Many fad diets and outdated studies have suggested that all calories are created equal and that in order to manage weight loss, counting calories is the simple solution to the problem. What this equation has failed to include is that not all calories are actually treated equally in the body. In fact, depending on the macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein), and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, water, and fiber) in a given food, the body will actually digest at different rates. This ultimately will determine how much work the body has to exert to digest the food, as well as, how long food is stored in the body and will ultimately be converted into fat for storage.
While it’s true that all calories do have the same amount of energy (think: fuel), the complex nature of the body’s processes do not see it this simply. Rather, it is important to know that different foods will actually undergo different biochemical pathways to use these calories efficiently. Even the smallest of nutrients in a food impacts the body’s hormonal and brain centers, where the body’s digestive and metabolizing roadmaps are housed.
Here are some ways to use calories to your advantage:
Focus on Fiber
Fiber not only helps to bind to toxins stored in your digestive tract and flush them from your system, but it also helps to slow down the digestion and absorption of other foods such as refined sugars, which are quickly absorbed into the blood stream and in excess amounts, contribute to fat storage and weight gain. While many of us assume that drinking a cup of apple juice has the same benefit as eating a whole apple, this isn’t necessarily true. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have compared the two and note that, “as a food changes form, its fiber content may change, too,” noting how a whole apple has about 4 grams of fiber, compared to the more refined apple juice with only about 2 grams of fiber. Their recommendation: “Enjoy the health benefits of applesauce and apple juice but for the most fiber, go straight to the source—the entire apple!”
Don’t Fear the Fats
Generations ago, the health industry raved about how low-fat/no-fat diets are the key to losing weight, preventing heart disease, and mitigating a whole host of health conditions. The problem with this, we soon learned, is that our bodies actually need certain fats and that this tasty ingredient isn’t necessarily the sole reason for our expanding waistlines or ailing hearts! You likely hear facts about how some fats are healthful and others, detrimental. Did you know that fats also play another role in our health? They slow digestion and the absorption of high-calorie foods, especially those that are nourishing—polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acid-containing. Some of these fats include those found in nuts, seeds, fish, avocado, coconut, and even lean meats. Consumed moderately, these fatty foods provide protective and inflammatory modulating factors. So when we look to compare fatty foods and how they help or harm our health, aim for moderate amounts from those abundantly nourishing foods listed above!
Serving Sizes—Sized Up
When you fill up on processed and unhealthier food choices, you might notice that you often struggle to feel satisfied. Maybe you even overeat in order to attempt to reach that point of satiation in your meal, but instead end up overeating because of this failed attempt! Caught in this struggle is something that many folks face even in a daily basis. The best way to overcome this struggle and to avoid overeating is to instead, fill up your servings with nutrient-dense foods. This means, opt for foods that are abundant in vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, high-quality protein, and fiber. Without a doubt, you’ll feel full sooner and satisfied for longer! To show the impact of poor versus good food choices, take a look at the example below. Notice how an evening at a local pizza joint can quickly leave you with excessive amounts of calories, fats, and processed carbohydrates, without sufficient fiber and a notable lack of the vitamins and minerals your body yearns for. On the other hand, see the second option, whereby you can actually see MORE options included in the meal, but with substantially LESS calories and fat, with more fiber and variety. Let this be a reminder at the impact that processed and high-calorie foods can have on you the next time you opt for dining out—or in!
2 slices of pizza (pepperoni with cheese); 6 hot chicken wings; 1 large Coca-Cola (12 oz)
1 turkey wrap (lettuce, mustard, tomato); baked butternut squash (1 cup) (sprinkled with olive oil, paprika and parmesan cheese); fresh fruit salad (1/2 cup) with Greek yogurt (1/2 cup- plain; low-fat); 1 large unsweetened sparkling water with lime
|Fresh Fruit Salad
The Bottom Line
Are all calories the same? Simply put, yes AND no. They do have the same energy when it comes to fueling your body, regardless of how these are consumed. Weight is gained through consuming excess calories, yes, but the WAY your body utilizes these calories varies. This is based on the amount of high-quality macro- and micronutrients in the food itself. Focusing on healthful fats and fiber plays a key role in slowing the digestion and provides lower calorie options in place of over processed food products that often wreck havoc when over-consumed.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Apples or Apple Juice. Retrieve August 12, 2016. Accessed from: http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/apples-or-apple-juice