We’ve already proven the following in Part II, Part III, and Part IV:
- A calorie is not a calorie when you eat it at a different time of day.
- A calorie is not a calorie when you eat it in a differently processed form.
- A calorie is not a calorie when you eat it as a wholly different food.
- A calorie is not a calorie when you eat it as protein, instead of carbohydrate or fat.
- Controlled weight-loss studies do not produce results consistent with “calorie math”.
Next, we’ve proven the following in Part V:
- Calorie counts on food eaten away from home are off by over 10%, with the lowest-calorie and most “healthy” items most likely to be underreported.
- Even when cooking at home, our estimates of portion size and calorie content, both immediate and retrospective, are wildly inaccurate: the average error exceeds 50%.
- Therefore, even if all calories were equal (and we’ve proven they’re not), the errors in estimating our true “calorie” intake exceed the changes calculated by the 3500-calorie rule (“calorie math”) by approximately two orders of magnitude.
And we’re not done yet!
Empirical Evidence: A Calorie Is Not A Calorie When You Substitute Protein For Sugar
(Hat tip to George Henderson for the next three studies. They’re fascinating, and there’s far more to discuss than the side effect of dismantling CICO and “calorie math”—but for now I’ll stick to the subject at hand.)
J Biol Chem. 2008 Mar 14;283(11):7196-205. Epub 2007 Dec 10.
cAMP-dependent signaling regulates the adipogenic effect of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Madsen L, Pedersen LM, Liaset B, Ma T, Petersen RK, van den Berg S, Pan J, Müller-Decker K, Dülsner ED, Kleemann R, Kooistra T, Døskeland SO, Kristiansen K.
“We show that n-6 PUFAs were pro-adipogenic when combined with a high carbohydrate diet, but non-adipogenic when combined with a high protein diet in mice.”
Both diets were purified lab chemicals, containing 25% corn and soybean oil by weight, and both were exactly the same, with one exception: the “high-carbohydrate” diet contained 20% casein (milk protein) and 43% sucrose (sugar) by weight, whereas the “high-protein” diet contained 54% protein and 9% sugar by weight.
Note that the mice were pair-fed by weight, not calories—so the high protein+corn oil group was eating 10% more “calories” than the high sucrose+corn oil group…and 33% more “calories” than the chow diet group. Therefore, according to the self-appointed “guardians of science”, they should have gained 33% more weight.
Meanwhile, back in reality, the high-sucrose group gained over six times as much weight as the high-protein group, despite consuming fewer “calories”…
…and the chow group gained exactly the same amount of weight as the high-protein group, despite consuming 1/3 fewer “calories”.
“The mice fed corn oil in combination with sucrose gained an average of 11.3 g of body weight and became visibly obese (Fig. 2, B and C, and Table 1). The mice fed corn oil in combination with protein gained on average less than 1.8 g of body weight during the 56 days of feeding and had small amounts of white adipose tissue (Table 2 and Fig. 2, B and C). In fact, the weight gain and amount of body fat in mice fed a high corn oil diet supplemented with protein was comparable with the body weight gain and adipose tissue mass in mice fed an energy-restricted low fat chow diet (Fig. 2, B and C, and Table 1). “
Fortunately, this study also addressed a couple common canards. The authors measured the digestibility of each diet, which didn’t vary significantly. (It was slightly larger in the high-protein group.) And apparently high-protein diets don’t cause mice to exercise, either: the study measured both energy expenditure (which was actually smaller in the high-protein group) and oxygen consumption (roughly equal).
Conclusion: A calorie is not a calorie when you substitute protein for sugar.
Empirical Evidence: A Calorie Is Not A Calorie When You Substitute Protein For Sugar (Again)
Here’s a similar experiment, again done by the Madsen group:
PLoS ONE 6(6): e21647 (2011)
Sucrose Counteracts the Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Fish Oil in Adipose Tissue and Increases Obesity Development in Mice
Tao Ma, Bjørn Liaset, Qin Hao, Rasmus Koefoed Petersen, Even Fjære, Ha Thi Ngo, Haldis Haukås Lillefosse, Stine Ringholm, Si Brask Sonne, Jonas Thue Treebak, Henriette Pilegaard, Livar Frøyland, Karsten Kristiansen, Lise Madsen
I’ll skip to the punchline. In this case, the pair-fed diets were isocaloric (contained the same number of “calories”):
Yet the fish oil+sucrose group gained about five times as much weight as the fish oil+protein group.
As a bonus, when fed ad libitum (science-ese for “food was freely available 24/7″):
Mice fed a fish oil-enriched diet in combination with sucrose had markedly higher feed efficiency and required less than 50% of the calories to achieve the same weight gain as mice fed a fish oil-enriched diet in combination with protein. (Hao 2012, referencing Ma 2011)
Conclusion: A calorie is not a calorie when you substitute protein for sugar (again).
Empirical Evidence: A Calorie Is Not A Calorie When You Change The Type Of Fat Or Substitute It For Sugar
Here’s yet another paper exploring the relationships between linoleic acid, EPA and DHA, and carbohydrate content:
Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 Oct;20(10):1984-94. doi: 10.1038/oby.2012.38. Epub 2012 Feb 15.
Dietary linoleic acid elevates endogenous 2-AG and anandamide and induces obesity.
Alvheim AR, Malde MK, Osei-Hyiaman D, Lin YH, Pawlosky RJ, Madsen L, Kristiansen K, Frøyland L, Hibbeln JR.
This time, all diets contained 20% protein by calories. “Medium-fat” diets contained 35% fat and 45% carbohydrate: “high-fat” diets contained 60% fat and 20% carbohydrate…and though this study (like the others) contains much fascinating data, I’ll skip straight to the graphs.
“Feed efficiency” is the amount of weight gained per mouse, per dietary “calorie” consumed. Note that it varies by over 30%, depending on the total fat percentage (higher fat diets were, on average, less efficient) and the proportion of linoleic acid (higher LA diets were, on average, more efficient).
Conclusion: A calorie is not a calorie when you change the type of fat, or when you substitute it for sugar.
Empirical Evidence: A Calorie Is Not A Calorie When You Substitute Protein For Sugar (Yet Again)
Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2012 May 15;302(9):E1097-112. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00524.2011. Epub 2012 Feb 14.
High-glycemic index carbohydrates abrogate the antiobesity effect of fish oil in mice.
Hao Q, Lillefosse HH, Fjaere E, Myrmel LS, Midtbø LK, Jarlsby RH, Ma T, Jia B, Petersen RK, Sonne SB, Chwalibog A, Frøyland L, Liaset B, Kristiansen
“…Increasing amounts of sucrose in the diets dose-dependently increased energy efficiency and white adipose tissue (WAT) mass.”
Again, these are isocalorically pair-fed mice:
“…An increase in insulin secretion alone was insufficient to promote obesity development because mice receiving glybenclamide in combination with proteins and fish oil did not become obese. This finding is in keeping with the observation that a high-fat diet is unable to increase adipose tissue mass in the absence of carbohydrates (47, 50).”
“Obviously, increased adipose tissue mass is related to energy intake. However, macronutrient composition can influence energy efficiency in such a way that mice consuming the same amount of calories end up with quite different amounts of adipose tissue. Thus, increasing the amount of sucrose in the feed from 13 to 43% led to approximately fivefold higher energy efficiency.”
Conclusion: A calorie is not a calorie when you substitute protein for sugar (yet again).
Empirical Evidence: A Calorie Is Not A Calorie When You Substitute Honey For Table Sugar
This one speaks for itself:
J Food Sci. 2007 Apr;72(3):S224-9.
The effect of honey compared to sucrose, mixed sugars, and a sugar-free diet on weight gain in young rats.
“Overall percentage weight gain was significantly lower in honey-fed rats than those fed sucrose or mixed sugars, despite a similar food intake.”
“Weight gains were comparable for rats fed honey and a sugar free diet although food intake was significantly higher in honey-fed rats.”
Conclusion: A calorie is not a calorie when…you know the rest.
Conclusion: Protein and Honey Beat Sucrose
In this article, we’ve demonstrated the following:
- A calorie is not a calorie when you substitute protein for sugar.
- A calorie is not a calorie when you change the type of fat, or when you substitute it for sugar.
- A calorie is not a calorie when you substitute honey for sugar.
The weight of the evidence points towards the following hypothesis: adding refined sucrose (“table sugar”) to a diet in exchange for protein, or even honey, makes it more fattening—per calorie. (There is also evidence for sucrose making a high-fat diet more fattening per calorie, but I need to do more reading first.)
This effect is in addition to the usual effect of refined sucrose causing greater food consumption…and since the experiments used purified ingredient diets, it’s not a matter of unprocessed food vs. refined sugar.
Note that I’m not going to defend this hypothesis too strongly, because these experiments involve mice and rats, not people…but it’s worth further investigation.
Continue to Part VII, “Carbohydrates Matter, At Least At The Low End.”
(Or, you can refresh your memory by going back to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, or Part V.
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Fame is often accidental.
Some people grind away for years or decades, gaining fans a few at a time through a combination of talent and relentless self-promotion in the face of continual bafflement and rejection, until the media are forced to take notice. And some people get a lucky break.
John Durant got that break. Paleo had been around for a while, including at least one best-selling book…but media people don’t like to leave New York City, so when he started a Paleo meetup group there, he instantly became its unofficial media representative. Coverage in the New York Times, the Colbert Report, and the New Yorker ensued.
Fortunately for the Paleo movement and its variants (e.g. the Primal Blueprint, the Perfect Health Diet), John is an educated and articulate spokesman who has resisted repeated attempts to pigeonhole Paleo as “the caveman diet”, while playing just enough footsie with the stereotypes to keep the media entertained—and who also manages the difficult task of rocking long hair and a beard (giving him the necessary caveman cred) without looking like a stoner, hobo, or record store clerk.
What Is The Paleo Manifesto About?
There are dozens of “how-to” Paleo books in the wild. I haven’t read all of them—but I don’t need to be told yet again that gluten and seed oils are bad, and my own explorations of human evolutionary history and the biochemistry of hunger have already gone far deeper into the science than most books intended for a general audience.
Fortunately, instead of yet another diet guide, Durant offers an overview of the entire spectrum of evolutionary discordance—including chapters on fasting, movement, and circadian rhythms. It’s not a reference book (though he provides quite a few references in the Notes and Bibliography): he provides most of the information through a combination of history, interviews, and personal anecdotes.
John himself previews the book and the intention behind it here, so I won’t rehash it. Note this important point: “The paleosphere will read the book first, but is not the primary audience.” It’s a popular book, written for the mainstream, and I’m evaluating it as such.
What Is The Paleo Manifesto?
The book opens with its strength. Part 1 (“Origins”) touches on topics from the diets of zoo gorillas, to Mosaic law, to the first balloonists to reach the upper atmosphere, in an informal, conversational style. We’re left with explicit takeaways: yes, our modern environment differs dramatically from the Paleolithic environment to which we’ve adapted over millions of years (“evolutionary discordance”), and yes, addressing that discordance is likely to improve our mental and physical health. It’s fun to read without feeling dumbed down, and contains some interesting original research.
Part 2 (“Here and Now”) covers topics as diverse as the pathogen-fighting functions of fasting, the importance of sleep and circadian rhythms, and the social function of Crossfit, as well as the standard Paleo dietary prescription. It’s solid and reasonably well-referenced, and John can turn a memorable phrase, e.g.:
- “By rejecting nutrient-dense herder diets in favor of a few stable cereal grains, the conventional advice to “eat low fat” actually means “Eat like a poor, malnourished farmer”…It’s a meal fit for a serf, sold for a princely sum to slavish Whole Foods shoppers.”
- “Encouraging modern women to eat more fat is about as easy as selling them a makeup called Ugly. Better terms for dietary fat would have been “lipids,” “triglycerides,” or “sexy”—as in, “Each spoonful of lard contains 13 grams of sexy.”
On the other hand, I believe Part 2 suffers a bit from repeated changes in tone and technique. The writing ranges from breezy and anecdotal to factual and frankly prescriptive—sometimes within the same chapter—and the contrast can be a bit jarring, especially compared to the smooth flow of Part 1.
It’s worth noting that Durant’s long discussion of the possible adaptive value of Mosaic law, and his account of a multi-day fast undertaken in a Trappist monastery, makes The Paleo Manifesto both relevant to and respectful of religious faith…a difficult balancing act for a book about human evolutionary context.
Part 3 brings the Paleolithic prescription into present time. Again, while the content is strong and John’s writing is compelling, I find the contrast between accounts of personal experience (“Hunting”) and straight-up facts and advocacy (“Gathering”) a bit jarring.
Result: The Paleo Manifesto is a well-executed pop-science book that covers many topics overlooked by typical diet references, but which has incompletely digested a Paleo reference manual like the Primal Blueprint. It’s strongest as popular science, when telling its story through interviews, anecdotes, and historical accounts. Fortunately this comprises the majority of the book, and the remainder is well-executed: I just wish it went down more easily.
Who Should Read The Paleo Manifesto?
While all current sources seem to agree on the basics, their tone, presentation, and intended audience vary dramatically. Most Paleo and Primal books appeal most strongly to those who have already decided to make a substantive change in their lives, and are looking for a clearly-marked path forward: the Perfect Health Diet primarily targets the scientifically oriented, the Primal Blueprint targets the general public (as long as they accept evolution), It Starts With Food primarily targets those with food obsessions.
In contrast, The Paleo Manifesto gives us a view from the mountaintop. We can see all the elements of Paleo life, how they fit together, and how they affect the thoughts and lives of those who commit to it. As such, I can recommend it to those who are interested in learning more about Paleo but aren’t yet ready to commit to any radical change in their own lives, who are familiar with the dietary prescription but haven’t considered other important evolutionary discordances, or whose religious faith is likely to leave them unconvinced (or offended) by long discussions of human evolution. (In other words, most of the world outside the existing Paleo community.)
And if the reader does decide to commit, The Paleo Manifesto contains enough hard information to “go Paleo” without requiring another book.
US residents can help support gnolls.org (at no cost to yourself) by buying The Paleo Manifesto, or anything else, through this link.
(Legally mandated disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free.)
First, for those who haven’t seen it already (it’s been online for about a week), the bibliography of my 2013 AHS presentation “What Is Metabolic Flexibility, and Why Is It Important?” can be found here. I’ll post the video as soon as it’s made available.
Not An AHS 2013 Recap
If I try to list everyone who contributed to my experience, I’ll no doubt forget several important people. However, I have a few observations about the AHS, and the state of the community in general:
- The Ancestral Health Symposium, the Society that created it, and the Paleo and Primal movements that help give it strength, are here to stay. The quality of the presentations, and the size of the audience, grows steadily each year.
- This is not an accident: it’s due to a great deal of hard work by the organizers and presenters. Congratulations to everyone who put in the long hours.
- Naysayers, gadflies, and grousers: the train has left the station and continues to gather steam.
- Speaking of which: just because someone eats beans, or corn, or wheat for a few months, and feels fine, doesn’t mean those of us who avoid them are disordered eaters. I wrote that article long ago: The Limitations of N=1 Self Experimentation.
- Rule of thumb: the more restrictive the diet, the more evangelistic its adherents.
- Yes, relentless calorie counting and exercise logging counts as a restrictive diet! And while I’m not going to gainsay anyone who decides they’re happier doing that (and/or performing pathological volumes of exercise) than restricting carbohydrates or doing a Whole 30, I don’t believe it creates any moral high ground to lecture from.
- I still eat like a predator. It works.
Why You Should Buy An Exercise Physiology Textbook
Next, the alert reader will notice that the first four sections of my bibliography don’t feature a forest of Pubmed citations: they reference a basic exercise physiology text.
W. Larry Kenney, Jack Wilmore, David Costill
Physiology of Sport and Exercise, 5th Edition
2011, Human Kinetics Publishing, ISBN 978-0736094092
If you wish to dig deeply into the science of nutrition and health, but lack the academic background, I recommend you find a copy and read it. Yes, it’s expensive, because it’s a college textbook…but consider the following:
- Reading a textbook written for undergraduates is far easier than trying to piece together an understanding of human metabolism from Wikipedia and Pubmed articles. The presentation and organization are worlds ahead. How much is your time worth?
- I’ve found it extremely valuable to have all the basics presented in one place. The sixteen pages of Chapter 2 alone are worth the price even if you never get any farther. (They describe bioenergetics—how our bodies store, transform, and use energy.)
- There is very little bad nutrition advice…only a few pages out of several hundred. (Caveat: much of the rest is aimed at endurance athletes looking for maximum performance in competition—not strength athletes, or normal people trying to maintain health and lose fat.)
- Most importantly, you’ll be able to quickly pinpoint and discard large quantities of speculation, woo, and nonsense. Once you’ve read a basic text like Kenney, it’ll become obvious who hasn’t…an observation which includes several bloggers with a penchant for name-checking scientists, burying their readers under an avalanche of references, and/or selling expensive books and programs.
Why am I recommending sports and exercise physiology, instead of nutrition, general physiology, or biochemistry?
- Exercise physiology stays mostly at the functional level. Thus, I believe it to be far more useful for the layman than a general physiology text like Vander’s—which starts at the level of the individual cell, and goes so deeply into the gory biochemical details that you’re unlikely to ever finish all 700 pages. Even if you manage to plow through it, that level of detail can easily obscure your understanding of real-world issues.
- Exercise physiology helps us understand how our bodies adapt to the changing demands we place on them every day.
- It’s easy to derive basic dietary principles from basic bioenergetics and functional physiology—and I find this approach far more productive than trying to wade through the swamp of bad epidemiology that comprises most modern nutrition “science”.
Summary: if you’re deeply interested in the science of nutrition and health but don’t have the academic background, I believe you can save yourself substantial time and confusion by starting with Kenney et.al. (And if you’re a cheapskate or on a tight budget, you can find the 4th edition for far less.)
Either way, if you buy it through any of the links above, you’ll support gnolls.org at no cost to you.
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