Friday, December 3, 2010

Quality vs. Calories

This situation happens to me a lot and it is beginning to drive me crazy: I go into a restaurant (generally speaking, quick service) and ask “do you have nutrition information?”. Instead of “No” I get: “All of our ingredients are organic,” or “locally sourced,” or “made without animal products,” or something else equally as irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are GREAT, but they aren’t going to help me or anyone else with our weight goals.

Let me explain: the term organic refers to food that has been grown or raised naturally and without pesticides or hormones. Organics doesn’t have anything to do with the presence of beneficial nutrients (i.e. vitamins, minerals, proteins,..etc.), or the absence of calories and/or fat. In theory, the absence of these artificial additives is thought to limit adverse health conditions, but doesn’t have anything to do with regulating body weight. 

A bit of calorie balance 101: The human body needs a certain amount of calories per day in order to maintain body weight. If that number of calories is not met the body will lose weight by using fat stores to power itself. Alternatively, if that number is exceeded the body will store the excess calories as body fat. Although the presence of pesticides/hormones may not be beneficial for the body, you can see how it does not affect calorie balance.

Let’s see this theory in action:

Article: Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds. This guy went on a purely junk food diet made up of mostly processed snack cakes and chips, but ate only 1,800 calories a day (less than his caloric needs). He was still able to lose weight and improve his cholesterol values.

Movie: My McDiet. This film chronicles a woman’s endeavors to lose weight by following a 30 day, calorie controlled diet composed of foods from McDonald’s only. And guess what? It worked.

My point here is not at all to bash organics or any sort of sustainable foods. In fact these food choices are much better for the environment, and by many theories (i.e. Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food) beneficial for the avoidance of long term adverse health effects. All I am saying is that if the goal is to reduce body weight nutrition facts are what we need to focus on.