by Paul Fassa
Health Impact News

A new study has been published questioning the validity of counting food calories as an indicator of health and obesity.

22 researchers from around the world agreed that the theory stating a “calorie is a calorie,” no matter what the food source, is not a theory backed by science.

An enduring dietary dogma has been the emphasis on calories, even to the extent of calorie counting one’s food intake and comparing the food’s caloric values as provided by tables of calorie measurements according to food types and amounts as an indicator of whether or not a food is healthy.

This theory of food nutrition lacks scientific merit, similar to the saturated fat dogma/cholesterol dogma which has been contradicted by real science. It benefits the soft drink industry, which would like everyone to believe that calories from their highly processed drinks are no different than calories from fruits and vegetables.

With most of these calorie-oriented dietary regimens, the types or qualities of food consumed don’t matter – only the number of calories.

Sugar was replaced to appease calorie counters with artificial sweeteners, and cheap, processed low-fat foods were filled with MSG. Both are neurotoxins. The pursuit of reducing calories has been a boon for the processed food industry, especially those that sell sodas, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc. 

The “calorie in calorie out” equation has contributed heavily to current epidemics of autoimmune diseases and dementia. And that’s a benefit for the pharmaceutical industry’s production of synthetic remedies for diabetes 2 and statins to lower cholesterol and more. All are contributing to the downward spiral of worsening public health.

A Highly Detailed Study That Challenges the Perception that All Calories are Alike; Metabolic Imbalances Can Be Created by Food Factors Beyond Calories

The study, actually a review of other studies to prove the fallacy of calorie counting as the way to eliminate obesity and its disease consequences, was published in the journal Obesity in March 2018 with the title Pathways and mechanisms linking dietary components to cardiometabolic disease: thinking beyond calories. (Full review text) 

Note: The term cardiometabolic refers to both cardiovascular disease and diabetes 2. Obesity is considered the precursor to both.

This review involved 22 researchers in various institutions throughout the United States, Denmark, and Germany. It was the outcome of a 2017 conference they had attended in San Francisco called “Diet and Cardiometabolic Health: Beyond Calories”, presented by The CrossFit Foundation, which also sponsored the published review with a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. 

The theme of beyond calories was to urge nutritional policymakers to open up to the fact that the evidence they rely on is insufficient and hazardous to health despite having positive effects on weight or fat loss. The standard equation of “calories in energy out” to create an energy homeostatic situation that doesn’t store energy as fat is not working.

Here are some excerpts from the study:

Objective 1: Do certain dietary components increase the risk for cardiometabolic disease by metabolic effects that are not driven solely by positive energy balance and fat gain?

After parsing several studies, the abbreviated conclusions for objective 1 are:

  • (…) More research is needed to clarify the differences among the individual SFA [saturated fatty acid] and SFA-containing foods.
  • Evidence strongly suggests that consumption of fructose-sweetened, HFCS-sweetened or sucrose-sweetened beverages increases cardiometabolic risk factors/risks compared with isocaloric amounts of starch. More research is needed comparing the metabolic effects of SSB [sugar sweetened beverage] versus sugar in solid food and refined or whole grain starch.

Objective 2: Do certain dietary patterns or components have the potential to promote fat gain via mechanisms that are in addition to their specific contribution of calories to the ‘energy in’ side of the energy balance equation?

After parsing several studies, the truncated conclusions for objective 2 are:

  • There is currently insufficient evidence that a high CHO diet affects weight gain or weight loss to a different extent than a high-fat diet. (…) More studies focused on strategies to prevent weight regain in weight-reduced subjects are needed. 
  • (…) Well-controlled and long-term RCTs in adults are warranted to assess the effects of saccharin, acesulfame K and steviol glycosides on body weight and other health outcomes. (emphasis added)
  • More studies to assess the effects of all types of NNSs [non-nutritive sweeteners] in children are needed.  
  • Continued research on: The high-sugar, high-fat palatable [processed and junk foods with unhealthy fats] Western diet could be perturbing both sides of the energy balance equation through effects on brain regions associated with reward and/or on the gut microbiome; susceptibility to weight gain may be affected by exposure to sugar and/or NSS [non sugar sweeteners] during critical periods of development from preconception to adult life.

The Influence of the Soft Drink and Sugar Industry on Official Dietary Policy

Reading through this study’s complete text can be very conflicting and confounding, because the 22 authors came from different institutions here and abroad and specialize in different medical research activities and backgrounds.

There are some biases, and some of the 374 studies they used exclude others that would be more up to date regarding saturated fats, PUFA’s (polyunsaturated fats), omega-6 and omega-3 ratio health impact, and the effects of artificial sweeteners. Also excluded was the dietary differences among organic foods and non-organic foods, GMOs, and food sources where glyphosate was used.

But Dr. Robert Lustig expressed gratitude for the one thing all 22 attendees and review authors seemed to agree on, that a calorie is not just a calorie. He endorsed the conference and study with this statement:

[Despite their varied backgrounds and the conflicting studies analyzed] … the participants did arrive at one conclusion: the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages clearly increases risk factors for chronic diseases such cardiovascular disease, and type-2 diabetes, even compared with calorically-equal amounts of starch. (Source)

The sugar industry maintained the dogma of saturated fats causing obesity and heart disease by funding research to counter studies demonstrating sugar was the source of both. 

The University of California at San Francisco uncovered documentation that exposed decades of the sugar industry’s efforts at blocking research proving sugar as the culprit for cardiometabolic diseases and using saturated fat as the scapegoat with paid research. See the section titled “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat in this Health Impact News article. 

A passionate presentation during the first phase of the “Beyond Calories” conference in San Francisco covers the current influence of the soda or soft drink industry on nutritional policies in the video below.

Laura Schmidt’s presentation starts at the 5:30 mark and goes to the 26:20 mark. Anything earlier than the 5:30 mark contains dropped audio, and after that is the whole eight-plus hour conference. 

The Fallacy of Using Government to Enforce Sugar Restrictions

Unfortunately, using government regulations to enforce sugar intake levels was the advice from apparently all who attended the conference and contributed to the review position paper quoted above, to ensure there’s political clout to do the right thing. 

A major issue presented by many others, however, is how big government is involved too much. Their involvement will never end until there’s a total nanny state that restricts our every move. We would be better off with less government invading our private lives.

Another valid objection to using government regulations to enforce sugar intake is that governmental nutritional policy is the source of our woes. Here’s an example of how easy it is for an industry to manipulate the FDA, which receives money from industries supposedly protecting us.

Aspartame is probably the most adverse health reported item among approved food substances, yet it is still GRAS, generally regarded as safe.

And the political manner in which it was approved, despite FDA scientists concerns after animal testing, is testimony to who controls government. Read more on this here. 

Soda taxes punish only consumers. If they’re ignorant of the health issues but driven by palatable pleasures and convenience to buy sodas, they’ll buy regardless of high taxes on sugar and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) drinks. 

Instead of resorting to external forces that have created most of our problems over the past few decades, it might be better to educate everyone on nutrition, from alternative media sources to the extent that the soda and processed food industries lose enough of the consumer base to offer something better.