Archived Story

Calories not created equal?

Published 11:07am Monday, July 22, 2013


ou’ve heard the story about the city mouse and the country mouse?

The classic Aesop’s Fable tells the story of a county mouse who offers his city-dwelling cousin a simple country meal.

The city mouse pooh-poohs the down-home food and invites the country mouse to the big city for some high falutin’ cuisine.

While the two mice are eating like kings in the city, their feast is broken up by a couple of dogs that sent them scrambling for cover and leaves them hungry.

The country mouse heads back home to the simple life, saying, “I’d rather gnaw a bean than be gnawed by continual fear.”

It’s a moral that many Alabamians can sink their teeth into.

But the fact is that I’d put our top Alabama chefs up against famous chefs anywhere.

These days, I think we can eat like kings in the country and not worry about the threat of big city disruptions.

I was in Paris, France (not Paris, Texas) last week and, while I enjoyed some fine meals, it’s hard to argue that that it was any better than what I can have within an hour’s drive of my home … or even in my home with the wonderful fresh food being produced locally these days.

I was already thinking about writing about this mousy tale when I read a story in the New York Times Friday morning.

There was a photo of a huge mouse on one side of a scale and two smaller mice on the other side.

The scale was tipped toward the single mouse and the headline read, “Overweight? Maybe You Really Can Blame Your Genes.”

The story was about new research on a gene that works in the brain to control how quickly calories are burned.

The gene, MRAP2, was deleted from the overweight mouse in the photo.

All three mice were consuming exactly the same number of calories.

Scientists have found that we humans have the same gene.

“The history of obesity for many, many years has been one of blaming people for a lack of self control,” said Dr. Joseph Majzoub, chief of endocrinology at Boston Children’s Hospital.

It turns out that may not be the case.

In another study, The Times reported that scientists put 12 pairs of identical twins in a controlled environment for 120 days.

Each of the twins ate 1,000 calories per day more than was needed to maintain their weight and had the same amount of physical activity.

Both identical twins gained the same amount of weight, but some of the sets of twins gained as little as 9 ½ pounds while other sets twins put on a whopping 29 pounds – three times as much weight.

UAB obesity researcher David Allison said, “From a basic science point of view, this is really interesting and exciting.”

I think we can all agree with Allison.

And it squares with what anybody can see.

We all know people who eat whatever they want and seem to never add a pound, and we all know others who struggle with diets and sweat through daily exercise and still seem to put on weight if they fast-walk through a grocery store.

It may be that a calorie is not a calorie for everyone. And maybe sometime in the future humans will have genetic therapy that will make maintaining a healthy weight a non-issue.

Until that day comes, this country mouse is quite content to stay home and gnaw the flavorful green beans that grow in my Alabama garden.

Boone is publisher of The Outlook.