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 and how they work, both biologically and politically. As they take readers through the issues that are fundamental to our understanding of diet and food, weight gain, loss, and obesity, Nestle and Nesheim sort through a great deal of the misinformation put forth by food manufacturers and diet program promoters. They elucidate the political stakes and show how federal and corporate policies have come together to create an “eat more” environment. Finally, having armed readers with the necessary information to interpret food labels, evaluate diet claims, and understand evidence as presented in popular media, the authors offer some candid advice: Get organized. Eat less. Eat better. Move more. Get political.
Why Calories Count From Science to Politics
About the Book
“Obesity has gone global — as has misinformation about nutrition and food. Nutrition scientists Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim unscramble the confusion with a serving of science. They reveal how calories — those potent but ill-understood measures of heat energy — are really counted, why we need them, how we use them, how many we actually need and why it all sometimes goes so wrong. From 'secret' calories to food politics, malnourishment and calorie restriction for health, this is a feast for the mind.”—Nature
“A diner’s elemental guide to eating. . . . Why Calories Count weaves scientific and social tales into a rich portrait of the American diet and the laws that have shaped it. . . . Sounds like the most succinct diet book ever written.”—The Scientist
“Along with offering a fascinating history, they show how an understanding of calorie needs saved lives in the global fight against hunger - and can save more from obesity.”—Emily Kaiser Thelin The Wall Street Journal
“People should read this book. They should read it if they are obsessive weight-watchers or serial dieters, or just concerned about what their children eat. They should read it if they work in public health, the food industry, catering, or education.”—Times Higher Education
“If the ‘dummy’ catch-phrase wasn't already such a going enterprise, the new book from Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim might easily have been called ‘Calories for Dummies.’ As it is, their ‘Why Calories Count’ takes the science of calories and breaks it down for the rest of us.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“This book will help dispel many of the commonly held myths we have about eating. An informative and interesting read for those who want to know the science behind calories, food and weight.”—Huffington Post Books
“Both you and your students should read this book. . . . There is great breadth and the style is stimulating and provocative.”—Amer Journal Clinical Nutrition
“Nestle and Nesheim are eminent scientists and excellent communicators. . . . What clearly differentiates this book from all others of its kind is the additional admonition for everyone to help ‘politicize’ calories, thereby making all people winners in the war against the obesity epidemic and its debilitating afflictions.”—Choice
“Dr. Marion Nestle and Dr. Malden Nesheim’s Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, is not a diet book selling you on the newest trend nor does it encourage you to count calories. Instead it does the seemingly impossible: it takes calories from the abstract to the concrete. Nestle and Nesheim explain the significance of the calorie not only in understandable scientific terms, but also in social terms with the explicit aim of helping their reader navigate the convoluted world of food labels and diet fads.”—Civil Eats
“Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics 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.”—Ft. Worth Star Telegram
“Meticulous scholarship and a rare ability to make complicated biological processes understandable to nonscientists. . . . A plate of fresh insights into the expanding American waistline, and policy’s proper role in shrinking it.”—Health Affairs
“An encouraging and fascinating story about the mighty yet invisible calorie. . . . Particularly helpful is the section on various fad dieting strategies. And particularly encouraging is the flexible, understanding tone throughout the book. Nestle and Nesheim love to eat, and want you to enjoy the pleasures of good food too. . . . If you feel overwhelmed by conflicting diet claims or just want to be a better grocery shopper, Why Calories Count is for you.”—Linda Watson, Founder, Cook For Good Huffington Post/Healthy Living
“I like that Nestle empowers readers to understand larger social forces behind the food they’re eating, and then get right in and try to change them.”—Hyphen
“A strong, rigorous overview of the calorie, its regulation and the politics behind food labeling and marketing.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Neither a diet nor a weight-loss book, this scholarly, seriously researched work assists readers in evaluating diet claims, formulating strategies to lose, gain, or maintain weight, and learning how to make healthy food choices. Nestle and Nesheim focus on the history of the calorie and its relationship to body weight, the science behind metabolism, how to estimate calories in a given portion, and—what will probably be of most interest to the general reader—the role of big business in creating calorie-laden food and why it's less politically controversial to recommend exercising than cutting back on calories.”—Library Journal
1. Start — as many of those involved in the food movement did — with Marion Nestle, the nutrition and policy guru and an all-around heroine. (Her daily blog, Food Politics, is always worth a look.) Put simply: eat per Marion’s advice and you’ll be eating better. (You’ll probably live longer, too, but as Marion might say, ‘the studies are incomplete.’)”—Mark Bittman New York Times
“With its careful research, lighthearted tone, and eye-opening research, this book certainly lived up to my expectations.”—Serious Eats
“In their new book, Ms. Nestle and Malden Nesheim, both esteemed nutritionists, argue for the importance of calories. Along with offering a fascinating history, they show how an understanding of calorie needs saved lives in the global fight against hunger—and can save more from obesity.”—Wall Street Journal/Bookshelf
“Presents an interesting series of opinions and overviews that are deserving of a wider audience.”—yum.fi
"Whether you're interested in the twin public health crises of obesity and malnutrition, curious about the process of digestion, or just looking for a scientifically supported path to a beach body, you should find Why Calories Count an enlightening read."—Science
"Interesting questions are posed."—Taste For Life"If you want to understand what's wrong with our eating habits, you must understand the central role that calories play. Nestle and Nesheim are two of the America's finest nutritionists–and this book explains, clearly and succinctly, why calories count. It is essential reading not only for people interested in food policy, but for everyone who wants to eat well and be well." –Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
"This superbly well-researched and scientifically sound book makes it clear how today’s food environment often overrides physiological regulatory controls of body weight. Why Calories Count is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why so much about food choice lies in the hands of food marketers whose goal is to sell more products, not necessarily in the interests of public health." –Dr. David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite
“We need to understand what ‘empty calories’ are, so that we can feed our children food that is truly nourishing. On this topic, there is no better teacher than Marion Nestle, who writes with meticulousness, clarity and grace.” –Alice Waters, author of The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution
"Thank god authorities like Nestle and Nesheim have teamed up to give us an epic view of a calorie: what it is, where it came from, what it means, how and why we count them. Thank god they’ve managed to decode nutritional science into a commonsense language we can all understand. And thank god they’ve put calories in their place in a wider cultural and political context to help us think meaningfully about the food our lives depend upon. I’m grateful." –Betty Fussell, author of Raising Steaks: The Life & Times of American Beef
“Calories. We all talk about them—many are even obsessed with them—but what do we really know about them? Not much. Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim’s latest book changes all that, pulling back the curtain on calories and helping us understand them in a whole new light. You’ll never look at a 100-calorie pack of corporate cookies the same way again.” –Anna Lappé, author of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It
Table of Contents
Part One. Understanding Calories: It All Starts with the Science
1. What Is a Calorie?
2. The History: From Ancient Greece to Modern Calorie Science
3. Foods: How Scientists Count the Calories
4. Bodies: How Scientists Measure the Use of Calories
Part Two. Why You Need Calories: Survival, Warmth, and Work
5. Metabolism: How the Body Turns Food into Energy
6. The First Use of Calories: Basic Life Functions
7. The Second Use: Heat Losses while Metabolizing Food
8. The Third Use: Physical Activity
Part Three. Calorie Intake and Its Regulation
9. How Many Calories Do You Need?
10. Calorie Confusion: The Struggle to Estimate Intake
11. Secret Calories: Alcohol
12. Calorie Regulation: The Body’s Complex Weight Management System
Part Four. Too Few Calories
13. Starvation and Its Effects on the Body
14. Individuals, Communities, Nations: Calories and Global Hunger
15. Could Restricting Calories Prolong Human Life?
Part Five. Too Many Calories
16. An Introduction to Obesity
17. Calories and Weight Gain: Another Complex Relationship
18. Do Excess Calories Make Some People Gain Weight Faster than Others?
19. Are All Calories Created Equal?
20. Do Some Kinds of Diets Work Better than Others?
Part Six. The Politics of Calories: A Closer Look
21. Today’s “Eat More” Environment: The Role of the Food Industry
22. More Calorie Confusion: Portion Distortion, Health Halos,and Wishful Thinking
23. Calorie Labeling: Science and Politics
24. Alcohol Labels: Industry vs. Consumers
25. Will Calorie Labels Help Fight Obesity?
Conclusion: How to Cope with the Calorie Environment
Appendix One. Selected Events in the History of Calories, 1614 – 1919
Appendix Two. The Respiratory Quotient (RQ)
Appendix Three. Frequently Asked Questions
List of Tables
List of Figures
- Edinburgh Medal 2023, Edinburgh Science Foundation
- Finalist for IACP Cookbook Award in Food Matters category, International Association of Culinary Professionals
Interview with the author.