America’s not-so-little problem with obesity has stretched to over a third of our population, but we’re not the only country that’s wide around the midsection. The global epidemic of excess weight — dubbed “globesity” — is becoming more and more widespread each day and seemingly nothing has been done about it. An editorial published in Open Heart suggests the outdated practice of counting calories has to go. Instead, health experts recommend taking a look at the nutritional value of the food we eat to not only lower our weight, but also lower our risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

"Shifting the focus away from calories and emphasizing a dietary pattern that focuses on food quality rather than quantity will help to rapidly reduce obesity, related diseases, and cardiovascular risk," the research team said in a statement. "Primary and secondary care clinicians have a duty to their individual patients and also to their local populations. Our collective failure to act is an option we cannot afford.”

There are 140 calories in a single can of Coca-Cola. There are also 50 milligrams of sodium, 39 grams of carbohydrates, and 39 grams of sugar. On the other hand, there are around 200 calories in 30 grams of walnuts and 500 calories in four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, however, both have been attributed to a lower risk for heart attack and stroke. In fact, some experts suggest that increasing our nut consumption by two servings each week can save 90,000 lives that are cut short due to heart disease.

Results of the Action for Health in Diabetes study have shown that type 2 diabetes patients who adopt a lower calorie diet on top of increased physical activity have the same risk for death caused by a heart condition, even if the diet resulted in substantial weight loss. The research team suggests that simple dietary changes that focus on macronutrients (fat, carbs, and protein) and sugar consumption rather than calorie counting can efficiently improve health outcomes. Similar to the remedial effect quitting smoking has on our bodies.

"It is time to stop counting calories, and time to instead promote good nutrition and dietary changes that can rapidly and substantially reduce cardiovascular mortality,” researchers added. “The evidence indeed supports the mantra that 'food can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.' Recommending a high-fat Mediterranean-type diet and lifestyle to our patients, friends and families, might be a good place to start.”

Cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke’s Hospital James DiNicolantonio, who was one of three researchers involved with this study, also led a similar study showing that “globesity” is not a product of the world consuming too many calories. DiNicolantonio fears the misguided idea that “a calorie is a calorie” is only creating a “loop for overconsumption.” He argues that while some calories tell our brains “I’m full,” other calories say, “I’m still hungry.” Instead, he recommends we all switch to a “more-nuanced thinking” that focuses on calorie-rich but metabolically healthy foods.

Source: Capewell S, DiNicolantonio J, Malhotra A. Editorial: It is time to stop counting calories, an time instead to promote dietary changes that substantially and rapidly reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Open Heart. 2015.