscle breakdown, it relies on your diet to get it. The various proteins are broken down in the intestines into amino acids – and your body has no idea if those amino acids came from a plant or beef. So the calories that are available in protein may not be available for energy, but instead used for building. Protein beyond that which is needed for the body’s function can be broken down and used by the body, and if too much of it is available it will be stored as fat.

Many fish are rich in calorie dense fatty acids, but your body cannot make these, so it relies on your diet to get them. Thus, the calories that are available from omega-3 fatty acids may never be used as energy, or stored as fat, because your body will be using them to build various functions.

Fructose, in its refined form, is passively absorbed by the intestines and about 1/3 of it becomes fat.  Doesn’t matter how much your body needs the fuel, one third of all fructose consumed is processed into fat.

Graph from tutorvista.com showing the different pathways of glucose Gand fructose

Myth: Low levels of Glucose are good for you
There is an ideal range for blood glucose levels- too low or too high and you won’t function.  Glucose is important to the body because  every cell in your body needs glucose to function, from the brain to the muscles. Glucose is the currency your body uses to provide energy. Glucose is so important that your body actively absorbs glucose from the intestines to the bloodstream using specialized glucose transport cells. As your body breaks down food into is basic components in the intestine, when a  molecule of glucose is available the glucose is actively transported from the intestine to the bloodstream where it can be used as fuel.

Fructose, in contrast, cannot be used by the human body as fuel. Fructose has to be changed into other products. Fructose is passively absorbed in the intestines – which means if there is a lot of fructose present, it is absorbed into your bloodstream from the intestines. Fructose in fruit, is complexed  with the fiber, and the fiber cannot be absorbed – so you eat the 100 calories of fruit your body cannot absorb the fructose that isn’t free from the fiber. But drink 100 calories of juice, which has a lot of free fructose, and chances are you will get all of the fructose and 1/3 will go down the fatty-acid pathway.

Common table sugar is made up of 1/2 fructose and 1/2 glucose. The high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten juices, soda, cookies, and many breads is higher in fructose than glucose. We recently wrote about the health risks of high fructose corn syrup.

The 100-calorie snacks are typically highly processed cookies, or snacks, and the processed sugar is broken down and quickly absorbed by the body and your body will store that excess as fat.

Calories Don’t Matter if Your Body Can’t Use Them or Get to Them
People cannot digest the cell walls of plants, like fruits and vegetables. This means humans cannot get at those calories without cooking or mechanically breaking down those cell walls. Raw foodies take advantage of this, unable to get most of the calories from vegetables and fruits; they are able to consume large amounts of calories and still lose weight.

Myth: Exercise burns calories
A patient came to me having gained a few pounds over a month and said, “I know for a fact that I exercise 1900 calories a day.” That is impressive, so I asked how he did it- he said that he used an elliptical machine for 45 minutes a day, and the calories he used were based on what the dials on the elliptical machine said. Funny thing – look at those machines or those iPhone apps and they tell you that you are burning hundreds of calories a day – but they are not only inaccurate, they are misleading.

The average male burns a bit over 2000 calories a day- and if you work out for an hour a day you will probably only burn another 100 calories in an  hour. Discouraged? Don’t be. The majority of your calories are burned by your heart pumping, your lungs breathing, your brain thinking. Plus all those things you do during the day matter. The more involved you are in what you do, and increasing your activity, the better you will feel and the less likely you will be to waste calories on crummy food.

The easiest way to increase what you burn is to increase the things you do daily. Remember when you were a kid, and you were always on the go? It is time to get that spirit back- walk more, play more, have more fun- get out of that chair and off the couch. That will burn more exercise than going to the gym and watching your friends work out. You know that tiny lawn you have- get a push lawnmower and use that.

Exercise is good – it is empowering, it gets you out of the house.  Get a Nike Fuelband or some monitor, and use it – plan to exceed your daily activity until you get to an average of 10,000 steps a day.

 

Just Do It

Myth: The reason you are not loosing weight is you are not eating enough

Fred weighed 400 pounds, and he decided to get a Lap-Band to help him lose weight. He hit a plateau after 18 months when he weighed 250 pounds, so he asked me, if he needed to eat more to lose weight.  My answer is, “Yes, it needs to be more fruit and more vegetables- not processed. What it does not need to be is yogurt, cheese, or nuts.”

Fred was eating a lot less food, less than he had in years, but it was still enough to sustain his weight at 250 pounds (he wanted to get to 190 pounds). It was a combination of not just how much he ate, but also when he ate.

If you eat all of your calories at one time your body has to decide to do with the excess fuel. Does it store it, or does it burn it. Sometimes it isn’t that you are not eating enough – sometimes it is that you need to spread that same amount of calories throughout the day.

it isn’t just how much you eat – it is also when you eat and what you eat that determines your health

Myth: It isn’t the calories it is the insulin response to calories
This popular theory goes like this: you eat too many carbohydrates, the insulin level spike, store that as fat while stimulating the fat to store yet more fat and drive a person to eat more simple carbohydrates. People like the simplicity often pontificate that we should eat our calories from protein – be they Paleo, Atkins, low-carb types, or proponents of the glycemic index. People who previously ate a lot of processed food and move into more protein will lose weight – but the body isn’t just that simple.

But the body is even more complex than that – and measurements taken are not insulin levels, but often glucose levels in response to what is believed to be insulin.

Some people just are lucky
Did you ever meet someone who could eat huge amounts of food and never gain an ounce? They can eat junk food, or violate every “rule” and yet not gain a bit. They are just burners.

So they can consume 5000 calories and yet look great – while you have ice cream every night for a week and come away with an extra pound.

Think of people like cars.  Some cars are very efficient at burning gas – the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic – they are like the skinny little friends who eat lots of junk food while looking slim.  Some cars are gas-guzzlers – they are larger, don’t look as sleek – that is like many people. Both get the same amount of gasoline, but they use it differently.

Calories are Still Pretty Good for measuring
Overall, as we demonstrated with the beer and sausage diet as well as the eggs and beer diet – when you cut down on the number of calories you consume, you will loose weight. While there are some clear exceptions, the body isn’t simple, and the use of calories as a measurement of what you consume works out pretty well.

A few simple rules:

(1) Eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

(2) Lean meats are just fine

(3) Have fish twice a week

(4) Make sure you have nutrient rich foods

(5) Increase your daily activity – walk more, get up more – use that nervous energy

And if you think a lettuce wrap is better for you than bread – you are missing the point.

 

REFERENCES:

Here are some older references that I found -

Atwater, W. O. (1895). Methods and Results of Investigations on the Chemistry and Economy of Food. Bulletin 21, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Experiment Stations, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Atwater, W. O., and Rosa, E. B. (1899). Description of a New Respiration Calorimeter and Experiments on the Conservation of Energy in the Human Body, Bulletin 63, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Experiment Stations, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Atwater, W. O., and Benedict, F. G. (1905). A Respiration Calorimeter with Appliances for the Direct Determination of Oxygen, Carnegie Institute of Washington, Washington, D.C.

Identifying Yourself with Your Diet

Raw Food, Vegans, Paleo, and Your Identity

T Rex

Did T Rex become extinct because they were not vegan, or because their arms were too short to floss?

Did you ever meet a vegan who, in the first 20 minutes of conversation, doesn’t let you know they are a vegan?  How about someone who only eats raw food? Or someone who eats “paleo?” People self-identify with the food they eat – believing that somehow, by only eating  in one manner they are (a) eating healthier (b) protecting the world from itself and (c) superior to others because of their chosen diet.

People who change their diet are often changing from a typical American diet to something better. Like the person who finds religion, or the smoker who quits, they become a food evangelist.  For the first time in their life they are paying attention to what they are eating – or as they like to say what they are “putting into their body.”  Their bias is that ” they feel better ” and they don’t hesitate to tell the world how their diet is working for them. Then they start reading more and more about how their diet is better – and there will be thousands of articles one can find about it.  They will spend countless hours researching and confirming their bias about a particular diet. Then they will flood social media with citations. Never did they convert from a “balanced” diet to “veganism” or “paleo” –  they always went from typical American junk to a diet where they paid attention to what they ate.  Never considering that simply eating better and avoiding junk was the reason for their improved “health.”

Cartoon from APEY

Then there are those who seek to put everything into a shake, or a bar, or a pill. Mix this protein powder with this supplement powder, and while you are at it toss in a supplement or two. Ok, it may not taste great but don’t you feel better (healthier) and superior to those who are eating that burger? The extreme of this is what we physicians can do intravenously – feeding a person by IV. Physicians do that, we can put every micro and macronutrient into an iv bag and feed a person. It saves lives when we do this to patients in the intensive care unit, or people who have lost their guts and people can live on this, but they cannot thrive on that. So before you buy into that latest shake or bar, or pill, think that real food, not highly processed is far better and healthier for you.

Five myths about eating and diets that might surprise you:

(1) Raw vegetables are better for you and contain more nutrients than cooked

False: People cannot break down the methylcellulose that is the cell wall of plants.  Hence, when you study people who eat raw food, versus the same vegetables cooked- and then test their blood to see who has more micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and other good stuff) – the cooked vegetables and fruits provide more nutrition than the raw.

The reason raw food people lose weight is because they don’t get as much nutrition from raw foods as cooked. The ability to cook allowed more nutrients to be available, and some evolutionary biologist state this is why early man was able to leave sub-Saharan Africa and go throughout the world. Today people will starve themselves eating raw food, but feel they are eating better, lose weight – without any concern with a balanced diet.

(2) Vegans live longer 

This is false. When you look at broad categories, the longest living group in study after study are those who primarily eat fish for their protein, not vegans. Next come vegetarians, then vegans – who have about the same lifespan as meat eaters. Some will tell you about The China Study but that had a number of flaws.

 

(3) Red meat is bad for you

Red Salmon

People who primarily eat fish live longer than vegans or vegetarians

Too much of anything is bad – be it red meat, carrots, or celery. But red meat is easily broken down by the body, provides enough nutrients and in the latest study out of Europe, with over half a million people (the largest study ever) there was no association with red meat and cancer.

(4) Cavemen ate without certain foods like wheat and they lived well so we should because we have not had enough time to evolve to eat things like gluten.

False again.  First a genetic mutation happens in one generation, not thousands of years. Second, in spite of the paleo-folk thinking that it takes 10,000 years to make a genetic change (see above) we have been grinding plants into a flour since at least 30,000 years ago. There are clearly people who should not eat gluten, just as some people should not eat peanuts, but that is not the majority of people.

Speaking of cavemen – noodles have been found in ancient China, and it was noodles that allowed trade between China and Rome (the Silk Road).  A pot of noodles from 4000 BCE has been found (I wonder if it should be cooked with pork or chicken?).

(5) The human is meant to eat (or not eat) ( fill in this blank).

 

What should we eat, Dr. Simpson?

There are a lot of people out there who will try to convince you that the body is only meant to eat meat, or vegetables, or not eat something else. They have diagrams of teeth, comparing to other teeth of other animals but here are a few clues (a) we evolved from them (b) the primates that ate primarily vegetables have not survived well and (c) we have societies from pure meat eaters to almost pure vegetarians who have all lived well and prospered. The human body is quite flexible.

In the last year we have had one person eat sausage and beer for a month – lost over 15 pounds, and liver enzymes were fine, but the cholesterol lowered as did lipids. Then eat nothing but eggs and beer for a month with similar results. We also had someone do nothing but shakes and smoothies for a month with similar results.  What did they prove? That if we limit our intake of food, which all of those did, and keep things in a bit of a balance, you can do just fine.

Stop Protesting and Start Cooking

Yes- someone is protesting Kraft because they use “artificial” colors in their Mac and Cheese. They then made up an entire post about how Kraft uses genetically modified wheat in their product.  While they generated a lot of buzz for this lets start with the obvious:

You’re feeding your kid processed food and protesting Kraft?  

Instead of protesting a food maker, why don’t you use that time to cook them a real meal?

In ten minutes you can have a spaghetti squash cooked in a microwave and ready to serve. We showed that in a video here. That has ten times the fiber of the pasta and one tenth the calories – and it tastes great.  Instead of their “cheese” you can grate some real Parmesan cheese on top, or you can heat up some other sauce you get from the store (there are some great healthy sauces out there). Now, in less time than making Kraft’s dinner you have made your own – it has a vegetable serving in it (something you don’t get with Kraft) – it tastes better, it is fresher, and it will cost you less.

Plus here is another advantage: you are showing your child that the kitchen you are in can be used for making real meals.  You are setting an example for them. JJ in the Kitchen

Over 200,000 signatures were gathered for this.  And Kraft met with them! Ok, the power of social media and all that. What an ego boost for their blogs (no, I won’t link to them because they are silly blogs that are quite anti-science). Here is their comment though, “We wanted to educate the American consumer and let them know what is in their food. We just picked an iconic food product to really get that message across.”

So protest away to Kraft, or anyone you wish- but if you would instead take the time to make real food for your kids you can save some of that energy and not have to worry about “chemicals.”

So here is my recommendation for all of you food bloggers out there protesting big industry because of how they process foods — get off your blog and show your kids how to cook – and not from a box.

And if you spent time worrying about what is in the box of Mac & Cheese – don’t. Just get in the kitchen and learn to cook. Your kids will love it, you will love it, and you will eat better – healthier, and live a much better life.

Get an apron, learn how to cook, it is the most empowering thing you can do for yourself.

In fact – one of my favorite chef’s said it best in an interview – well – here is the video of the interview:

Here is a video about how to do Spaghetti Squash

Pigs and GMO

pigs eating

Pigs that eat genetically modified foods have less inflammation than pigs that eat normal- the opposite of what the news reported

Pigs and GMO
So you read the headlines, or the news article and you see that pigs fed GMO had more stomach problems than pigs that were not fed GMO. Except that isn’t really what the article results show.

The results show that pigs have a lot of stomach problems- regardless of the stuff that is fed to them.
From Table 3 of their study:

Pigs who were fed non GM foods had more erosions, more pin point ulcers than pigs fed GM foods.
(1) Of all ulcers there were equal numbers in both GM fed and non GM fed pigs.
(2) In terms of inflammation – all types – there were 69 in the non GM fed group and 64 in the GM group.
(3) If you look at nil inflammation (meaning zip) – pigs who ate genetically modified foods had much less inflammation than pigs who ate “organic” food.
(4) If you add the “nil inflammation” the numbers are 73 with inflamed stomachs of pigs who ate non genetically modified foods and 72 pigs who ate genetically modified foods had inflamed stomachs.

As a surgeon, who does a lot of stomach surgery – I would say that this study shows really no difference between the two groups of pigs- but when it comes to the severe issues there appear to be a lot more severe issues among the pigs that ate non-genetically modified food than the pigs that ate genetically modified foods.

What does this whole thing prove:
(1) GM and non GM are no different
(2) Pigs have a lot of stomach problems – who knew
(3) Journalists don’t read papers and analyze them, they instead read abstracts where the comments may not equal the results

It is sad that the Journal of Organic Systems – which says it is peer reviewed, but its agenda is not science, its agenda is organic farming and systems. A fine agenda, but when you allow the abstract and conclusion to read the way they did – you simply decrease the value of your journal.

As for you journalists out there – try reading and analyzing the data before reporting it.

5 Myths about GMO & What You Need to Worry About: GMO Part 4

MYTH 1:

Corn

The genetically modified corn uses less pesticides and herbicides

GMO seeds mean you will have more pesticides and herbicides used in the environment.

Reality:
Just the opposite is true. GMO plants have saved farmers in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa billions of dollars the last two decades in those toxic chemicals.  The GMO plants are designed to use less chemicals than other seeds.

What You Should Be Worried About:
While less herbicide is used (weed killer) the weeds are getting resistant to the herbicides currently and new super weeds are being found. Weeds use natural selection (the first type of genetic engineering) so that those weeds that survive the herbicide grow and reproduce.

MYTH 2:

The toxins engineered in the plants, like Bt, are deadly to humans and cannot be washed off.

Reality:
Bt toxin (from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis) has been extensively tested and is not toxic to humans or other animals. In fact, Bt, a toxin made by bacteria, is used widely by organic farmers because it is a natural way to control pests. While some have reported animals that have died in fields of Bt cotton or corn, when autopsies of the animals were done other causes were found. In fact, many deaths from farm animals occur in places all the time- This same Bt toxin has been used to decrease mosquito outbreaks in Africa, to decrease malaria and dengue fever. Other strains of the Bt toxin are being examined for activity against leukemia and breast cancer.

What You Should Be Worried About:
In spite of an impressive array of safety, all toxins have some downside. No matter which pesticide, or how safe, there will collateral damage – Monarch butterflies who feed on milkweed, for example, do not do as well when they are near corn that pollinates with Bt toxin.

As much as science searches for a perfect toxin, this certainly is not it. On the bright side new research into pheromones that are scents that keep pests away are being tested.

MYTH 3:

Monsanto will have a monopoly on seeds and this is bad.

Reality:
Monsanto does sell the most seeds of any of the major seed makers, but does not have a monopoly.  Since the 1940′s farmers have found purchasing seed was easier than raising their own and proprietary seed makers have become an industry.  Monsanto sells 23% of the GM seeds in the US, currently. There are a number of other seed makers that sell GM seeds, as well as non-GMO seed suppliers. Having a number of suppliers insures a more stable market.

What You Should Be Worried About:
Biodiversity is a major issue, and while genetic engineering represents a rapid way to alter crops in case of a major new pest, blight, drought, it is important to have a large seed repository available. GM seeds or not, biodiversity has been rotated out of our crops and is a major issue moving forward. Biodiversity has been an issue for all crops since humans harvested, and continues to be a major issue to our food supply.

MYTH 4:

They engineered tomatoes to withstand cold by putting the gene in from an Arctic fish, which is why tomatoes taste bad.

Fresh Fish

Fresh, wild salmon- not farm raised, and no genes of this fish went into a tomato

Reality:
There is no tomato-fish. While this was an experiment, it never came to market. The reason most tomatoes from the store are mealy is they are picked before they are ripe. They do not ripen as a normal tomato would, and thus have an off taste- especially to those who know what a fresh, garden ripened tomato tastes like.

What You Should Worry About:
Genetically engineered salmon that will be farm raised are coming, and like most farm-raised salmon will have less flavor, less beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and cause more pollution that the wild salmon. Many fish are over-fished and present a danger to our food supply – farm raised fish are not as sustainable as wild fish.

MYTH 5

Animals know better- when given a choice they don’t eat GMO.

Reality:
The photographs of the corn, and others that are circulating are all doctored photographs- they are fake. Humans have very sophisticated taste buds, much more than a squirrel or birds. The photographs have been put up as “proof” when in fact, all studies contradict them. In addition, why is it that they blame GMO for killing some animals, when there are fields adjacent with non-GMO feed.  They get tripped up in their own arguments.

Fake GMO

The has been widely viewed on the internet – and is a doctored experiment.

What You Should Worry About:
If you are eating at a lot of chain restaurants, or a lot of processed foods, you are probably obese, and should be eating more whole foods, plant based diets.  If you like meat, you should be eating meat from specialty farms where they are raised on grass instead of grain.

For more about GMO:
Read part one of our series where we discuss the basis of GMO.

Part two of our series is about Frankenfoods and labeling.

Part three is about allergies and proteins.

What is Really in Juice Concentrate

When you buy juice and it says it contains orange juice, or any other juice in it- you probably think of it this way:

When you think of concentrated Orange juice you probably think about something like this

But if you thought more about it you would realize that to make juice you really don’t want the peel of the orange- or the peel of most fruits because they are bitter and not so sweet.

But if you thought about it you realize they would reasonably get rid of the peel and they do

Then if you peel an orange you see underneath the peel there is some pulp and unless the juice has added this back in, most of the time you think is that this material will have to be removed, because if you taste this- it is also kind of bitter and chewy:

Under the peel of the orange is some bitter pulp and in most juices you don’t want to have this

So when you really think about orange juice, or any juice- you think of the meaty part of the fruit- the tasty stuff and when you think of that you think this must be the stuff they make the concentrate from:

The beautiful inside of an orange – this must be what they put into the concentrate.

But then you think again, and realize that they have to squeeze the juice out of that. So you have juice. But that it isn’t really concentrated so what they have to do is some method to make the juice concentrated. So you imagine it looks something like you would see in a frozen can of juice – and would look like that.

But that isn’t what the companies do. What they do is they take that concentrate and they break it down further and make it into a powder that they can easily add to the other powders and ingredients that they make then bottle and sell you as juice. What does that look like?

Sugar – its just sugar

What they do is simply extract the sugar, and this means what you are drinking is a product from some oranges, or grapes, or whatever juice they say. It is just another excuse to give you more sugar, so you can buy more juice.

So next time you want some juice- remember – it probably isn’t really anything more than flavoring, coloring, and sugar. You want juice – get the fruits or vegetables and do it yourself because otherwise what you are eating is just junk food, and you are just fooling yourself.