26 Oct More about what you eat, and less about how much
A recent article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has highlighted the inconsistency of rising obesity rates despite focused efforts to eat less and exercise more. The paper critiques the current energy balance model (EBM) and offers a review of an alternative model that considers the underlying biological processes at play. It suggests weight gain is as much about what we eat as it is about how much.
According to the EBM, obesity is understood as an imbalance of energy. If an individual consumes more energy than expended, the surplus energy is stored as body fat. This has led to the common approach of eating less and moving more to achieve weight loss. EBM assumes all calories are metabolically alike, thus excluding the causal mechanisms of food quality, structure, or composition on processes that may impact weight gain. This simplistic approach to a complex biological system faces the risk of inaccuracies and may cause misguided obesity management practices.
The present paper reviews an alternative model: the Carbohydrate Insulin Model (CIM), against various hypotheses and advocates for the accuracy of this model over the EBM. CIM considers the source of calories, versus the calorie content exclusively. It suggests calorie-independent mechanisms are at play where the compounds in food can impact hormonal and metabolic responses. Among these factors, glycaemic load (GL) plays a significant role: hormonal responses to high glycaemic foods (easily digested, high sugar) drive an increased energy positive imbalance resulting in weight gain. A focus on the quality of the calorie sources should be considered, where consuming lower GL foods is favourable over attaining a calorie deficit.
CIM is not without criticisms of its own, as the authors identify claims by previous research challenging the validity of CIM. This has caused misinterpretations of the model, such as “Energy expenditure is not increased by low- compared with high-carbohydrate diets in some feeding studies”. The review provides explanations to these misleading statements, often due to weak evidence or trial errors.
Whether CIM offers a more accurate representation of weight management or not, this paper highlights the importance of considering the types of foods we consume and their impact on our hormones and metabolism for a more sustainable pathway toward healthier living. Taking a wider lens, it also exemplifies the need for researchers to consider multiple models to improve our understanding of complex systems, an idea that can be applied to modelling the global food system.
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