“Death of the Calorie” … healthy diet … what does this really mean? Read on.
“Death of the Calorie” is what you read on the cover of the April/May 2019 issue of 1843 Magazine!
Totally irresistible for someone who’s interested in or works with nutrition and healthy eating, don’t you agree?
Well, truth be told, it was my husband who found the magazine in the Johannesburg Airport but he didn’t even have the time to read the ad on the back cover! Like magic, the magazine flew onto my lap and from there into my bags, ending up with me back in Lisbon…
Just as usual in this editorial group – The Economist – the article is beautifully written. It focuses on a key issue – obesity is currently a global epidemic – and lifts the veil on a few dogmas that are ingrained in the public’s mind. There are a few inflammatory details about the food industry’s behaviors and how some regulators look the other way to allow them.
Why did I decide to comment this article?
The main reason is the quality and reach of the actual text – it deserves to be mentioned and commented.
And also because there is a footnote that caused some panic in me: “the author has lost 13 kilograms thanks to what he learnt when researching this story”.
The thing is, the story is not a diet framework, nor does it give you a roadmap for change. Thus, there is a high risk of misinterpretation!
Moreover, tempting as it is to declare the calorie is dead and buried, we still kind of need it to make interesting statements as the ones we read in the article:
“about 20% of daily calorie intake feeds the brain’s activity”
“about 75% of daily calorie intake is used by the human body to fuel its vital functions”.
We don’t have a substitute for the concept of calorie and until then …
From obesity to a healthy diet and body weight
The article is centered on the personal experience of Salvador Camacho, a Mexican citizen who, at 22 years old, was exposed to serious traumatic stress: his own, life threatening, kidnapping.
The aftermath of this event was dramatic, with a long period of depression, unhealthy lifestyle and poor eating habits. Salvador became obese, so much so that he fell into a second life threatening situation, this time in the hospital with a serious heart condition.
Having made the decision to lose weight, Salvador starts a long fight against the scale. You see, the usual “restrict calories in, increase calories out” type of advice did not produce the desired results.
Poor Salvador spent years counting calories and still overweight. It was a group of peers – well informed cross fit athletes – that helped him change the way he looked at his food and enabled him to go reach a normal weight.
Motivated by his own experience, Salvador became a researcher in the nutrition field, to understand how he could help others like him to manage their weight in a healthy and sustainable way.
Numbers and other interesting data
The article mentions a few numbers that worth looking into, as well as some comments that worth careful thought.
“40% of the World’s population over 18 years old is overweight, according to the World’s Health Organization.”
“80% of dieters regain weight in the long term.”
Something is wrong … people are obese not because they want to, nor do they gain their pounds back because they are incompetent.
The article’s position is that the public is misinformed, that the healthcare professionals are not up to date on the research and that governments and other regulatory authorities are not really doing what they could to change this situation. I agree!
Salvador, our main character in this story, only regained control of his weight and his heath when he listened to a group of peers who explained what no doctor had explained before: that he had to start eating wholesome and nutritious foods!
“Come on dude, enough with the packages already, you have to eat meat, fish, fruit and vegetables!”.
How on Earth wasn’t this the FIRST line from any doctor?? I really don’t get it.
Well, this reminds me of a well known nutritionist in Portugal who managed to convince the whole population that custard tarts are a healthy option to eat every day because “they only have 200 calories each” …
Really? How about the puff pastry’s trans fats? And the sugar load?
Ok, calm down, back to the article…
Another relevant statement:
“Calorie labels are not precise.”
So, it looks like the nutritional labels on packages is also not bullet proof: there is a 20% allowed error margin (20% is quite relevant) and there are also different criteria from country to country.
So, what’s their use? … Doubts remain, but here’s a suggestion:
What I do, in practice – and keep in mind that I don’t count calories and I rarely step on a scale – is to look at nutrition tables to identify the amount of carbohydrates, and sugar in particular, in very specific foods. My rule is: don’t buy anything with more than 5% sugar.
Well, except for chocolate, of course. But there my rule is more than 70% of cacao.
I buy very few processed foods anyway. Just the above mentioned chocolate, very carefully chosen, and some yogurt…
Ok, so what can we learn about eating a healthy diet?
In my opinion, several VERY relevant things:
- Eating wholesome, non processed foods is the only path to a healthy body.
- Exercise is key to promote your health in general, even though it can have a limited role in actual weight loss.
- Different cooking methods result in different impacts on digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Eating vegetables is the foundation: Salvador and his wife found balance by scheduling 2 days a week of exclusively vegetarian food.
- You have to respect bio-individuality: each one of us has different systems, different cultures and, thus, different needs. That’s why it’s so important to learn to know ourselves better to take back control over what we’re eating.
The calorie is not really “dead”, but it’s not useful as a starting point for eating healthily nor to define a diet that will enable you to lose weight in a sustainable manner.
All diets that rely exclusively on a macronutrient allocation forget the fundamental need the human body has to get minerals and vitamins, which guarantee our physical and emotional balance.
Just a side note:
When we were in History class in high school, we learnt all about the sailors who went out to discover Brazil and India, that died of scurvy because they had only dried salted meat to eat during their journey. This disease is caused by acute lack of vitamin C.
Unfortunately, if you go online and Google it, you’ll see there have been cases of scurvy again, both in the USA and in the UK. This is the product of a diet that is totally deprived of fresh fruits and vegetables!
And, even though there are enormous contradictions amongst studies and thought leaders about what diet is best for the human body, there is only one finding that gathers consensus: a diet that has a large component of fresh fruits and vegetables is THE only way to protect ourselves from hear diseases and minimize the risk of cancer.
That’s why I always emphasize the need to ensure that a large – dare I say the largest? – portion of your diet is made of vegetables!
And the same for weight loss diets.
That’s also the reason why my recipes are very often plant-based. And, in the work I do with my clients, that is always the starting point.
In my view, the huge issue you need help with is this one:
How can you, with your super busy life, ensure you eat more vegetables?
This is really the main change you can (must) do to feel MUCH BETTER every single day!
Comment below, let me know whether you agree with this… Have you any experience with dieting and weight loss? And, if yes, did you count your calories?
Glow Chef Resources:
If you want recipe inspiration:
To read more about how I can HELP YOU change your diet once and for all:
If you want to talk to me about this, or other topics related to wellness: