Why you should stop counting calories

Counting calories will only lead you up the wrong path.

We hear of calories from health professionals. We read calories on nutritional labels and we talk about calories all day when we are trying to lose weight. But is the calorie an authentic measure of food or biological energy? It may shock you, but the answer is a resounding 'No'. 

Most people, after reading this, might take a step back and think, 'Are all those books and food labels wrong? Is the information about calorie charts irrelevant?' To answer these questions, it is important to understand what a calorie means and how its usage came into being.

Starting point
The origin of the term 'calorie' is still debated, but some authors have attributed the term to French physicist and chemist, Nicolas Clement, who spoke about it while lecturing on heat engines in Paris around 1819. At this time, the term 'calorie' was used for thermal energy.

Around 1894, JH Raymond used the term Kcal, borrowed from physics, to describe energy needs in human physiology. While the term was borrowed, its scientific basis was ignored. In the original context, calorie meant the energy required to raise the temperature of water by 1 degree. To add to the confusion, a device known as the 'bomb calorie meter' was deployed to measure the change in temperature in a food item after it had combusted. In a similar manner, the calorie chart for all foods was created. The nutritional calorie was called a kilo calorie or kilojoules.

Calorie dilemma: Counting calories is not going to solve weight issues

In this process, the biggest scientific fact was forgotten - food is not burned inside the body and metabolism is not like combustion (burning). Metabolism is an entirely different process. The reason that this calorie counting has to be given up is because in the context of an obesity epidemic, it only leads to further confusion and keeps us away from a genuine understanding of how food impacts our body.

A confusing lot
Counting calories will only lead people on the wrong path and might cause nutritional imbalances. For example, if we measure the calories in a spoon of sugar, it comes to just 15 calories. This means 10tsp of sugar will come to just 150 calories. All of us know how fat we will become if we consume 10tsp of sugar every day, even though 150 calories is a small number. Again, the calories in a large bowl of moong dal is approximately 150 calories. But we know that in life, one bowlful of moong dal doesn't lead to weight gain, whereas 10tsp of sugar certainly does.

So, what is the way forward? To fight the obesity epidemic, one must look at alternative and authentic parameters like the impact of foods after digestion. One must also conduct further studies on the metabolism of food in the body. Till a better measure is discovered, it is time we junked the calorie concept and look at just the health component of food.

From HT Brunch, April 28

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