One of the longest standing truisms of dieting is that a calorie is a calorie and the more of them we consume (and the fewer we expend), the fatter we will get. Ita€™s food texture, not calories, that matters Wea€™re consistently told the simplest and most effective way to maintain a healthy weight is to take in no more than 2,000 calories a day.
A recent, pioneering study showed that our religious counting of calories may explain why our weight-loss attempts are so often in vainThata€™s why raw food is less fatteningThere is plenty of evidence that cooking makes food easier and less time-consuming to digest by altering its structure, meaning you take on board more calories. So when a few extra daily calories can contribute to weight gain, how on earth are dieters meant to navigate the increasingly complex calorie maze? Dona€™t trust the food labelsNot only is it wrong to think calories from different foods are the same, but you shouldna€™t always trust the number of calories printed on labels, say experts.
But sticking to that figure may not be as straightforward as it seems because calories work differently in the body depending on which food they come from.Protein foods such as chicken are estimated to use ten to 20 times as much energy to digest as fats.
So while a lemon muffin and a flapjack may contain the same calories, the body uses more calories to break down the flapjack, so youa€™ve notched up fewer after eating it. The calorie tables used by manufacturers were put together more than 100 years ago by an agricultural chemist called Wilbur Olin Atwater. In recent months, several studies have thrown open the debate about calories, questioning conventional wisdom about which foods are really making us fat.


And many highly processed or sugary foods like honey seem to barely tax the digestive system at all, meaning no extra calories are needed to eat them.
He literally burned samples of food, then measured the amount of energy released from the heat they produced.
He worked out that every gram of carbohydrate and protein produced four calories, and every gram of fat produced nine. What concerns experts today is that Atwatera€™s figures are estimates based on averages that dona€™t take into account variations in food make-up, preparation and processing techniques.
In her controversial book The Obesity Epidemic, obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe reported that despite the UK National Food Survey confirming that we ended the last century eating 25 per cent fewer calories than in the Seventies, the obesity rate has increased six-fold since then.
Peanuts, pistachios and almonds seem to be less completely digested than previously thought a€” possibly because of their tough cell walls a€” a study by the U.S. So while most packaging will say a 30g handful of pistachios provides 170 calories, the reality is a more waist-friendly 160.
Ita€™s probably down to our love of fast food and microwave meals a€” which take no calories at all to digest but are proportionately high in the most a€?fatteninga€™ types of calories, sugar and fat. And when you eat a similar serving of almonds, you are likely to get just 128 calories rather than the 170 on the label.


Professor Michael Rosenbaum, of New Yorka€™s Columbia University, recently showed that the key to successful dieting could be to permanently cut 300 calories from your daily food intake. Dr Matthew Capehorn, clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, says: a€?We should view calories as a useful tool, and the 2,000-a-day figure as a general guideline, but nothing more.
These were a low-fat diet that limited fats to 20 per cent of total calories, a low carbohydrate diet based on the Atkins approach (cutting carbs to 10 per cent of total calories) and a low glycaemic index (GI) diet containing 40a€‰a€‰per cent fat, 40 per cent carbohydrate and 20 per cent protein. Their triglycerides (blood fats) rose while their a€?good cholesterola€™ levels dropped, raising the risk of heart disease. Those following the low-carbohydrate diet burned around 300 extra calories a day than those on the low-fat diet a€” but they also had raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol and other markers for heart disease and diabetes.



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