By: Andy Larson, MD, FACS, FASMBS
A lot of people who have been buying our Clean Cuisine book have been doing so in an effort to lose weight. However, the fact that we don’t require or encourage calorie counting (or any form of “counting” food for that matter!) is causing a bit of confusion as to whether the Clean Cuisine program can in fact work for weight loss. But the answer is yes, I assure you that if you have extra pounds to lose following Clean Cuisine will absolutely help you lose weight—and you won’t have to count a single calorie… and that’s because calories are not equal! Check out our results with “before” and “after” photos HERE. Keep in mind that these amazing results were seen after making just one major dietary change a week and with only 30-minutes, 3-days a week of exercise.
And we aren’t the only ones who are down on calorie counting…
These are words you never thought you’d hear from the president of a $2.7 billion weight-loss empire. “Calorie counting has become unhelpful,” David Kirchhoff stated on the Weight Watchers International website. “When we have a 100-calorie apple in one hand and a 100-calorie pack of cookies in the other, and we view them as being ‘the same’ because the calories are the same, it says everything that needs to be said about the limitations of just using calories in guiding food choices.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Calorie Counting Diets Are Not Based on Good Science
When calories are burned in a laboratory, they are indeed created equal, and the same amount of energy is released. In the lab, there is no difference between 500 calories of carrots and 500 calories of carrot cake. But don’t be fooled. As a weight loss surgeon who has worked with thousands of patients who battle obesity I can tell you that your body handles the calories from carrots and carrot cake very, very differently.
Carrots and carrot cake are absorbed at completely different rates and have totally different amounts of nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, carbohydrates, fat, and protein, all of which affect health, weight, oxidative stress, hunger, and metabolic rate at the cellular level. The more nutrients per calorie you eat, in this case by choosing carrots over carrot cake, the better protection you’ll have against disease and the slower you’ll age. You’ll also weigh less and be less hungry.
The Case for Nutrients
What is of utmost importance is getting enough nutrients. Contrary to what you might think, your brain—not your gut—plays the biggest role in your appetite, and your brain craves nutrients. If you starve your brain of nutrition you will experience a constant, nagging hunger that can lead you to over consume calories. And, as I see daily, even those patients who have eaten thousands of extra empty calories and consequently weigh in excess of 100 pounds more than their ideal body weights are often still always hungry because the calories they eat are nonnutritive calories. When it comes to health and weight management, there’s just no way around the fact that nutrients matter. Counting calories is a waste of time; you have to make your food count nutritionally if you want to look and feel your best and age slower.
It is important to realize foods are so much more than just a source of energy. Try eating 1,000 calories of French fries and see how energetic you feel! The secret to having tremendous energy, and something I discuss in great detail in my book, Clean Cuisine: An 8-Week Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition Program that Will Change the Way You Age, Look & Feel (Penguin, Feb 2013), is consuming the vast majority of your calories from unrefined, nutrient-dense plant foods. Plant foods flood your body with a plethora of metabolism-supporting micronutrients. In addition, the nutrients in plant foods are more bioavailable (absorbable) than the nutrients in processed foods or animal foods. The quicker nutrients are extracted from your food, the sooner the food can be eliminated, and this is a key factor in optimizing health as well as eliminating the fatigue, bloating, and other unpleasant symptoms of poor digestion. A diet with lots of easily digested and easily absorbable micronutrient-rich plant foods will speed digestion and thus help reduce toxins from settling in your colon and infiltrating your body. Raw and low-temperature cooked plant foods are especially beneficial because their high enzyme content helps your body use the energy and nutrients in the food best. While you certainly don’t need to eat all of your foods raw, it is a great idea for energy and health purposes to consciously increase your consumption of raw fruits and vegetables as well as raw nuts and seeds. And you don’t need to eat less food either. In fact, if you are eating the right kind of foods then you should actually be eating more total volume! The whole concept of “moderation” with eating shouldn’t even be a consideration.
Moderation Is Not Enough
I’m not the only one who dispels the conventional wisdom to simply eat everything in moderation and just reduce total calories without paying attention to what those calories are made of. A federally funded analysis of data collected over 20 years from more than 120,000 U.S. men and women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s found striking differences in how various foods and drinks—as well as exercise, sleep patterns, and other lifestyle choices—affect whether people gradually gain weight or not (1) This 2011 Harvard study was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and, although the study was not perfect by any means, it was a prospective investigation based on a large number of people followed over multiple 4-year periods and should absolutely make proponents of the “Calories In, Calories Out” mantra rethink their tune. After adjusting for age, baseline body mass index, and lifestyle factors such as exercise and sleep duration, the authors found that the foods most associated with adding pounds over a 4-year period were French fries, potato chips, sugary drinks, meats, sweets, and refined grains. The foods most associated with weight loss were yogurt, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The study showed some foods clearly cause people to put on more weight than others. The foods that cause the most weight gain are the ones that have the most calories with the fewest nutrients. It should be no surprise that the foods that cause the most weight loss are the ones with the most nutrients per calorie.
There are many factors involved in why all calories are not burned the same in our bodies as they are in machines that measures calorie content. It may be that calories packaged with nutrients, including antioxidants and phytonutrients, are just biochemically different from empty calories so our bodies process them differently. And when it comes to promoting health and weight loss, slurping 100 calories of soda pop as opposed to 100 calories of “whole” orange juice (whole orange segments, including the pulp, which have been processed by a blender and made into juice) offers a profound difference. I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Mozaffarian from the Harvard School of Public Health who led the study: “All foods are not equal, and just eating in moderation is not enough.”
- D. Mozaffarian, T Hao, E. B. Rimm, et al. “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Men and Women,” New England Journal of Medicine 364, no25 (2011):2392-404.