Calorie Quality Factor 2: Aggression (The “A” in SANE)


“The crucial factor is not how much is eaten…or how much is expended, but how…those calories are utilized and made available when needed.” – Gary Taubes, in Good Calories, Bad Calories

A calorie is not a calorie when it comes to how likely it is to be stored as body fat. We can think about human biology like this: When we eat, a traffic cop tells calories where to go. How Aggressively calories approach this traffic cop determines their chances of being stored as body fat.

The traffic cop directs calories to repair, fuel, or fatten us—in that order. It first makes sure we have enough fuel to rebuild anything that has broken down. Next, it keeps us doing whatever we are doing. Last, it seeks to protect us from starving. As long as we have a calm and consistent flow of calories coming into our system, the cop does a great job directing them.

However, when calories approach the traffic cop Aggressively, it gets angry, throws its clipboard down, and sends those calories to fat cells. Our body is fine with a lot of food. It is Aggressive food that aggravates it. Five hundred calm calories creeping into the bloodstream over many hours are less likely to be stored as body fat than five hundred Aggressive calories rushing in all at once. Like the rest of us, our body does not do its best work when dealing with a bunch of Aggressive requests all at once.

To best understand calories’ Aggression we first need to understand how our body fuels itself. It does not run on the food we eat. It runs primarily on glucose, a sugar our body creates from the food we eat. That may seem like a meaningless distinction, but it is not.

Storing body fat is not caused by eating a lot of food. Storing body fat is about a response to eating food that causes us to have more glucose in our bloodstream than we can use at one time. That is why calories’ Aggression matters so much. The more Aggressive calories are, the faster they increase the levels of glucose in our bloodstream. The faster calories increase our glucose levels, the more likely we are to have more glucose than the body can deal with at one time. That’s when it shuttles the excess into our fat cells.

The distinction between “a lot of food” and “a lot of glucose right now” is important. We can eat all the food we want and never gain body fat if the glucose the food generates does not exceed the glucose level we can deal with right then. Fortunately, SANE foods prevent excess glucose from getting into our bloodstream. If we simply focus on increasing the amount of water-, fiber-, and protein-packed high-Satiety foods we are eating, we will automatically avoid Aggressive calories and store less body fat.


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