Are All Calories Created Equal?
• Not all calories are created equal
• The answer may not be as simple as caloric intake
• A calorie is a unit of energy assigned to a food.
• Carbohydrates, proteins and fats all have a caloric value, as these are macronutrients, while vitamins, minerals and water (micronutrients) do not contain calories.
Carbohydrates – 4 cals/gram
Protein – 4 cals/gram
Fat – 9 cals/gram
As you can see, protein and carbohydrates have the fewest calories per gram, whereas fat has more than double the calories.
Let’s say salad dressing has 100 cals and 9 grams of fat. This means that this dressing has 81% of the calories coming from fat.
There are many ridiculous myths in nutrition.
The “calorie myth” is one of the most pervasive… and most damaging.
It is the idea that calories are the most important part of the diet, that the sources of those calories don’t matter.
“A calorie is a calorie IS a calorie,” they say… that it doesn’t matter whether you eat a 100 calories of candy or broccoli, they will have the same effect on your weight. It is true that all “calories” have the same amount of energy. One dietary Calorie contains 4184 Joules of energy. In that respect, a calorie IS a calorie. But when it comes to your body, things are not that simple.
The human body is a highly complex biochemical system with elaborate processes that regulate energy balance.
Different foods go through different biochemical pathways, some of which are inefficient and cause energy (calories) to be lost as heat.
Even more important is the fact that different foods and macronutrients have a major effect on the hormones and brain centers that control hunger and eating behavior.
The foods we eat can have a huge impact on the biological processes that govern when, what and how much we eat.
What would you prefer…
The Glycemic Index
There are many controversies in nutrition and the experts don’t agree on many things.
But one of the few things that almost everyone agrees on is that refined carbs are bad.
This includes added sugars like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, as well as refined grain products like white bread.
Refined carbohydrates tend to be low in fiber and they get digested and absorbed quickly, leading to rapid spikes in blood sugar. They have a high glycemic index (GI), which is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar.
When we eat a food that spikes blood sugar fast, it tends to lead to a crash in blood sugar a few hours later… also known as the “blood sugar roller coaster.” When blood sugar crashes, we get cravings for another high-carb snack.
So… the speed at which carb calories hit the system can have a dramatic effect on their potential to cause overeating and weight gain.
If you’re on high-carb diet, it is crucial to choose whole, unprocessed carb sources that contain fiber. The fiber can reduce the rate at which the glucose enters your system.
The studies consistently show that people who eat the most high glycemic index foods are at the greatest risk of becoming obese and diabetic. Because not all carb calories are created equal.
Studies show that refined carbohydrates lead to faster and bigger spikes in blood sugar, which leads to cravings and increased food intake.
Take Home Message
Different calorie sources can have vastly different effects on hunger, hormones, energy expenditure and the brain regions that control food intake.
Even though calories are important, counting them or even being consciously aware of them is not at all necessary to lose weight.
In many cases, simple changes in food selection can lead to the same (or better) results than calorie restriction.