Why Calorie Counts Are Wrong

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The calorie calculations you see on the back of a food label are based on a system developed in the 1800s, one that doesn’t take into account individual variables like the type of food, whether it is cooked or raw, or how it has been processed. And did you know that even the types of bacteria you have in your gut can affect how many calories you get from food?

Scientific American explains why the calorie counts we rely on might not be so reliable after all.

This video is a simplified version of an article from a food-themed issue, which explains that calorie counts are based on the average number of calories in one gram of fat, protein, and carbohydrate, but these averages don’t take into account the individual way every food is broken down in the body, or the effects of cooking and processing, which make foods easier to digest and thus higher in calories than raw or less-processed foods.

Even more interesting — and complicated! — is the role that bacteria living in our intestines play in the way we metabolize food. Certain types of bacteria may make some people more efficient at breaking down foods, which may also mean that they get more calories than those without these strains of bacteria.

Of course, all of this means that there is no way to determine calorie counts that are truly accurate for large groups of people, but it does make another argument for the benefits of eating whole, unprocessed foods.

If you find this interesting, I highly recommend buying the September issue of Scientific American for many more fascinating food-related articles:

Check it out: September 2013 issue at Scientific American

(Image: Scientific American)