Feeling a Little Peckish

Fight Club is in full training mode preparing for the next bout: “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan.  As with any good training regimen, I’ve been watching what I eat.  But the nutrition information on the food-like products I’ve been eating are of little help.  And this article by Bijal Trivedi in the New Scientist calls into question even the accuracy of the calorie stats on these products.  Trivedi gives us a little history on how calories are calculated (a dirty job as it turns out):

Calorie counts on food labels around the world are based on a system developed in the late 19th century by American chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater. Atwater calculated the energy content of various foods by burning small samples in controlled conditions and measuring the amount of energy released in the form of heat. To estimate the proportion of this raw energy that was used by the body, Atwater calculated the amount of energy lost as undigested food in faeces, and as chemical energy in the form of urea, ammonia and organic acids found in urine, and then he subtracted these figures from the total. Using this method, Atwater estimated that carbohydrates and protein provide an average of 4 kcal per gram, while fat provides 9 kcal per gram. With a few modifications, these measurements of what is known as metabolisable energy have been the currency of food ever since. 

But the human body does not incinerate food, we digest it.  And, as you would expect, different foods digest differently.  Trivedi goes on “And digestion – from chewing food to moving it through the gut and chemically breaking it down along the way – takes a different amount of energy for different foods…lowering the number of calories your body extracts from a meal by anywhere between 5 and 25 per cent depending on the food eaten…and, yet are not reflected on any food label.”

Like Rocky Balboa, when training for a fight, I like to crack a few raw eggs into my protein shake.  But, according to Trivedi, I’m only getting half the calories I would from a cooked egg.  Better to follow Pollan’s guidance and just “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Nutrition

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