Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Calorie is a Calorie

Long time readers know that I've got a war on self-proclaimed nutritionists who use their own puritanical superstitions instead of science to give people lousy advice on what people should eat.  And I happened to notice another of those people yesterday. 

Here's an article titled 5 Ways to Limit Liquid Calories, which once again passes on the bogus claim that the calories in 100% fruit juice are magically better than the calories in soda and fruit juice cocktails; based upon the delusion that sugars that come from cane sugar and corn are "empty," as opposed to the wonderful sugars that come from other plants. 

It's as if we're to imagine that drinking fruit juice might somehow make us eat less.  But of course, they don't.  No matter how much fruit juice I drink, I'll still want to eat just as much; thus making them just as empty as the other calories I drink.

Soy Lattes to the Rescue

The writer starts by stating how those delicious Pumpkin Spice Lattes she enjoys at Starbucks have 410 calories, and recommends using soy milk instead of whole milk; which is one of the five ways of limiting calories. 

But what she fails to mention is that, even with the soy milk, this drink still has 370 calories.  That's right, her great advice of omitting the whole milk saves her a whopping 40 calories.  And she gets paid to write this garbage?  I mean, research suggests that we limit our calorie intake to 2,000 a day, yet this bozo is having us spend almost 20% of our calorie budget towards a fricking dessert drink; and imagines she's giving us good advice.

She also gives bad advice on when to consume calories, stating that it's better to drink your calories in the morning, when you can still burn them off.  Yet research has shown that it doesn't matter when you consume calories, and that having them in the morning is no different than having them at night.  That was yet another myth these people continue to push, evidence to the contrary.

Yes, I understand how skipping breakfast could slow your metabolism, but that's a far cry from telling people that it's ok to indulge in calorie-laden coffee drinks if you do it early enough.  That's superstition, not science supporting that claim.

Jamba to the Rescue

And finally, I wanted to highlight one of the commenters, who had the mistaken belief that smoothies are low calorie, as long as they're made with real fruit.
Real fruit smoothies are also great ways to limit liquid calories. As a huge fan of the restaurant chain Jamba Juice, I can say that anything from their All Fruit or Jamba Light menu is a low-calorie, great-tasting snack/meal of sorts in liquid form.

Simply put, if there are a lot of added sugars/unhealthy fats in a drink, don't drink it. But some calories in these drinks (i.e. whey protein) can be good. Just avoid any added sugars, and one can drink virtually anything without intaking too many calories.
And so I went to Jamba's website and see, lo and behold, that this person is full of dooky.  A 16-ounce all-fruit smoothie has 240 calories in it.  By contrast, a 16-ounce Coke has 194 calories.  And no, your body doesn't care where the calories came from.  And if you go for Jamba's biggest all-fruit smoothies, you're packing in over 400 calories.  I don't care what else they add to it, that's a lot of calories from a drink.

And even their "light" smoothies give you unnecessary calories, with a 16-ounce "Mango Mantra" giving you 150 calories; not much fewer than that Coke.  And some of their drinks can REALLY pack in the extra calories, including a Green Tea drink that has more calories than a Big Mac.  Sorry pal, but Jamba Juice is not your friend.

Everything in Moderation

And the biggest problem here is that too many people consider these to be ok, and fool themselves into believing that the calories don't count; as the commenter above clearly has.  And so they drink their 100% fruit juice and all-fruit smoothies, then "reward" themselves with a Spiced Pumpkin Latte; and don't even realize that they just drank half their calorie budget for the day.  And that's not to mention the bran muffins that add several hundred calories, or the Gatorade they drink after working out, which packs on more calories than they burned.

The reality of all this is that there are no tricks to losing weight, beyond moderation.  The reason people don't get fat eating fruit is because fruit simply isn't enjoyable enough to eat so much that you'll gain weight that way.  But the calories still count.  And if people enjoyed eating fruit as much as they enjoy Oreos and brownies, fruit would be bad for you, too.

Of course, even moderation should be done in moderation, and it IS a good idea to reward yourself with a few tasty calories.  Just don't confuse the rewards with the punishment, by imagining that soy milk substitutes and all-fruit smoothies count as the punishment.  They don't.  And the sooner people realize that boring foods can have more calories than fun food, the better. 


Ted McLaughlin said...

You are absolutely right. A calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from. A few months ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes. My doctor told me to lose weight and watch my blood sugar. Since then, I still eat whatever I want to eat including fast food. But I don't go over the 2000 calorie limit, and if I'm having a low calorie day I even reward myself with candy or ice cream. The result is that I've lost 50 pounds in the last seven months and controlled my blood sugar.
There is no magic food. And there is no magic diet. Just control the intake of calories, wherever they come from, and you'll be all right.
Thanks for the excellent post.

John of the Dead said...

Sorry, Doc, but a calorie isn't necessarily a calorie. If the *only* thing you're worried about is total caloric intake, then yeah, 1 = 1. But how many vitamins and minerals are in Coke? You need more than just calories to survive. How long do you think someone could live on an all-Coke diet? If I have to choose between a beverage that offers 194 calories and nothing else; versus 240 calories plus vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, iron, protein, and fiber, I'll go with the latter. There's a lot more nutritional bang for your caloric buck.

And high-fructose corn syrup *is* metabolized differently than sucrose - it's a simpler molecule so it enters the bloodstream faster, leading to sugar spikes and can be a contributor to diabetes. That's not to say that sugar is "good" for you, but if you have the choice between "bad" and "really bad," I'd say stick with just "bad."

For the most part, I agree with the rest of your assessment - the only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume, and many people don't realize just how many calories they are consuming. But I kinda think you're taking the anti-nutritionist stance a little too far. If we took your position to its logical extreme, there shouldn't be any negative health effects to a diet of Coke and cotton candy, so long as we limited the total calories to 2000 per day or so, and that's patently absurd.