Are All Calories the Same?
You have likely been told that to lose weight you had to count your calories. That the types of foods you ate were not that important, as long as you got the required number of calories into your body in a day. A pound of fat equals 3500 calories, so the thinking went like this: If you can burn 500 calories less every day than you are taking in, after seven days of eating this way, you will have consumed 3500 less calories that week and you will have lost a pound. This led to the belief that all calories are equal. Turns out, our cells are smarter than that!
Now don’t get me wrong on this. Gaining weight can, in most cases, be caused by
consuming too many calories and losing weight does depend on taking in less calories than you consume, but… the all calories are created equal part is simply a
All calories are NOT created equal! Yes, of course you do have to be aware of
the number of calories you are taking in, but only counting calories and disregarding the metabolic and hormonal effects of those calories is a recipe for disaster.
You see, the foods you eat, depending on whether they are proteins, carbs, or fats,
go through different metabolic pathways in your body. And those same food can
directly influence the very hormones that tell our brains when to eat and how
much! So, doesn’t it just make sense that if you take into consideration the types
of foods you are eating, as well as your total caloric intake, your ability to regulate
your body weight, your cravings, your mood, and a host of other things just becomes a whole lot easier.
Different food types (fats, carbs, and proteins) travel through different metabolic pathways in your body once you have ingested them. Let’s look at fructose for instance, a major ingredient in a lot of our processed foods, particularly bottled and canned soft drinks in the form of high fructose corn syrup. As fructose enters the digestive system, if the liver is ‘empty’, fructose can be converted to glucose and stored in the liver as glycogen. But what if the liver is already topped up with glycogen and can’t hold any more, as is often the case in our modern “I have to have three big meals and several snacks a day or I will surely die” environment. In this case, the fructose does not pass go, as the saying goes...it simply turns into fat. And this fat either gets transported elsewhere or it gets shelved into the liver tissues.
Plus, when fructose is consumed, it spikes the production of insulin by the pancreas. Over time, it takes more and more insulin to do its job of driving glucose
into your cells and you develop what is called insulin resistance, which causes further fat gain, especially the dangerous kind of fat that develops around your waistline. Plus, your body doesn’t ‘register’ fructose in the same way it does glucose, so you don’t feel full when you have consumed it and it does not lower ghrelin, the hunger hormone. You may find that your appetite has increased if you constantly consume fructose!
Now let’s compare fructose to a different food type: protein. The metabolic pathway that converts protein to fuel for your body requires a lot of energy, so about thirty percent of the calories you consume in the form of protein go towards digesting it. Plus, unlike fructose, protein makes you feel full, boosts your metabolic rate and builds muscles tissue, which serves to burn even more calories. What’s not to like?!
So, you can see that 200 calories of fructose and 200 calories of protein, even
though they are exactly the same in the number of calories you are taking in, are
entirely different in the ways they affect your cells and your health!
- Maday Labrador