Blue Sky MD | Why all Calories are NOT Created Equal

Why all Calories are NOT Created Equal

Determining what to eat and when to eat it can be challenging and confusing. There seems to be advice coming from many different places – doctors, nutritionists, talk show hosts, social media, athletes and celebrities. Eight out of 10 people state they have seen conflicting information about healthy eating which has led them to a great deal of confusion.

One question that always seems to come up is: Are all calories created equal? A calorie is a calorie, right? Of all of the many nutrition myths, this is one of the most common and damaging. A calorie is not a calorie. Some claim that 100 calories of broccoli and 100 calories of candy will have the same effect on your weight. This is not at all true.

Different types of foods and macro-nutrients have a significant impact on on the brain centers and hormones that control eating behavior and hunger. The foods we eat have a big impact on our body’s ability to control when, what, and how much food we eat.

Thermic Effect of Food

The thermic effect of food is the energy we use to process/ metabolize the foods we eat. Some types of food take more energy to digest, absorb and metabolize the nutrients. The following shows the thermic effect of some of the different macro-nutrients:

  •  Fat: 2-3%
  •  Carbs: 6-8%
  • Protein: 25-30%

As shown above, it requires more energy and time to digest a protein calorie vs. a fat calorie. As a result, you feel fuller for longer which helps to control hunger and consume less daily calories. Based on the thermic effect, 100 calories of protein would end up as 75 calories, while 100 calories of fat would end up as 98 calories.

Refined vs. Complex Carbohydrates

A recent study compared the differences in metabolism between adults consuming two different types of grains: Refined (white rice, white breads and pastas, crackers made with white flour, cakes, cookies) versus complex (brown rice, whole grain breads, whole grain crackers). The group of adults consuming the complex carbohydrates reduced their daily calorie intake by 100 calories and their metabolism tended to be slightly higher. This boost in metabolic rate was due to the higher fiber (which takes longer to digest), and additional calorie excretion. Since refined carbohydrates are lower in fiber, they are digested and absorbed more quickly leading to a rapid spike in blood sugar. This spike can lead to a crash in blood sugar soon after, resulting in an increase in cravings for other high carb foods.

Low-Carb Diets

There have been many studies comparing low-carb and low-fat diets. Results consistently conclude that low-carb diets result in more weight loss. There are two main reasons for this: 1. Low-carb diets cause significant water loss. Excess bloat tends to go away within the first two weeks.. 2 Low-carb diets typically include higher amounts of protein based foods. Protein takes longer to digest, which helps one to feel fuller for longer. This reduces hunger and decreases overall calories consumed for the day.

Disease Prevention

Study after study shows the harmful effects of refined grains, sugary drinks and overly processed foods. These harmful effects range from the development of chronic health conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol), to an increase of harmful gut bacteria. Newer research shows that our gut bacteria (known as the microbiome), influences our immunity and helps to promote better well-being. A poor diet of refined carbohydrates and processed foods can negatively impact the microbiome causing an increase in the harmful gut bacteria. This could increase our risk of allergies, anxiety, obesity, memory problems and irritable bowl disease.

Concluding Thoughts

Eating can be a very complex act. People eat for a variety of reasons ranging from hunger and taste, to social, environmental, and emotional triggers. Food is often times one of the main focal points of celebrations, holidays, religious observances, and general social networking. Mentioning that some foods are better than others, is not meant to take away the joy from these occasions or suggest that you should never treat yourself to certain foods. Rather, the information presented in this blog is to help provide guidance in selecting foods that will lead to good health and well-being. For additional questions on nutrition and weight loss, call one of our Blue Sky offices today.

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