A while back, MSNBC ran a story recapping a study that was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The bottom line of the piece (via the results of the study) suggested that it makes no difference where you get your calories - protein, carbs or fat. As long as you stick to one diet, and as long as you're eating less, you'll lose weight. On the face of it, the results sound kind of logical. After all, how long have we heard that calories in/calories out is the formula to weight loss?
The study consisted of four groups of people who were put on a calorie-restricted diet. Each group ate different, but consistent, amounts of protein, carbs and fat. All lost weight (mostly body fat and some lean mass). The takeaway message: It doesn't matter what you eat, as long as you stick to one type of calorie-restricted diet, you'll lose weight.
So a study gets published about weight loss. The results of this controlled study ("controlled" being the optimal word) are then translated into something that you and I might find intriguing. Before you know it, we're back on the "diet dilemma roller coaster," counting every calorie we put in our mouth. I'm not coming down on the researchers of this study. In fact, I think co-author, Dr. George Bray, has done some really great work. The results simply become convoluted when they hit the mainstream.
What do I think?
Calories in/calories out is a common approach to dieting. I think it's horrible and has a tendency to create obsessive calorie-counting behavior that often sacrifices healthy foods for lower-calorie unhealthy foods.
Putting emphasis on how many calories eaten in a day with little or no regard for quality of food or just where those calories came from can be dangerous. Dangerous? Yes, dangerous. Drama queen aside, consider the number of people who are living with diseases that have strong lifestyle ties, including diabetes and heart disease.
I'm not suggesting we should disregard calories; they're important, but not the only thing that should direct us in how we should eat. Before you consider calories, think about quality of food. How much junk does it have in it and how was it processed?
I'll use energy bars as a case in point. Energy bars are really popular right now, with many equating to not much more than candy bars with a little cheap soy thrown in. That said, there are good energy bars and there are errr...not-so-good energy bars.
Let's put The Peanut Butter Chocolate MARK BAR up against the Peanut Butter Power Bar. Calorie for calorie, they're exactly the same with both weighing in at 240. They're also similar in the amount of protein, carbs and fat (Power Bar has a little more protein). Here is the big difference: The MARK BAR contains 7 ingredients (dairy-free chocolate, peanut butter, quinoa, oats, honey, dates and sea salt). The Peanut Butter Power Bar, on the other hand contains 15 ingredients (c2 max carbohydrate blend (organic evaporated cane juice syrup, maltodextrin, fructose, dextrose), oat bran, soy protein isolate, rice crisps (milled rice, rice bran, rosemary extract), salted peanut butter, brown rice flour, and 2% or less of: peanut flour, vegetable glycerin, salt, almond butter, nonfat milk.
The quality of the ingredients is also quite different. I'll take an energy bar with quinoa, oats and dates over one that contains soy protein isolate, maltodextrin and vegetable glycerin any day. Note: the "c2 max carbohydrate blend" consists of four different ingredients that all mean sugar.
The point of the comparison is that healthier options are available. Over the next month, I'll be compiling a list of my favorite least-processed foods. I'll post them when it's ready.