Pathways and mechanisms linking dietary components to cardiometabolic disease: thinking beyond calories

Publication University of California, San Francisco

K. L. Stanhope, M. I. Goran, A. Bosy‐Westphal, J. C. King, L. A. Schmidt, J.‐M. Schwarz, E. Stice, A. C. Sylvetsky, P. J. Turnbaugh, G. A. Bray, C. D. Gardner, P. J. Havel, V. Malik, A. E. Mason, E. Ravussin, M. Rosenbaum, J. A. Welsh, C. Allister‐Price D. M. Sigala, M. R. C. Greenwood, A. Astrup, R. M. Krauss 

Obes Rev. 2018 May 14.


Calories from any food have the potential to increase risk for obesity and cardiometabolic disease because all calories can directly contribute to positive energy balance and fat gain. However, various dietary components or patterns may promote obesity and cardiometabolic disease by additional mechanisms that are not mediated solely by caloric content. Researchers explored this topic at the 2017 CrossFit Foundation Academic Conference ‘Diet and Cardiometabolic Health – Beyond Calories’, and this paper summarizes the presentations and follow-up discussions. Regarding the health effects of dietary fat, sugar and non-nutritive sweeteners, it is concluded that food-specific saturated fatty acids and sugar-sweetened beverages promote cardiometabolic diseases by mechanisms that are additional to their contribution of calories to positive energy balance and that aspartame does not promote weight gain. The challenges involved in conducting and interpreting clinical nutritional research, which preclude more extensive conclusions, are detailed. Emerging research is presented exploring the possibility that responses to certain dietary components/patterns are influenced by the metabolic status, developmental period or genotype of the individual; by the responsiveness of brain regions associated with reward to food cues; or by the microbiome. More research regarding these potential ‘beyond calories’ mechanisms may lead to new strategies for attenuating the obesity crisis.