How calorie counting makes you fat
On Feb 16 2012, there was a new item in the Daily Mail Femail section. They often do these little ‘stocking fillers’. Let’s hope that this one goes as quickly as it came because it is not going to help with the obesity epidemic.
It is, however, a great illustration of one of the many ways in which calorie counting makes us fat…
The snippet is called “Food Swaps” and recommends swapping a Pret-a-Manger Emmental cheese salad sandwich for half a crayfish & rocket sandwich (Pret have a ‘slim’ option for half a sandwich) PLUS a bag of popcorn PLUS a mango & lime dessert PLUS a bottle of carrot juice. What’s not to like getting all of that instead of one sandwich?
The problem is, as I have explained in presentations elsewhere (here and here as examples) that weight is not about calories – it’s about carbohydrates. Human fat tissue is something called triglyceride – a structure with three fats (fatty acids – whatever you want to call them) joined together on a ‘backbone’ of glycerol. Glucose provides glycerol and carbohydrates provide glucose. Hence, when we eat carbohydrates we are able to make human fat tissue – we are also able to store it because the same carbohydrates cause the release of insulin – the fat storage hormone. If we don’t eat carbohydrates, the body will break down the human fat structure to release the glycerol/glucose part for the brain and the fats will enter the blood stream to be used for energy.
In essence – only in the presence of carbohydrate can we store human fat tissue i.e. gain weight and only in the absence of carbohydrate can we break down human fat tissue i.e. lose weight.
So – the Pret-a-Manger web site very helpfully has all of these five products listed with full nutritional information. This confirms that, yes, the emmentaal sandwich has 494 calories and 9.2 grams of saturated fat, but it also has 19.8 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbohydrate. The four products combined have fewer calories and less fat (the latter is a disbenefit, not a benefit – as the UK is seriously deficient in fat soluble vitamins and therefore needs to consume more fat). However, the four products combined have 14 grams of protein and 62 grams of carbohydrate. The macro nutrients that will provide satiety and cell repair and all the functions that the body’s Basal Metabolic Rate needs are reduced (fat and protein) and the macro nutrient that will make us fat is increased (carbohydrate).
This is a classic example of the choices made by calorie counters. Because people trying to eat less than their body needs are constantly hungry and low in energy and nourishment and because they become obsessed with food, as a result of hunger and deprivation, they want to get ‘the biggest bang for the buck’. The most food for the fewest calories. This is exactly what this snippet is about – how can we get more food for fewer calories. As carbs approximate to four calories per gram and fat approximates to nine calories per gram (neither of these is accurate), calorie counters will also choose low fat options. As protein is normally fairly constant, lower fat means higher carb (in the above example, both fat and protein are reduced as carbohydrate increases).
Eating fewer calories and trying to get the most food for the limited calories that one has drives people down the route of eating more of the macro nutrient that makes them fat. Don’t follow this food swap advice – it will hurt your waistline – to say nothing of the impact on your purse of buying four Pret products as opposed to one!