Energy Balance

We’ve talked about this theory on a number of pages. Now let’s look at the hypothesis a little exclusively. The Energy Balance Hypothesis owes its origin to a fundamental principle of physics – The 1st Law of Thermodynamics a.k.a The Law of Conservation of Energy. This law says that energy cannot be created or destroyed but can only be transformed from one form to another. Applied to human metabolism it infers that “Eating more and exercising less, results in weight gain” or more popularly Calorie In – Calorie Out = Calorie Balance (+ve or –ve).

A calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temp of 1 gm of water by 1o C. Food calories are measured in a contraption known as a “Bomb Calorimeter” where a measured amount of the food item is incinerated and the resultant rise in the temp of the water surrounding it is taken. But, we don’t burn or incinerate food anywhere in our metabolism. As early as in 1893 Prof. Fick had shown that a human body is not a heat engine and therefore the calorie theory does not apply to it. As we move further let's remember that Carbs & Protiens contain 4 cal/gm, Fats have 9 cal/gm whereas Alcohol provides 7 cal/gm.

Now let’s see, an apple contains ~ 13 % carbs. So if it weighs 100 gms, it contains 13gms of carbs, which would mean a total of 52 cal. The apple’s journey from the tree to our mouth may take anything from a week to months if cold storage is involved. Would the time line not make a difference to the calorie content and would it remain a constant. Many experts believe that “a calorie is not a calorie”. What that means is that a calorie in physics (heat energy) is not the same calorie that we think of as contained in foods.

Dr Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco gives 4 valid reasons for this belief. (1) All fibers are not digested, but they are made up of complex-carb chains which means that they do have calories which we do not absorb. (2) Proteins contain the same number of calories as carbs, yet their conversion to glucose via gluconeogenesis itself consumes energy. (3) All fats contain 9 cal/gm but the different type of fats have differing pathways and action in the body yet they are all supposed to be equal where calories are concerned. (4) Table sugar (sucrose) contains equal amounts of the simple sugars fructose & glucose. Glucose is metabolized all over the body for energy, but fructose is metabolized only by the liver and goes exclusively to fat (TG) formation. We cannot assume that they both provide the same amount of energy.

Gary Taubes, in his bestselling book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” argues about the absurdity of the theory, thus. Based on a 2500 cal/day diet, we consume close to a million calories a year. If we exceed our daily quota by just 20 calories (less than 1% for the day), theoretically we would put on 20 lbs extra every decade. 20 cal is about ¼ th of a slice of bread. That’s impossible to regulate, and if it were true we would all be carrying much more than 100 lbs extra weight in 50 years.

The Calorie Balance Hypothesis is also not able to explain why some naturally skinny people can eat a lot of food (calories) and never gain an ounce of weight whereas most of us will add weight even while we watch our intake microscopically. Eating less, exercising more has also frustrated most of us at some point of time or the other. It has never worked & never will. The Lipophilia Hypothesis is better able to explain these observations. On a nutritionally ketogenic way of life, the calories lose their meaning and are not be counted at all. There are established cases of people losing all of their excess weight on intakes ranging from 6000 to 10000 cal/day. Go figure !!! 

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