Everything You Think You Know about Calories Is BUNKUM; Stop Fretting about the Christmas Blow-Out Because TV Obesity Expert Dr GilesYeo Reveals in a New Book; Cooking Veg Adds to the Calories

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), December 23, 2018 | Go to article overview

Everything You Think You Know about Calories Is BUNKUM; Stop Fretting about the Christmas Blow-Out Because TV Obesity Expert Dr GilesYeo Reveals in a New Book; Cooking Veg Adds to the Calories


Byline: Dr Giles Yeo OBESITY EXPERT AND GENETICIST

NO ONE wants to hear the word 'calorie' at Christmas. Yet the preamble to the big day - during which most of us stuff ourselves silly - is always dogged by guilt, worry and predictions of the pounds we will inevitably pile on.

Then January hits, along with our commitment to the 'new year, new me' philosophy, and we find ourselves obsessively counting calories - until February anyway.

Calories are said to tell us everything there is to know about food; healthy or unhealthy, fattening or slimming. Even the Government seems to think so, with plans announced to introduce mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus in an effort to tackle obesity.

But for us scientists, this obsession with calories is increasingly difficult to swallow.

There's no question that if you are morbidly obese - or even just carrying a few extra pounds that increase your risk of serious illnesses such as type 2 diabetes - then counting calories is crucial.

Mounting evidence suggests that drastically reducing calorie intake can even REVERSE diabetes, without the need for medicine. So low-calorie diets do have an important role to play.

But for the majority of us, religiously recording our calorie intake for a few days over the Christmas holidays is largely pointless. Why? Because what your packet of pigs in blankets says is the calorie content and the amount you absorb when you eat them can be radically different.

The discrepancy is down to a vital concept called caloric availability: how many calories the body will absorb when you eat a particular food. It's fundamental to keeping our weight under control, yet barely anyone has heard of it. It means that pack of festive mixed nuts may read 180 calories but your body may only absorb 120.

On the other hand, that delicious turkey crown, when raw, will probably pack about 160 calories for every 100g of meat, but once it's cooked this could be almost 50 per cent higher - thanks to additional calories made available after cooking.

This Christmas, I want you to stop believing everything you read on food labels and arm yourself with the real secrets to calculating calorie content. Once you have done that, tuck in!

WHY THOSE NUMBERS ON FOOD PACKAGING ARE OFTEN WRONG

SEVERAL recent studies have found manufacturers' calorie measurements could underestimate or overestimate levels by as much as a third.

Typically, food companies measure calories - a unit of energy - using a machine called a bomb calorimeter.

This involves burning food to a crisp in a sealed container, surrounded by water. As the food is burnt, the temperature of the water increases. It is this increase in temperature that determines the amount of calories in food.

In other words, a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to increase the temperature of a kilogram of water by one degree centigrade. As we all know, adult men need about 2,500 calories a day to keep the body working efficiently, and women about 2,000.

Extra calories from carbohydrates are first stored as glycogen - strings of sugar - in the liver, muscles and brain. But once those stores are full, everything else including spare fat and protein is stored as fat. This is why, if you consistently eat too many calories, body fat increases.

But the bomb calorimeter relies on every morsel of food we eat being burned to a crisp inside our bodies. Some remnants of food (and the calories they contain) inevitably escape absorption and digestion, and different foods are easier or more difficult to digest.

HOW COOKING YOUR SPROUTS for MAKES THE CALORIES SOAR

SURPRISINGLY, cooking vegetables like sprouts, cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower can significantly increase the calories you absorb. That's because plants contain a compound called cellulose. It helps cells hold their structure but is rich in calories. …

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