Calories are involved in two major differences of opinion. There is the disagreement about whether some calories are good while others are bad. Then, there is the energy balance controversy. Is the body an organic calculator that rigidly tracks every calorie that comes in? Does the body also accurately record how many of those atoms have been converted into energy, and conduct itself accordingly, no matter what else is going on in any of the numerous systems? Could the relationship between calories and weight, like so many other things, be multifactorial?
Jerome Groopman, writer on biology and medicine for The New Yorker, affirmed that one of the few unchallengeable facts of dietary science is, “[I]f energy gained exceeds output, the excess becomes fat.” He went on to say,
Still, further research has shown that calories eaten are only part of what determines weight. Our metabolism reflects an interplay of things like genes, hormones, and the bacteria that populate the gut, so how much energy we absorb from what we eat varies from person to person.
Big and overarching concerns
Science writer David Berreby made a strong effort to get to the crux of the matter, and came at it from the angle of obese animals. People will literally feed their pets to death. Dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals that are overindulged are called spoiled, and sometimes they literally are. Their health may be ruined by diabetes, obesity, heart disease, or arthritis — all due to consuming calories, either too many or the wrong kind. But at the end of the day, the tragedy is traceable to human error.
Feral rats have been getting fatter, too, which is also explainable. They have been making out like bandits, thanks to human heedlessness and ignorance. Both house pets and wild scavengers have good reason to get fat. People are quite wasteful and careless about how they dispose of their excess of anything, so, again, this phenomenon is ultimately caused by humans.
On the other hand, some humans are neither ignorant nor careless. Researchers, for instance, are very exacting, and they discovered something that kind of freaks them out. Berreby says the overall weight gain is happening among species that are not subject to pampering, namely, lab animals:
[R]ecords show those creatures gained weight over decades without any significant change in their diet or activities. Obviously, if animals are getting heavier along with us, it can’t just be that they’re eating more Snickers bars and driving to work most days. On the contrary, the trend suggests some widely shared cause, beyond the control of individuals, which is contributing to obesity across many species.
When journalist Joanna Blythman researched supposedly unhealthful foods, she admitted to regarding the “well-established, oft-repeated, endlessly recycled nuggets of nutritional correctness with a rather jaundiced eye,” and wrote some uncomplimentary words about calories:
After all, we’ve been told that counting them is the foundation for dietetic rectitude, but it’s beginning to look like a monumental waste of time.
Slowly but surely, nutrition researchers are shifting their focus to the concept of “satiety”, that is, how well certain foods satisfy our appetites. In this regard, protein and fat are emerging as the two most useful macronutrients. The penny has dropped that starving yourself on a calorie-restricted diet of crackers and crudités isn’t any answer to the obesity epidemic.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Is Fat Killing You, or is Sugar?,” NewYorker.com, 04/03/17
Source: “The Obesity Era,” GetPocket.com, 06/19/13
Source: “Why almost everything you’ve been told about unhealthy foods is wrong,” TheGuardian.com, 03/22/14
Image by Elliott Brown/CC BY-SA 2.0