About Calories

Well, finally! Somebody answered the question "What is a calorie?" I was starting to wonder if it was just a slow day on the internet, or what...?

Got the answer right, too -- a calorie is a unit of energy, though I prefer to phrase it a "measurement of fuel." Just as we buy fuel for our cars in gallons (or, in the rest of the world, in liters) we buy fuel for our bodies in calories.

Which is interesting, when you think about food advertising, isn't it? When an ad claims that their food is "full of energy!" what they really mean is "full of calories," which just doesn't sound as good, does it? Conversely, when Nabisco or Quaker or Progresso or whoever brags about how few calories their food has, they're really bragging that they're selling "low energy food." Which again, just doesn't sound as good.

But here's why I posed the question in the first place: We've all been told and told and told that fat has more calories than anything else, right? And that's why we were supposed to eat a low fat diet to lose weight -- because by cutting out the fat we'd automatically reduce calories, tra-la. (For the moment let's ignore the fact that when Americans cut cut their fat intake their calorie intake increased.)

So here's the $60,000 question: If calories are fuel, or energy, and fat has more fuel -- more energy -- than anything else, why aren't obese people the most energetic people in the world?

Our fat deposits, or "fat depots," are the physiological equivalent of a gas tank -- they let us carry fuel around with us so that we don't have to eat every five minutes. So logically, the fatter we are, the more energy we should have. Furthermore, since we're carrying all those calories around, we shouldn't be that hungry. After all, we've got our fuel right there around the waistline.

But it doesn't work that way, does it?

The answer, of course, is that something is wrong with the fuel storage and retrieval system. The problem is high levels of insulin, triggered by the unnaturally high level of carbohydrates in our diets. Insulin is the storage hormone; so long as we have any meaningful level of insulin in our blood streams, our bodies will put most of the fuel we give it in the "tank," but simply cannot take it back out to burn.

So not only do we gain weight, because we're constantly filling the tank, but we're tired because we can't get the stored energy out of it. Worse, while our fat cells are filling up, the rest of our cells -- our muscles and organs and such -- are screaming for calories, and we get hungry.

Stop eating the carbs, and we stop triggering the insulin release. When the insulin levels drop, that's our bodies' signal to shift over to stored fuel -- to draw on what's in the tank. And our hunger diminishes because our muscles and organs don't have any way to tell calories that we just ate from calories that have been "in the tank" for twenty years. Fuel is fuel.

All of which you long-time low carbers already know. But hey, it's still January; there are newbies out there. So if you've been wondering why a low carb diet not only makes you lose weight, but also skyrockets your energy and reduces your hunger, there it is.

I'm going to go check my pot roast.

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what is a calorie

But you for got to actual give us the definition of a calorie.

When it comes down to it a calorie is the amount of energy needed to heat one Cubic Centimeter of pure water one degree C. Doesn't sound like a lot does it. But that is also not the calorie we are talking about here.

Some how the measure of food energy became a Kilocalorie, or 1000 calories, but for food we still call that a calorie.

Are we having fun yet.

Boy is all this span annoying.

More interesting stuff about (kilo)calories.....

While looking up low-carb research, I came across a reference to this review (http://www.nutritionj.com/content/3/1/9), and nearly bust a gut laughing.

Anyone recall how so many low-carb critics say that the ketogenic LC diet can't work as Dr. Atkins or Drs. Eades claim because "it violates the law of thermodynamics"? Well, the review referenced above blows that little gem right out of the water heh heh heh.

The review is titled "'A Calorie is a Calorie' Violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics", by Richard D. Feinman and Eugene J. Fein. The gist of what they wrote is this: the "calorie is a calorie" hypothesis assumes that the body expends the same amount of energy processing carbohydrates as it does protein - and this is demonstrably false. The pertinent paragraph is as follows:


Efficiency and thermogenesis

In nutrition, one component of inefficiency is measured in thermogenesis (thermic effect of feeding), or the heat generated in processing food. There is a large literature on this subject and the general conclusion, as summarized in a recent review by Jéquier [15], is that thermic effects of nutrients is approximately 2–3% for lipids, 6–8% for carbohydrates, and 25–30% for proteins. It is interesting that this data itself might be enough to explain metabolic advantage. Here we took the average of Jéquier's values (2.5, 7 and 27.5% for fat, CHO and protein) and calculated the effective energy yield for a 2000 kcal diet. If we assume a diet composition of CHO:fat:protein of 55:30:15, within the range of commonly recommended diets, the calculated effective yield is 1848 kcal. We now consider the effect of reducing carbohydrate progressively and substituting the calories removed equally between fat and protein. Figure 2 shows that the wasted calories due to thermogenesis increase as carbohydrate is reduced and reach 100 kcal at 21% carbohydrate. This value of 100 kcal is recommended by several professionals as the goal for daily weight reduction (e.g. [16]). Notably, at 8% CHO, the value for the early phase of the Atkins [17], South Beach [18] or Protein Power diets [19], 140 kcalories are lost as heat. Now, there will be metabolic accommodations and one can't predict that the ratios will stay the same over a long term diet, but the calculations show that the possibility of metabolic advantage should not come as a surprise.

[my comment: IMO, this translates as "you iggnerant jerks shoulda known better", LOL]


There you have it - the scientific basis for *predicting* the superiority of a LC diet for the purpose of weight loss ;-D

Sorry about that

Spam is now gone, but it looks like I get to check for it every day now. The referrer spammers seem to have found us. There's a special circle of hell...

Knut posts and Noodle Site

The posts by "Knut" are spam... Grrrr! I am sure Dana will be along to get rid of them.

That noodle site looks very promising! I will be interested to hear Dana's take on it as well, because I would love to order!


Thanks Dana really enjoying

Thanks Dana really enjoying your Blog . I loved this article on calories . Cindy

noodles that sound too good to be true

Hi Dana...just wondering if you ever heard of Shiratake noodles. I don't remember you ever posting anything about them. They are supposed to be the no carb..no calorie answer to pasta. (Sounds a little too good to be true so I am suspicious and hoping you've been the guinea pig before I try them!) I bookmarked a site some time ago but have never ordered them--actually I forgot about them until I was cleaning out my favorites list. Anyway, have you ever tried them? The link is:
http://www.miraclenoodle.com/index-1.html. (PS. I am NOT fishing business for them...I'd just like your thoughts and hopefully a review). Thanks!


I discovered shirataki at a Japanese market a few years ago, and I love them! I don't know if the ones in the link you posted are the ones I bought, but I bought the spaghetti-shaped ones in a clear package with red and black writing on it, that said very brightly, "Shirataki".

Here's what I have to say:

~ They're made from tofu, so of course use them sparingly if soy consumption makes you nervous.

~ They are very slippery, and won't work with any sort of non-Asian sauce. I make them with the usual toasted sesame oil, red pepper flakes, soy sauce and maybe a dash of sherry, serving them aside an Asian-themed meat and green vegetable or just eating them as a noodle bowl when I'm in a hurry (they cook up very quickly).

~ I tried stir-frying them once (par-boiled) with broccoli and a little bit of oyster sauce (not the lowest in carbs, but I found a recipe in a low-carb cookbook that was decent) and they came out lovely.

So, in short, they help curb my Asian noodle cravings, but they are no substitute for pasta. Shirataki aren't so much a "low-carb" thing, but a Japanese thing that happens to be low in carbs. If I recall correctly, they are traditionally made from seaweed... those are probably pretty tasty, too. ^_^

shirataki noodles (again)

The noodle site I have says these are not the soy shiratake noodles you spoke of, but something made from glucomannan and are free from wheat, gluten and have no calories, no net carbs and come in different types of 'pasta' shapes. It also claims to "absorb the flavor of ANY soup, dish or sauce." so I'm assuming that means more than just the Asian sauces. Pure fiber they say. First I think I'll go to a health food store and see if I can find these locally and if not then I'm going to order them online and give you a report. I hope I can find them locally because the website price seems a bit high.

heroin wings

Oh my goodness! Girlfriend you named them right! I made a small batch as I'm planning on taking them to a superbowl party, and oh my! Hubby & I went through a pound of them like there will be no tomorrow! I'm totally hooked. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!
Hugs & kisses,

Life is NOT a dress rehearsal, enjoy it!


Hello- I am new here but have read your blog over the years. Sorry to hear about your rough year- best of luck to you. I am happy to hear about your new cookbook - I read Dr. Thompson's book a couple years ago.
I had some success on South Beach Diet but have gained most of that back... frustrating. The more I read the more confused I seem to get. I told my new internist that I feel like I need to lose some weight and that I would like to get off the statin I am on- he said everyone gains as we get older, don't worry about and eat a mediterranean diet, not much help.
Do you have an opinion on South Beach? I have to admit the whole saturated fat issue scares me... not sure what to beleive.
Also, with all the meat recommendations do you use grass fed meat and organic? I have read where that is better but costly - but I see people buying meat at Walmart and I wonder how good is that for me? Again, confusion.
Thanks for any help or book recommendations you can send my way. I am at a loss and I think I have confused myself into a corner.

Grass fed products

To answer this poster's question, I recently read the book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver (a highly informative and entertaining read - I recommend it) and yes, grass fed meat/poultry/eggs/milk has a better nutritional profile than CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) products.



Of course, how grassfed livestock are treated as opposed to feedlot livestock is a whole 'nother issue, as are their effects on the environment.

Poultry, eggs, cheese and to a lesser extent, pork and beef make up the bulk of my diet now, but grassfed versions of those things are more expensive, not to mention hard to find in some areas. I'm lucky that I can usually afford them, but I know many people cannot. I hope that one day humanely raised, better-for-you meat/eggs/dairy will be more affordable and accessible.


Hi Dana,

Just wanted to say thank you - I have several of your cookbooks and another one on order, and pretty much everything I make from them is delicious (I've been low-carbing for 6 years, and have maintained a 90lb weight loss). Recently made a cabbage dish - so easy, and yum. Couple of days ago I made peanut butter cookies and hermits for the superbowl - again, delicious.

I have one question - if I want to keep recipes dairy free, can I replace vanilla whey protein powder with rice protein powder? Will that change the taste of a recipe? Should I add more sweetener/vanilla etc? Is there something else I should add *with* the protein powder to make it imitate the whey protein powder?