I prefer to be polite, so I won't say Scientific Method and Mainstream Medicine were wrong. Instead, I'll say they were cautious, thorough, and chose to ignore a friend of mine, Common Sense, and in the process have somehow managed to baffle him.
What provokes me to such silly personification is a serious quotation by Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Children's Hospital Boston and senior author of a study that compared three diets. To Eryn Brown of Tribune Newspapers, Dr. Ludwig said this about the results of the study: "From a metabolic perspective, all calories are not alike. The quality of the calories going in affects the quantity of the calories going out."
To me, Common Sense, who's not quite as polite, said: "Duh!"
But that was before Common Sense knew some key details of the Ludwig-lead study that later came to light in an article by Salynn Boyles for WebMD.
Common Sense, you see, has known about what you might call the inequality in calories the fact that your body digest fats, carbohydrates, and protein differently well before Ludwig's study. In fact, this inequality of calories is created in part by something Scientific Method established in a research lab a long time ago, the thermogenic effect of food (TEF).
Simply stated, the TEF means that the net amount of calories absorbed by your body after digestion will always be less than the amount contained in the food because energy is lost in the digestive process. But certain types of calories are harder to process than others.
The digestion of lean protein, found in certain types of fish, certain parts of chicken, and egg whites, "wastes" 30 percent of what you ingest in order to digest the rest. Eat a 100-calorie, egg-white omelet, for instance, and your body eventually has about 70 calories with which to repair or build muscle, provide energy (albeit an inferior type), or add to the fat stores.
The digestion of complex carbs, found in vegetables, whole-grain cereals, and beans, wastes 20 percent of the total consumed cals. However, the waste when consuming simple carbs, found in processed grains, sweetened beverages, and fruit, plummets to 3 percent the same amount waste that occurs when dietary fat gets digested.
Because of the TEF, a diet high in protein and complex carbs, the type I've advocated for years, should allow you to consume more calories while maintaining a given weight.
Yet at the end of their seven-month study, Dr. Ludwig and his colleagues found the opposite.
To start, they controlled the diets of 21 overweight adults so that they lost between 10 to 15 percent of their body weight. Then, after a "weight-stabilization phase," each individual followed three different 1600-calorie-per-day diets for four weeks.
The caloric ratio of one was 20 percent protein, 20 percent fat, and 60 percent carbs; the second, 20-40-20; the third, 30-60-10. Contrary to the TEF, researchers found the first diet caused the subjects to burn 150 fewer calories when compared to the second and 300 fewer calories when compared to the third.
When Common Sense learned of this, his comment went from "Duh!" to "Huh?" His only explanation is that the study has some sort of undetected flaw (which seems unlikely since it withstood the review required for publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association) or something else is at play here a something else that seems to defy not only common sense but also previous research.
For example, a study published in the July 2010 online by The Journal of Food and Nutrition Research, found eating a cheese sandwich using white bread and processed cheese instead of multi-grain bread and cheddar cheese decreased the energy required to digest it by 50 percent.
So why share the Ludwig study when the results are contrary to the diet advice I give you?
Because, oddly enough, it proves the most important element behind that advice: a steadfast belief that not all calories are equal.
And one study, though highly reputable, is not going to sway me from a strategy that I've found successful time after time in real-life settings even when the results suggest the contrary.
The average American eating the typical American diet burns about 8 percent of all calories ingested through the TEF. But if you follow a diet very high in protein and complex carbohydrates and very low in simple carbs and fat, you can double that and create weight loss.
That means an active male who requires 2700 net calories a day to maintain his current weight and switches from the typical American diet to one very high in protein and complex carbs now has a 375-calorie-a-day deficit, which should lead to a three-pound weight loss in a month.
And that's without eating fewer calories, just changing the type.
I know that works. I've watched it happen.
As far as why Ludwig's study seems to contradict that, I'll wait to see if another study replicates his results before questioning my good friend, Common Sense.