Calories Don’t Count for This Guy

I’m not always proud of my Congressional Representative, but I will say that, at age 70, Emanuel Cleaver looks pretty fit and healthy. On that count, I wouldn’t be quite so thrilled with having Rep. John Shimkus voting on my behalf in Washington. Why? Let me explain.

301_5-calorie-counting-myths_flashIn a recent hearing regarding a bill that would require multi-site restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, Rep. Shimkus uttered these words for the ages.

“I don’t think I’ve ever looked for calorie numbers on anything I’ve consumed. And I betcha I’m in the majority of Americans,” Shimkus said. “This is the perfect example of nanny state, of a national government telling individual citizens and saying what is best for them.”

Take a look at the Congressman’s photo and you might be inclined to join me in saying, “Maybe you should!” But really that’s not fair. Shimkus looks, in some pictures, as if he’s carrying some extra pounds, but in others seems to be in reasonable shape. And in the final analysis, whether Shimkus is a porker or a rail should be irrelevant to whether this proposed bill is a good or bad idea.

While a bill that requires Hardee’s to post the calorie count of their Monster Burgers might be a nuisance, it is not nearly as intrusive (nor as silly) as the big-soda ban in New York. If seeing those numbers on a menu help me to make smarter choices or to persuade me to step away from the triple cheeseburger, then they’re worth the tiny bit of effort that the chains exert in coming up with them.

On the other hand, such signs won’t fit all situations. Think of the number of different combinations a person can have in a Chipotle lunch. Is a sign reading, “Calorie Count: 300-1300” really going to be the game-changer in fighting obesity?

Give me information, please, Rep. Shimkus. You won’t have to read the signs, but they’ll give me some power. Such power is good, but it doesn’t free me from the responsibility of having a bit of knowledge.


(Mis)Counting Calories

Whole Grain BreadsI knew that the whole MyFitnessPal calories in vs. calories out thing was too simple to be right. Just when I credited my 53-pound weight loss to paying attention to my net calorie intake, I find out that I’ve gotten it all wrong. It seems that there’s a “degree of difficulty.”

Scientists have long measured calorie content by burning a carefully measured portion of the food in a special device, a calorimeter. As it turns out, your body doesn’t use fire to break down food, and the system it does use produces different reality from what the calorimeter would suggest. According to an article in The New York Times:

The system is most accurate when the foods are easily digested and all of their energy is made available to the body — as they are when consuming highly processed carbohydrates. But in the past few decades, scientists have begun to understand that a substantial number of calories are lost in the effort to digest food. For example, meat and nuts are harder to break down, and so the body expends energy trying to digest them.

This is yet another great reason to eat more whole foods and fewer processed gunk. Since the processed stuff–say white bread vs. whole grain bread–requires more effort for your body to digest, two servings of bread with the same supposed calorie content will have a different impact on your body.