Everyone is counting – and no one knows why, or even what they are counting. It is rather interesting that a unit of measure that tops every ingredient label is a virtual number that has positioned itself as a standard for expressing how much food we should eat. Its origin is somewhat obscure as is the reason why we use it. The concept was first defined by French Professor Nicolas Clement in 1824 as a unit of heat. Apparently, the Calorie as a nutritional unit was brought to America by a man named Wilbur Atwater in 1887 and soon after popularized by author Lulu Hunt Peters in her bestseller, Diet and Health, with the Key to the Calories, Peters outlined 100-Calorie portions of many foodstuffs and first advocated counting Calories as a way to manage weight. The amount of food energy in a particular food can be measured by burning food in a machine, called a “bomb calorimeter,” then the amount of ash and heat indicates how much “energy” was released and therefore how much “energy” was in the food. The idea caught on, and people began counting calories – that is, calculating exactly how many calories were consumed when eating particular foods, or “burned” when engaging in different activities.
In the meantime we have been thought and have accepted as normative measure that an adult person needs about 2,500 Calories – or rather kcal (kilo-Calories) per day. The common notion is that if we reduce the Calories intake – we’ll lose weight. In our post-modern digital age, this counting method is an uncontested convenience – with only one problem: as everyone who was trying to lose weight will attest: it’s not working! Surely, as countless studies have proven, reduced caloric intake leads to longer life expectancy. But we don’t need caloric numbers, just common sense to not eat when we are not hungry.
Well, why then do we rely obsessively on Calories? Because it makes money, big money! Just consider how the Calorie is commercially exploited: low fat, no fat, low sugar, no-sugar, diet sodas, NutraSweet, Equal, Splenda, Neotame, Ace-K, Saccharin and a plethora of other products are thriving in the market on low or zero-calories pitches. However, despite the overuse and abuse – denigrating the life source food to calories has not worked, as is evident from obesity statistics. Counting calories as normative numbers is far easier than actually understanding the complex effects food has on our bodies and weight balance. Food activates many hormones in the body for various functions: some store fat; others release sugar; others help to build muscles. Studies show consistently that diets based on the same amount of calories, but different proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, result in incomparable amounts of weight loss. Nevertheless, the calories myth is exploited by the industry, and consumers continue to count numbers that never match up, rather than to reflect on how food is designed for filling the heart with joy!
Clearly, food is not calories! Yes, whatever we fill our stomachs with to preempt that nasty feeling of having to eat is quantifiable and the unit of measurement is the Calorie; but some calories make us sluggish and sleepy, and others invigorate our minds and make us energetic and creative. Some calories create a sense of fullness and bring to mind the problems we are dealing with – while others feather our heart and fill it with gratitude.
Deep down in our hearts, we know that the same given number of calories – embodied in meals – can create a wide range of different effects. We may also be aware that those meals that leave us fatigued after eating are making us sick and grumpy over time, while with the others we may enjoy sustained vitality as we find ourselves to be in a pleasant mood.
We have been led astray to believe in myths, and failed to correct the calories paradigm – why? Because calories fuel a billion dollar industry, so why abandon the hen that lays the golden eggs? When the Calories concepts were first introduced a century ago, the human knowledge base was quite different than today. It was well known that health is determined at the dinner table and that we should sit down and eat slowly, chewing the food well and eat a balanced diet. Food was not pasteurized or irradiated; it was preserved by fermentation and other natural methods. People knew what and how to eat healthy from what they learned from their parents over generations. There was no method to objectively measure the nutritional value of food, nor was there any need for it before the mass industrialization that brought us processed convenience food.
Meanwhile, despite the caloric counting obsession, we are getting sicker and fatter to the brink of bankrupting the healthcare system. Doesn’t this imply that the nutrition by calories is a futile task? So what is the delusion? When we crunch caloric numbers we are focused on highly processed food with most essential nutrients removed and synthetic substances added; natural food can do without caloric nutrition labels, as it did so since Adam and Eve. Moreover, the numbers in labeled foods are arbitrary at best, trying to comply with regulatory standards, which were politically influenced in the first place. Then we should be aware that we really don’t know much about the actual health ramification of any set of numbers, let alone the accumulation of a variety of label values. For example, if we cut out the fat because we want to lower caloric intake, we are unable to absorb the fat-soluble nutrients and to digest the food well, and instead of losing weight, we may in fact gain weight – this beside the fact that the food has lost its allure and tastes bland. In addition, we have to consider that the labels refer to what is in the package, but not what comes to the table, which could be an entirely different food, altered by cooking. Cooked food is a digestive challenge anyway, because the heat in cooking destroys the enzymes that were in that food in the natural state for the purpose of making it digestible.
When we eat raw food like salad, fruits and nuts, we digest these foods easily, but what about cooked, roasted, grilled food? Nature engineered these incredible aromas dissipating from heated food only, so that it activates the saliva, which releases digestive enzymes by chewing. In fact, chewing saturates the food with enzymes that convert starches into maltose, so digestion begins right in the mouth. Thus, scents emanating from cooking and baking are by no means a coincidence; rather, it is truly intelligent design to keep us healthy, even when we are eating less than optimally. Here is another convincing reason to avoid processed fast food that does not smell conducive to make us salivating – it is essentially an accumulation of dead calories. Eating too fast without moistening the food properly means that un-predigested food reaches the small intestine and taxes the pancreas to produce all the enzymes to turn starches into sugar.
The human species was designed to eat solid food in mouth-right portions and churn it prior to swallowing. That is how we differ from the feeding habits of sharks and snakes. It seems also that God wanted us to eat slowly and mindfully, so that our digestion can work optimally and the body can absorb all the nutrients embedded in the food, to fill our hearts with joy.
It is interesting to observe how everything from the choice of food to the presentation, the environment, and the circumstances under which we eat are all highly interdependent. The more the food is cooked to be really soft and easy to swallow, the more it is conducive to be eaten without proper chewing. Fast food is usually served in high-turnover premises, where everything is designed for rapid turnaround, so the patrons instinctively comply by eating really fast, usually taking the next bite before swallowing the first one. It follows that digestion malfunctions under such stressful circumstances, and nutrients – should there be any – cannot be derived, and consequently overweight people are a common sight at fast food establishments, kids inclusive.
Then there is the just about forgotten aspect of thoughts and emotions. Most people are not taught that they can exert healthy control over their thoughts or emotions, and are instead controlled by them. What is the link between digestion and stress? The gastrointestinal tract is a huge body of nervous tissue that lines the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon. It makes sense, then, that emotions play a huge role in digestive health. Actually, emotions affect digestion already in the mouth; the salivary glands are easily exposed to derangement, while fear and great sorrow results in a dry mouth, so that we have difficulty swallowing. Morbid processes affect the tongue, which has a profound effect on the digestion of starchy food. In turn, positive, pleasurable emotions encourage salivary digestion – and long-term health and vitality!
Why do we see TV sets in sports bars and fast food restaurants, but not in upscale dining places? Is there a connection between the rampant obesity in America and the way calories are ingested? Does the failing health of Americans and their dependency on prescription drugs have anything to do with the way meals are taken? The Japanese, who outlive the Americans by many years, generally stay healthy to old age and are of normal weight, eat meals consisting of many very small portions, where the decoration and presentation matters as much as the food itself. Even “bento’s”, packaged foods to be eaten on trains or at the office, are nicely wrapped like birthday presents. No one is counting calories. The French created the “nouvelle cuisine” in the early 1970s. It has become an immensely popular dining concept in Europe and features a wide variety of fresh food, served in many small portions, each one arranged like a piece of art. It engages all the senses, like the Japanese food, and everything about it is to fill the hearts with joy before it fills the stomachs. Counting calories is completely redundant, as the meals are spread out over a long time, giving the stomach has plenty of time to signal the brain when it is full, so that overeating is a non-issue. In America we refer to the “French paradox”, what is our inability to understand that the French can eat fatty food without getting fat, for the way they eat – not what they eat.
Could it be that diverting our attention from calories to the actual meaning of food – can help restore a healthy America?
Confusion About Calories Is Nothing New, Professor Finds., Science Daily; Nov. 20, 2006.
“IN FOODTURE WE TRUST, Nutrition for Body and Soul in Times of Troubles”; Heinz R. Gisel; Xulon Press; March 2009. ISBN 978-1607912651
“Enzymes of Human Saliva; I. The Determination, Distribution, and Origin Of Whole Saliva Enzymes”; Howard H. Chauncey, Fabian Lionetti, Richard A. Winer, And Vincent F. Lisanti; Journal of Dental Research, J Dent Res 33(3): 321-334, 1954
Related Reading: http://www.vitalityconcepts.com/