Chang­ing counts sow con­fu­sion, re­veal the in­ex­act sci­ence of calo­rie labels

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Candice Choi

NEW YORK >> Al­monds used to have about 170 calo­ries per serv­ing. Then re­searchers said it was re­ally more like 130. A lit­tle later, they said the nuts may have even less.

Calo­rie count­ing can be a sim­ple way to help main­tain a healthy weight — don’t eat and drink more than you burn. And the calo­rie labels on food pack­ag­ing seem like an im­mutable guide to help you track what you eat.

But the shift­ing num­bers for al­monds show how the fig­ures printed on nu­tri­tion labels may not be as pre­cise as they seem.

Last month, Kind said it was low­er­ing the calo­rie counts for its snack bars, even though the in­gre­di­ents weren’t chang­ing. The com­pany cited stud­ies that in­di­cate nuts have fewer di­gestible calo­ries than pre­vi­ously be­lieved.

Con­ducted by gov­ern­ment re­searchers with fund­ing from nut pro­duc­ers, the stud­ies show the in­ex­act method of de­ter­min­ing calo­rie counts es­tab­lished more than a cen­tury ago. The widely used sys­tem says a gram of car­bo­hy­drates and a gram of pro­tein each have 4 calo­ries, while a gram of fat has around 9. Com­pa­nies can also sub­tract some calo­ries based on past es­ti­mates of how much of dif­fer­ent foods are not di­gested.

But based on anec­do­tal com­ments, re­searchers sus­pected more of the nu­tri­ents in nuts may be ex­pelled in the bath­room than pre­vi­ously es­ti­mated.

“If they’re not di­gested, then maybe the calo­rie con­tent is not cor­rect,” said David Baer, a co-au­thor of the nut stud­ies at the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, which funded the re­search along with nut pro­duc­ers like the Al­mond Board of Cal­i­for­nia.

To test the hunch, Baer and col­leagues gave 18 people meals with and with­out raw al­monds and in­structed them to re­turn daily with their urine and stool packed in dry ice. The con­tents were an­a­lyzed to cal­cu­late that a serv­ing of al­monds has about 130 di­gestible calo­ries, rather than the widely used fig­ure of 170.

A few years later, in 2016, an­other study by Baer and col­leagues also looked at the ef­fects of food pro­cess­ing. They found cook­ing and grind­ing helped break down cell walls in al­monds, free­ing more calo­ries for di­ges­tion. Roasted al­monds had slightly more di­gestible calo­ries than raw al­monds. When the nuts were ground up into al­mond but­ter, nearly all the calo­ries were di­gested.

No­tably, the sec­ond study also found raw al­monds had even fewer di­gestible calo­ries than sug­gested by the first study. Baer at­trib­uted the dis­crep­ancy to vari­a­tions in how people digest foods and nat­u­ral dif­fer­ences in al­monds them­selves.

“It’s un­likely you’re going to get the ex­act same num­ber ev­ery time you re­peat the ex­per­i­ment,” he said.

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