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Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics (California Studies in Food and Culture) Hardcover – April 18, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A feast for the mind.”
(Nature 2012-03-14)

“The most succinct diet book ever written.”
(The Scientist 2012-02-01)

“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 2012-03-30)

“Along with offering a fascinating history, they show how an understanding of calorie needs saved lives in the global fight against hunger.”
(Emily Kaiser Thelin The Wall Street Journal 2012-04-20)

“Takes the science of calories and breaks it down for the rest of us.”
(San Francisco Chronicle 2012-03-25)

“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 2012-04-25)

“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 2012-03-21)

"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 2013-07-26)

From the Inside Flap

"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 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

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Product Details

  • Series: California Studies in Food and Culture (Book 33)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; F First Edition edition (April 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520262883
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520262881
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was prepared to spend most of my time skimming this book for useful information while avoiding the boring parts that often encumber these kinds of texts, but I read this one cover to cover in just a few days. In fact, as I was reading it and nearing the end I tweeted:
"Sad that I'm almost done reading 'Why Calories Count.' It's so good that I don't want it to end. Really." (@weighthacker)

That's because Why Calories Count is the fascinating story of what calories are, how they were discovered, how they're measured (my favorite way: using 'double labeled water' calorimeters), how our bodies use them, why they're important to us, how they affect our weight, and how our society views them. If you're at all interested in the calorie, I don't think you'll find a better book.

What I especially appreciate about Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim's approach is that they don't (ahem) sugar coat anything. When information about certain aspects of calories is unclear, they say that. If there are conflicting points of view on a topic, they raise them. If food companies are employing deceitful practices (they are), they're pointed out. They also explain how the regulations around calories came into being and how politics often plays more of a role than science when it comes to our nutrition labels. It's not as dry as it sounds.

All of the information is put into the context of why we're experiencing record levels of obesity and being overweight, and what we can actually do about it. This isn't a diet book, but it does look at many of the popular diets out there and explains why they work and which one is for you. (Why: You eat fewer calories. Which One: Any one that helps you eat fewer calories.) If you're trying to lose weight or know someone who is, this is a must read.
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Format: Hardcover
Brilliance crackles in the pages of Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim's "Why Calories Count." The authors, who are professors of food science (and Nestle also in sociology) at NYU and Cornell respectively, deliver a plain-English presentation for non-scientists. They unpack what is a calorie in physical terms, and how calories relate to food from different sources - carbohydrate, protein, fat, and alcohol. They survey alternative theories and folk notions about what makes weight loss or weight gain happen. Contrary to "lowfat" and "low-carb" diet advocates and food marketers, Nestle and Nesheim reaffirm, loudly and clearly, a long-held scientific proposition: that calorie balancing, not food composition, overwhelmingly determines weight gain, weight loss, and weight steadiness.

That makes a good book right there. But "Why Calories Count" does a whole lot more. In just a couple-hundred pages of prose that is colorful, reasonable, and easy-to-read, Nestle and Nesheim unfurl a scientific detective story about food and society. They cut through a lot of dieting mythology and food marketers' hype. They expose troubling trends in eating as a matter of public health. And they reveal clear-eyed solutions to better eating that are available to individuals.

Standing on sound science, the book stages a drama about food and society in America against a 125-year historical backdrop. The protagonist is the American food consumer - sometimes overeater and sometimes dieter - who is driven by personal taste, biology, and good intentions at times. The cast of characters includes: food scientists, professional nutritionists, and diet marketers; farmers, agribusiness, and food marketers; restaurants; and food policymakers in federal, state, and local governments.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am not a layman but a cardiologist and my patients often get misinformation from a variety of garbage / misinformed dietary and nutrition popular books. This book is excellent with no grandiose claims but real information about calories and how one can understand them and make sense (or the lack of it) of all the other books out there which are hype with no real content or evidence based data. This is the only book they really need.
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Format: Hardcover
In a world of confusing food claims and conflicting diet recommendations, "Why Calories Count" is a refreshingly dispassionate look at the science of human nutrition. The book is clear, exhaustively researched and has extensive end notes, so the reader can pursue individual topics in more detail, if desired.

The authors effectively argue that most diet claims are flimsily based on untrustworthy research, and that the only thing that counts when it comes to weight control is calorie count. The problem is that hardly anyone knows their caloric needs and can estimate the caloric content of their food. Hence, people are open to exaggerated food claims and crazy diets.

There are several amusing anecdotes, my favorite of which involves experiments demonstrating that people have an intuitive belief that certain "healthy" foods have negative calories. For example, if asked to estimate the number of calories of a bowl of chili with and without a side salad, they estimate that the chili with salad has fewer calories when, in fact, it has more. Even nutritionists guess wrong!

The other topic I appreciated was a clear explanation of why high fructose corn syrup is such a danger. The authors' explanation exposes as deception the oft-televised claim that the body can't tell the difference between HFCS and sugar. I think that after you read this passage, you'll ban sweetened drinks from your home forever.

If I had to quarrel with any aspect of the book it would be the estimates of exercise output, which differ from most contemporary online calculators. I don't know who is correct. I'll just offer that there is a conflict.

For readers interested in fitness, this book pairs nicely with Tom Venuto's "The Body Fat Solution", which puts together a fitness regime consistent with the nutrition principles in this book. They could be sold together.
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