Thermodynamic Edge For Low Carbohydrate Diets: SUNY Downstate Researchers Say All Calories Are NOT Alike

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In a paper published in Nutrition Journal (Open Access, available without subscription at, two researchers from SUNY Downstate Medical Center show that low carbohydrate, high protein diets can be expected to be more effective than low fat diets, going against long standing prejudice of the nutritional community, which has claimed that only calories count.

“There are numerous examples of low carbohydrate diets being more effective than low fat diets with the same number of calories. It doesn’t always happen but it can happen,” said Dr. Richard Feinman of the Department of Biochemistry. “The nutritional establishment has been reluctant to accept this, because they say it violates the law of thermodynamics. However, they never seriously look at the thermodynamics, which not only says its possible, but it is to be expected.” he added.

In their paper, Dr. Feinman and Dr. Eugene J. Fine explain that thermodynamics is as much about efficiency as it is about energy conservation. Carbohydrate is an efficient fuel, whereas protein is not. On a low carbohydrate/high protein diet, even though total energy is conserved, more energy is wasted as heat, a process known as thermogenesis. This energy comes from burning fat.

The researchers stress that “the human body is not a storage locker. It is a machine and the efficiency of the machine is controlled by hormones and enzymes. Carbohydrates increase insulin and other hormones that regulate enzymes, leading to storage rather than burning of fat.”

“Of course, people are different” said the authors, “but many people are sensitive to the effects of carbohydrates and for them, a low carb diet is going to work well.”

The practical point is that getting rid of the idea that “a calorie is a calorie” opens the door for serious research into what kind of diets will be most effective and which people will benefit most. “This is important,” they explain “because millions of people

are seriously trying to lose weight on low carbohydrate diets, and instead of being given directions on the best way to do this, they have been largely discouraged by health professionals and self-appointed expert groups. The obesity epidemic is too important to allow this to happen.”

Note to editors/reporters: You can read the entire scientific paper by going to and clicking on “Provisional PDF” at the bottom of the headline.


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Dr. Richard Feinman
SUNY Downstate Medical Center
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