Calorie Theory Deeply Flawed

by Nora on August 15, 2011

It is a testament to the dark age we live in that the calorie system is regarded as the best measuring system we have for figuring the fuel value of foods. If any other measuring device of use in modern civilization was as flawed, inaccurate and unreliable as the calorie system, we wouldn’t be able to quantify anything. Imagine stepping on your scale in the morning and reading “sorry, I don’t know your weight, but other people like you weigh 180 pounds”. That’s about how scientific the calorie theory is.

The calorie system  is particularly irrelevant and useless to people attempting to improve their health by increasing the quality of foods they eat.  The true fuel value of any natural unprocessed food is dependent on its type (appropriateness), quality, freshness and ripeness. Do we really get the same fuel value from the unripe, hot-house-grown, over-refrigerated tomatoes we eat in January as we get from the sweet, ripe, delicious tomatoes we grow in our backyards in summer and eat right off the vine?  The calorie system unequivocally says “yes”.

Most people do not realize that the way calories are quantified is by simple burning in a lab device called a calorie or “Parr” bomb.  It was designed to measure the amount of heat any given substance generates when it is lit on fire.  This is fine for calculating how much wood it would take to heat a room, but it has absolutely no relevance to the bodily process that converts food to fuel. Although we say our bodies “burn” fuel, in truth we don’t light a match to our food or anything remotely similar.  Before the food we eat can become fuel, it must be digested, absorbed, assimilated and metabolized.  Unless all 4 of these things happen efficiently, food will not produce heat or energy.  Food that goes out as waste generates nothing.  Regardless of how it is measured, food only represents POTENTIAL energy for the body.  Extracting that potential is the job of the body, and how it does that will depend on its overall condition.

That’s why the calorie theory’s biggest, most glaring flaw is the variance which exists in efficiency between individuals. Long term raw fooders know better than anyone else how much efficiency is increased when the human body is clean and healthy. When all other factors are equal, 500 calories consumed by a healthy raw fooder will deliver vastly more energy than that same number eaten by the average cooked food eater. And likewise, a long-term, simple-eating raw fooder will more efficiently use fuel than a new raw fooder. Over years of transition and dietary improvement, fuel needs gradually and continually decrease, and, despite popular misconception, this is largely independent of the level of physical activity a person engages in.

Raw fooders counting calories as a way of determining how much to eat are allowing a fatally flawed system to override the much more reliable and truthful information they would otherwise be getting from their bodies.   A raw fooder eating more than he needs or necessarily wants to because a calorie chart (or book, website, raw food guru, etc.) told him to will never be able to heed the conflicting signals he gets from his body, including those particularly important ones that come later in transition that convey unmistakeably that LESS food is needed.  And if a person needing to eat a given amount of food in order to stay satisfied in transition but finds that he’s eating excessively according to some arbitrary calorie-based standard, he may begin to eat less out of guilt or fear, which may lead to backsliding because he will not be satisfied.  Staying satisfied is job #1 of transitioning raw fooders, because of the psychological, and to some extent physiological, damage than can result.

It is especially important for raw fooders who are attempting to lose weight to eschew the calorie system.  Carrying excess reserves is not about consuming too many calories, it’s about toxicosis.  It is not the amount of calories a food contains that determines how much waste and toxemia will  be produced in the body.  Rather, the food’s quality and appropriateness (or lack thereof), among other factors, determines that.  Instead of counting calories, people wanting to lose weight should focus on eating all that they want of appropriate, healthful foods — regardless of calorie content — and always with the goal of GRADUALLY decreasing those which are less optimal (more difficult to digest) in favor of easily digested foods (fruit, primarily).  Calorie counting may cause a person to stop eating avocados, for example, once s/he realizes how many calories they contain.  But a person can still lose weight eating avocados, and in fact may make much more progress keeping avos in the diet, because this may be what it takes for the person to stay off the extremely harmful foods s/he might otherwise consume.

New raw fooders often feel a sense of security from using the calorie system, and think that using it is the most cautious and conservative way to proceed.  In reality, however, calorie counting is a form of mental slavery that needs to be relegated to the cooked food world we’ve all left behind.  The calorie system, as it applied to human nutrition, is not grounded in science.  Science is what is used to build bridges and airplanes. Conclusions that are derived from real science are predictable and unchanging; that’s why we can still be driving over bridges that were built 50 years ago and we can know that they’ll still be safe to cross 50 years from now. Can you imagine building a bridge on anything resembling the calorie system? Even if the difference between reality and published values was only 5%, we’d still end up in the river. And the difference between reality (which takes relevant variables into account), and calorie charts (which do not), is a great deal more than 5%, I hazard to say. There’s no room for similarity or inaccuracy in real science. Either it’s accurate and reliable or it’s not science.

Below is a short compilation of comments I gathered from various unnamed sources which reveal some of the flaws in the fundamental premises of the calorie system.  The criticisms are valid, but even these don’t go far enough because they are written by conventional thinkers, who aren’t fully aware of the main problem with the calorie theory — the difference in efficiency between individuals.  Nevertheless just these issues alone justify tossing out this unscientific system once and for all.  Apologies for the lack of attribution; I gathered these comments a few years ago and haven’t had time to retrace my steps to find out where they came from.

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There are two basic flaws in using caloric values to determine the amounts of food we should eat:

1. The more obvious flaw in the argument is that our bodies do not burn foods in the same way that they are burned in a bomb calorimeter. If they did, we would glow in the dark. Our digestive process is quite inefficient. The chemical process whereby blood sugar is oxidized to provide energy produces carbon dioxide. About half is exhaled as carbon dioxide; the other half is excreted in sweat, urine and faeces as energy-containing molecules, the energy values of which must be deducted from the original food intake. All of these vary. For example, eating a lot of fat forms ketones, which can be found in urine. The value of a gram of ketones derived from fat is roughly four calories. So, in this case, nearly half the energy from the fat is lost.

2. The second and more important flaw in the argument is that the body does not use all its food to provide energy. The primary function of dietary proteins, for example, is body cell manufacture and repair: making skin, blood, hair and finger- and toe-nails, etc. The amount of protein needed for this purpose is generally accepted to be about one gram per kilogram of lean body weight. As meats contain approximately 23 grams of protein per 100 grams, a person weighing, say, 70 kg (11 stone) needs to eat about 300 g (11 oz) of meat, or its equivalent, every day just to supply his basic protein needs. Even eating this volume of lean chicken would provide some 465 calories. These calories are not used to supply energy; they contribute nothing to the body’s calorie needs and so must be deducted if you are counting calories.

Much of the fat we eat is also used to provide materials used by the body in processes other than the production of energy: the manufacture of bile acids and hormones, the essential fatty acids for the brain and nervous system, and so on. All these must be deducted as well. Thus trying to determine, from food intake and energy expenditure alone, how much excess energy your body will store as fat will give a completely wrong answer. However, these other factors cannot be measured. Therefore, calorie-counting, which is the foundation of practically every modern slimming diet, is a complete waste of time.

And there is one more flaw: We are told by the ‘experts’ that ‘a calorie is a calorie’. What they mean is that it is impossible for two diets containing exactly the same number of calories to lead to different weight losses. Yet, over the last century a spate of dietary studies has shown that, calorie for calorie, low-carbohydrate diets are much better at reducing weight than the traditional low-fat diets. ‘Experts’ have heavily criticized these studies saying that the data could not be right because that would violate the laws of thermodynamics. But they don’t. It is important to realize that there is more than one law of thermodynamics. The narrow view that ‘a calorie is a calorie’ might comply with the First Law, but it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The point is that there is no doubt that low-carb, high-fat diets do have a metabolic advantage when it comes to weight loss, whatever the ‘experts’ say.[2] And this metabolic advantage complies fully with the second Law of Thermodynamics — and, incidentally, the First Law as well.

The First Law, as mentioned above, is a conservation law. The Second Law is a dissipation law; it is this Second Law which governs the chemical reactions in our bodies.

Let me use an analogy. The energy in the petrol that fuels your car makes the car go along, but it also produces heat through friction and noise, which we really don’t need. The Second Law is all about efficiency — how much of the energy we put in does useful work and how much is wasted. Thus, although all of the energy in the petrol is accounted for and complies with the First Law, the actual moving of the car, if the waste products (heat and noise) are removed from the equation, does not. The Second Law was developed in this context. And it applies equally when we look at the efficiency of our bodies and how different foods affect our bodies. The Second Law says that no machine is completely efficient: Some of the available energy is lost as heat or in the internal rearrangement of chemical compounds and other changes. And as different foods use different metabolic pathways, with different levels of efficiency, variations in efficiency must be expected. For this reason, the dogma that a ‘calorie is a calorie’ violates the second law of thermodynamics as a matter of principle.

It is the differences in chemical changes within our bodies that make low-carb diets better than low-fat, calorie-controlled ones easier to lose weight on. What the diet dictocrats fail to take into consideration when considering the laws of thermodynamics are the energy losses incurred in the different chemical changes within our bodies. When these are taken into consideration, neither law of thermodynamics is violated.

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The calorie theory says that weight management in humans is a simple matter of calories-consumed vs calories-expended. It is suggested that this is a matter of the second Law of Thermodynamics which states essentially that energy is conserved in a closed system, in other words, all calories have to be accounted for, none is *created* and none is *lost*.

The flaws in this theory:

1) The human body is not a closed system. Duh!

2) The theory assumes that *all* food that is consumed is broken down *completely* into energy, in its *entirety*, in *all* circumstances, at *all* times. This is an incredibly absurd assumption.

This theory ignores the fact that each of the three macro-nutrients, fats, proteins and carbohydrates, are metabolized differently and used to various degrees for tissue rebuilding and energy needs in different ways at different times depending of the state of the body.

Each nutrient breaks down differently and each nutrient affects various hormones and in turn may affect how the body uses the nutrients in various states of hunger or satiety. The amount and
quality of the food itself changes the metabolism on an on-going minute by minute basis.

The second Law of Thermodynamics does not apply to weight management in humans.

I challenge anyone to provide us with the name(s) of the researcher(s) or scientist(s) who showed beyond a doubt that the 2nd Law of Thermo applies to the human body and give us the names of the study or study that first proved it.

This is the very foundation of our nutritional beliefs. Something as fundamental and as crucial as this is to the nutritional sciences should be well documented and easy to find.

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First, a calorie is nothing more, or less, that a unit of energy, just as the BTU, erg, foot-pound, joule, horsepower-hour, watt-hour, electron-volt, or Newton-meter are.  The term “calorie”, as uniformly misused in the bizarre pseudoscience of orthodox nutrition, is really the kilocalorie: the amount of heat required to raise a kilogram of water one degree Centigrade.  The way the ‘calorie content’ of a substance is determined is to burn one gram of it to completion in high-pressure, pure oxygen in a

How does this relate to human nutrition?  It really does not, because we do NOT “burn” our eaten food to completion, as always occurs in the Parr bomb.  Here, “burning to completion” means that all the carbon is burned completely to carbon dioxide, and all the hydrogen is burned completely to water; clearly this does not happen in human digestion!  In fact, since all proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are NOT used for energy, and are indeed used for other quite different purposes than producing energy, the abstract “calorie content” of “foods” and nutrients is absolutely irrelevant and meaningless.  Worse, thinking that one calorie-equivalent of protein, one calorie-equivalent of fat, or one calorie-equivalent of carbohydrate are in any way similar or identical, as seen by our digestive biochemistry, is simply absurd.  Would a ‘calorie’ of DDT, gasoline, wood, alcohol, diamond, feces, iron, or an old shoe, be somehow ‘equivalent’ to a calorie of protein, fat, or cho?  Obviously not.  Further, since a calorie is a unit of energy, it can NOT be “burned” as is foolishly claimed in the currently popular nutribabble about “burning calories”!.  What would you get?  Calorie oxide?

Calories are a useful concept in thermodynamics and physics, but they are totally irrelevant to human nutrition or diet.  It makes as much sense to try to classify and/or quantify “foods” by their density, color, refractive index, shape, electrical conductivity, pH, heat capacity, tensile strength, compressive modulus, sheer modulus, melting point, boiling point, thermal conductivity, dielectric constant, absorption spectra, dipole moment, optical rotation, solubility, surface tension, thermal expansion, vapor pressure, viscosity, reaction kinetics, or any other -totally irrelevant- physical property as their “calorie content”.

 

 

{ 2 comments }

Jill October 13, 2011 at 7:10 am

I’m thrilled to have found this website! I thought it was just me who distrusts calories in relation to digestion. I’m no scientist so it’s wonderful to read this confirmation.

Nora October 22, 2011 at 8:12 am

Hi Jill,
Thanks for your comment. One of the many problems with medicine and nutritional “science” is that they get so mired in microanalysis that they completely lose sight of the big picture. What this means is that these pursuits are not scientific at all, and that NOT being “scientists” works in our favor when it comes to discovering the truth about matters related to health and nutrition. Being a scientist of medicine or nutrition just means that a person has been thoroughly indoctrinated in a belief system. If you haven’t read TC Fry’s essay on the topic of belief (here on the RawSchool site), I heartily recommend it so that you’ll understand the important difference between belief and knowledge, and that the former is not only no substitute for the latter, it is a means by which we become enslaved by false ideas. Determining which of a person’s long-held ideas are belief and which are valid is the first task of any genuine truth seeker, and the second is discarding beliefs. Many in the raw food world who promote the use of the calorie system, among other flawed institutions, have not done this.
Nora

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