The myths of the low calorie diet

Is calorie control an instigator of nutrition mythology? HFM’s Drew Price investigates

There’s no way to make this exciting: the Right amount of calories are key to fat loss and health. In fact, It’s about the only thing (most) nutritionists agree on. Calories are not inherently fattening, of course, they’re Simply the unit of energy in your food, but if you eat too much energy – too many calories – you will store the excess As body fat. So that’s that then? Low-calorie diets are the Best? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and there are Several problems caused by just considering calories. The first obvious one is that knowing how many you ate is Just one half of the ‘calories in vs calories out’ equation. What Good is the calorie count if you don’t know how many you used? The way round this is the standard advice to ‘reduce Intake by 200 to 500 calories per day’, which is fine until You try to count them. Calorie counting is both boring and Inaccurate.

The numbers on the side of packets are only an Approximation, and added to this is the fact that the calorie Content of foods as calculated in a lab actually differs from How many your body ends up absorbing. These ‘atwater Values’ as they’re called are worked out by burning the food And seeing what energy is released. However, the body Doesn’t work that way, and differences in gut function mean That the numbers can be as much as 25 to 30% out. Lastly, calories tell you ‘how much’ you ate, but they don’t Tell you ‘what’ you ate. Calories come mostly from proteins, fats And carbs, and each supports health and function in different Ways. They’re also processed differently when eaten. Proteins, For example, take more energy to digest and utilise than carbs, Meaning that for every 100 calories of protein that you eat you Might only get 70 calories out, but for 100 calories of carbs it’s More likely to be 90 to 95 calories. So while low-calorie diets are the most clearly supported by the available research, practically speaking There’s a lot of potential difficulties with them.

For the full feature on the ‘3 Big Lows’ (the truth about low carb, low fat and low cal) pick up your copy of Healthy For Men magazine in any Holland & Barrett store throughout the UK

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