Book review: Why Calories Count

Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics (University of California Press, $29.95) is far from a diet book. Authors Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim do an outstanding job of evaluating how a simple unit of energy becomes a confusing mess in the hands of diet purveyors, food manufacturers and unrealistic consumers.

Most of us do not know how much we eat and how many calories we expend. However, the authors use science to show how most people underestimate the number of calories ingested, and how few calories are expended during exercise. Even nutritionists, the authors find, are poor judges of the aggregate number of calories in a given meal. That does not bode well for the rest of us.

The U.S. has created an “eat more” culture with super-sized portions because the U.S. food supply has grown from 3,200 in 1980 to 3,900 calories per person now. Not coincidentally, most peg the date of the beginning of the obesity epidemic at 1980.

The authors state plainly that weight loss is portion control rather than gimmicks. Calorie balancing – not low-fat or low-carbohydrate diets – dictates weight control.