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Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics ( California Studies in Food and Culture #33)

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  254 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Calories—too few or too many—are the source of health problems affecting billions of people in today’s globalized world. Although calories are essential to human health and survival, they cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. They are also hard to understand. In Why Calories Count, Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim explain in clear and accessible language what calories are an ...more
Kindle Edition, First Edition, 304 pages
Published March 19th 2012 by University of California Press (first published March 2nd 2012)
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This is not a diet book. While it is probably considered a health book, it could easily be shelved in the political/current affairs section of any bookstore. Because what it talks about goes far beyond weight and waistlines into the very political structure of the weight-loss industry and big business.

Sure, it talks about how unhealthy most Americans are, and without a doubt the most troubling aspect is the rising obesity rates in children. But, given how many low-calorie and "diet" options are
It seems that we all talk about calories, whether it is too many or too few, but do we really know what a calorie is, how it came about and the role that it plays in each and everyone's life?

This scholarly work takes a look at this very question, attempting to cut through the hype from vested interest parties who want to promote their products and services by rallying around the humble calorie. We generally understand what happens when we consume too many or too few calories and the problems tha
I usually avoid reading about food because it usually makes me want to smear some Wonder Bread with the most hydrogenated peanut butter I can find, roll it all up into a ball, and shove it in my mouth. But this wasn't a diet book, or a lifestyle book - it was more of a history/science book (hence the "From Science to Politics" subtitle). The authors don't delve much into what to eat (a positive, in my view) except for the very obvious, I'm assuming because Nestle has another book called What to ...more
2.5 stars mainly. I skimmed through the whole book in a few hours. Bottom line, it doesn't matter what you eat, what you drink, when you eat's entirely about how many calories you consume. They brought up a recent experiment where a guy ate a twinkie every three hours and then if he was hungry in between he would eat doritos and oreos, and that was it. I can't recall the length of time he did this but it was at the most only a couple weeks and he lost 8 pounds. This was an example showin ...more
4 stars is generous, considering I had high hopes of learning a ton of new information from this book, and that was not the case. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is confused about calories and how our bodies use them. But for anyone who has taken some courses on nutrition, has a basic knowledge of the way the body functions, and especially those who've read Nestle's book: What to Eat, this would not be considered a necessary read. I was impressed with the logical approach to a topi ...more
If a fairly in-depth discussion of what a calorie is, how calorie input and output are measured, etc. sounds interesting to you, then you will most likely enjoy this book. My main takeaway was that the 'mainstream' methods of estimating caloric needs and measuring input/output (e.g., using an online food/exercise tracker) are extremely imprecise. It can definitely be helpful to ensure that you are on the right track with your nutrient intake in general, but anything more than that is difficult t ...more
The first part of this helpful book reviews what calories are, how nutritional calories are measured, the basics of how they're metabolized, and how calorie values of foods are arrived at (it's not easy!). It then moves on to the known effects of calorie deficiency (starvation or semi-starvation) and excess.

A virtue of Why Calories Count, or a deficiency if you're looking for something else, is that it's tightly focused on food calories and how they work. For example, if you want to look into ho
Linda Rusenovich
Well written and worthwhile. I'm a dietitian, and found the info accurate and a good summary of some of the science around nutrition. The political analysis was interesting. One disagreement I have with the authors is about how much influence advertising has on what people eat. Personally, I've tuned out TV except for selected shows and am no longer in the most sought-after demographic for marketers. Perhaps those people who watch more TV are more susceptible to commercial messages. I feel that ...more
Christine Garner
Really good book. Dense and takes some effort to get through as it's quite detailed (at least to a non-scientist like me) but definitely worth it. I cook for a living and focus on healthful foods, but have really never taken the time to understand how calorie assessments are made, how different types of food are metabolized by the body...and why once you've trained your body to expect a lot of calories, it will fight you if you try to lessen the amount. :) I learned a lot. Especially like the "s ...more
An interesting and fairly comprehensive overview of the history, science, and politics behind that eternal frustration of dieters everywhere, the calorie. What we know about the calorie, it turns out, isn't half so interesting as what we on't know, and why. Marion Nestle and her co-author, Malden Nesheim, explain the difficulties in measuring both inputs and outputs of calories, and then the further difficulties of both turning that into useful information and getting people to act on that usefu ...more
I hate to say this, as I love Marion Nestle, but this book was pretty dry. I didn't learn much, however the information was laid out in a clear and understanding way. The prose was just incredibly dry, and uninspired, which is surprising for an author who has greatly inspired me in the past.

Therefore I was excited to read this book by one of my favorite authors, who I expected would cut through all of the noise surrounding the science of calories and provide answers to my questions. In this asp
Back in high school, I once had to burn a Cheeto in a science lab. Since then, I think I've had a pretty good grasp of what a calorie is (which is good, since that was the purpose of the lab). Apparently, though, not everyone got to burn up snack food in school. Chatting with the husband, he was fairly clueless about calories in food and how our bodies used them, etc. So I suppose a lot of this book would be totally new information for some folks whereas the "what a calorie is" bit was just furt ...more
This is an excellent treatment of the complex subject of calories, what they are (and you thought you knew!), how they work, our attitudes toward them and how easily they fool us into eating too many of them. Nestle and Nesheim are professors of nutrition and have considered the subject of what and how we eat for decades—it shows in how thoroughly they cover this ground and with the comfort with which they do it. They are not writers by profession, so they come across sometimes as what they are: ...more
A scientific, but still easy-to-read book regarding the science of calories and - more specifically - how your body uses those calories. While not a "diet book," it still presents a very logical and compelling framework for how you should eat - in particular that, primarily, the number of calories you eat is the most critical thing - followed by what you eat.

There is quite a bit of interesting science in here that was new to me...but anyone even remotely aware of nutrition won't find any new adv
Brenda Schoen
I can't believe that I'm writing this about a science-based book but once I picked it up I couldn't put it down and finished reading it in one sitting. Yes, the general take away message is nothing new "eat less, move more" but this isn't a diet book at all. It was about the historical, scientific and political effect of the calorie and our food and weight.

I found it interesting to learn that statistically children are no less active then they were 30 years ago. This has often been my own opini
Gobs of information, written by two professors of nutritional sciences, resulting in what I call "thesis-like" reading. Not breezy or conversational, but backed up by a few lengthy and exhaustive appendices. Want to learn vocabulary words like "cholecystokinin?" Or the formula for figuring out the calories in alcoholic beverages if you know the alcohol percent? (Percent alcohol X number of ounces X 30 ml/ounce X 0.8 gram/ml X 7 calories/gram.)

Here is what I learned in a nutshell: "complex" is a
Joy Weese Moll
This is a science book that covers science the way that I most like to learn it — from history. The book begins with a definition of calorie in the first chapter, but then takes us all the way back to Ancient Greece to trace the knowledge of food energy forward from that point. The history covers two separate but related branches — how calories are counted in foods and how calorie use is measured in living bodies.

With that solid background, we’re then ready to tackle what calories do for us, the
Certainly not my typical type of book, but found it very informative and easy to read. It's filled with a lot of science, but the concepts and analysis are translated in a fashion that even I was able to understand, although not relay to others very well. In any case, I learned a lot, although I wish that there was a bit more content in the "politics of calories" section. I found the causes (agriculture politics, shareholder value movement) and consequences (foods away from home, new products, l ...more
This book is a great book for people WITHOUT a nutritional background. I read it because I had already read her book, Food Politics, and found it very well written. I did not realize that this book would basically rehash everything I learned for my degree in nutrition and dietetics. It was a good review, but it lacked the intrigue factor and I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. Again, would be a good book for the reader not so well versed in nutrition and human metabolism.
Having studied public health nutrition, I was pretty disappointed in this book. I had hoped the authors would go toe-to-toe with those dissenting energy balance as the key to thinness and fatness, proposing alternative contributors such as endocrinology, environmental toxins, etc. The book doesn't really engage in this debate, but for someone who is new to the topic, it does a great job of summarizing a lot of the key points in nutrition science, nutrition history, and public health nutrition.

Most nutrition books talk about calories at some point, but this is the first non-textbook I've read that really defines what calories are and go on in depth about them. The chapters are written in easy-to-read language that explains exactly what calories are, how they are counted, how often they are incorrectly estimated (answer: almost always), how our bodies use calories, what happens when we don't eat enough, and the politics surrounding what we in the U.S. are and are not told about the cal ...more
I really like Marion Nestle, she has a no nonsense approach and is informative without being preachy, her books are always well-researched and helpful.
I did not much like this book. It retread a lot of her previous stuff ( I know she has a co- writer) and I thought she did not really defend her argument enough. Just because she and other nutritionists could not immediately tell the amount of calories in a resaurants meal does not then mean everyone over estimates their calories.
I really believe
This book is so freaking awesome. If you have ever read a diet or nutrition book, read this one and don't bother with the others. It will answer all your questions and straighten out all the weird ideas you got in your head from so much misinformation that is ubiquitous in diet books. Michael Pollen, Joel Furhman, Dr. Oz, Joe Friel, and on and on and on....Every book I've read has several flaws. This book is PURE AWESOME FACT. Science, people! And very frank, honest science that recognizes when ...more
Why Calories Count does a nice job of sorting out a lot of the misinformation about dieting and nutrition. The book also examines the science, politics, and marketing behind that misinformation. It's not that there's anything groundbreaking here - if you've taken a nutrition course or done some research on your own, a lot of this is familiar. Nestle and Nesheim state in the introduction that this is not a diet book, and it's not. Rather than provide strict guidelines for what to eat, they offer ...more
Derek Coatney
I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in learning more about calories role in food over time. It's not a book aimed at changing your behavior, but instead it takes a variety of vantage points to discuss a ubiquitous force in our daily lives; calories. There are discussions ranging from starvation studies to policies role in food labeling. At just under 200 pages it's a brisk read considering the amount of material that the authors had to sift through and di ...more
Liz De Coster
A clear and straightforward look at food nutrition, specifically calories, though more scientifically detailed than I was expecting. The content itself was a bit of a mashup of food science, nutrition, agricultural/FDA/ATF policies and politics, and analysis of food marketing. The authors present a thorough overview, but duplicate a lot of information found in other resources (Michael Pollan, David Kessler, Nestle's other works) so I would say it's a necessary addition to the bookshelf if you've ...more
It doesnt say anything new. It talks about the calorie intake as the number one reason to explain obesity. It's an opposite approach to Gary Taubes, in Good Calories, Bad Calories, who talks about the quality of the calories and not the number. The authors consider Gary Taubes' view (carbs as primary driver behind weight gain) 'reductionist'. They support reducing sugar intake and limiting processed carbs, but Nestle stands her ground that the type of calories consumed is less important than the ...more
Marion Nestle again. This was freakin’ comprehensive. And textbook-like. With an honest, unbiased chapter on the calories in alcohol: how many are there, how are they processed by the body, can the energy from alcoholic beverages fuel the body (or are they just empty calories that turn to fat). The answer to the last is Yes, alcohol is energy and if all you consume after a long run is a beer, then it'll restore your glycogen stores (but you might develop hepatic lipidosis aka fatty liver).
It starts with a really interesting history of the creation of the Calorie and issues with calories... but then it seems the seconds half was added just to add pages as I couldn't force myself to read it and then I gave up... I checked it out of the library three times, the first time where I read most of it, the second time where I got to the boring part and the third time I ended up reading pages again and again forgetting I had read them and then just gave up and returned the book.
This would make an excellent textbook: comprehensive, factually based, with opinions only when clearly marked. There were noteworthy clips throughout, I recorded a few in my "progress" section of goodreads as I read through. I was particularly interested in the comparisons of different diets, and the primary resolution that as long as you stick with a set of dietary constraints, it should work (so people who jump from one type of meal plan to another might not have success).
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