All Calories Are Definitely Not Created Equal

Lately my inbox has been inundated with lots of great newsletters I’ve been subscribing to, and I’ve been trying to watch some more documentaries – I’m really trying to learn as much as I can about the latest news in health & wellness.

So, readers

  • What newsletters are you currently subscribed to?
  • Do you have any documentaries you would recommend with a general nutrition theme?

Please comment below!  The more, the merrier…

Today I wanted to discuss a recent article, “Not All Calories Equal, Study Shows” by Jennifer Corbett Dooren (from June 27, 2012, The Wall Street Journal).

I’m not a doctor.  I attended a small liberal arts college in Vermont, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French – the only science class I ever took after high school was Botany.  But, given my passion for health & wellness, I never quite bought into the idea that a calorie is a calorie.  Let’s pretend for a minute that I have a burger and fries OR a salad with grilled chicken and one serving of dressing (full fat dressing at that), both with the same numbers of calories.  I mean, call me crazy, but I bet that my body is going to be a lot happier with the salad option – same number of calories or not.  But, isn’t that just common sense?  If I consume 1,500 calories a day, then um, YEAH, I think it really does matter where those calories come from.  But then again, I’m no doctor…

So, there’s this recent study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (led by researchers at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the New Balance Foundation) that shows that a diet based on healthy carbohydrates provides the best chance for keeping weight off.  There were three common diets that were assessed – a low-fat diet, low-carb diet (modeled on the Atkins Diet), and a low-glycemic-index diet.  People generally struggle to keep weight off, and this study looked at the impact of these three diets on measures of energy expenditure.  Why this measure?  Because weight loss reduces the body’s energy expenditure.  To kick it off, the study’s 21 participants were put on a three-month diet where they lost about 10-15% of their body weight, and a month later were placed on one of the three diets.  They then switched to the other two for a duration one month each.  Blah, blah, blah…  I think I covered the gist of it.

The results were, as common sense should tell us, that the low-fat diet was the worst in terms of energy expenditure (among other not so great effects).  And the low-carb diet’s results came in the highest – burning 300 more calories a day than the low-fat diet.  But there were some not so great results from that diet too, which brings us to the low-glycemic-index diet that burned 150 more calories than the low-fat diet, but didn’t have any adverse side effects.  Yay for no negative side effects, readers!!!

The Three Diets & My Thoughts

We look back at the 90s where low-fat diets became the craze where I’m sure many people scarfed down a box of fat-free cookies vs having a serving of the normal cookies, or sat down and ate a whole bag of fat-free chips whereas a serving from the full fat bag probably would’ve been more satisfying.  I should note that if something is low in fat, that chances are it has a lot more sugar than its full fat relative.  Something to keep in mind: just because it’s low in fat, doesn’t make it right.  I’m bias, but I just don’t understand this diet or see any benefits from it.  Up for some yo-yo dieting, anyone?

And, oh, the low-carb diet.  I have to admit that I was a low-carb dieter myself for a while  For me, it worked.  I actually developed some really good habits from doing it, and my energy levels (at least how I perceived them to be) were very high.  To put it in perspective – I trained for, and ran, my first marathon while on Atkins.  In my low-carb experience, I mostly stuck with chicken, and tried to incorporate lots of veggies.  No, I wasn’t the one eating like a block of cheese and frying up bacon every day.  Unfortunately that’s what most people think of when they think low-carb, but there is a healthy way to do it.  Long story short, after about 9 months of off-and-on low-carbing, it just wasn’t a lifestyle I could stick with.  What (healthy) habits did I gain from it?

  • Diet soda?  Never heard of it
  • I drink lots of water
  • I drink at least 2 cups of green tea/day
  • I hardly ever use artificial sweeteners anymore
  • I love ketchup, but use it sparingly now and only keep Heinz Reduced Sugar Ketchup in my fridge

Some of the low-carb diet concepts seem to have a basis in fact, but it really comes down to which low-carb foods are being consumed and in what quantities.

Last but not least, what is a low-glycemic diet?  Until recently, I wasn’t quite sure of specifics, but it’s similar to a Mediterranean Diet which consists of natural, whole foods: whole grains, veggies, fish, oils.  It’s diet with a high consumption of extra virgin olive oil (healthy fats), high intake of in-season fruits and veggies, whole grains, wild fish, dairy, eggs, nuts – moderate consumption of meats and saturated fats, and excludes foods that are processed or refined.  Doesn’t sound all that bad.  And apparently, at least in this study, there were no negative effects – even better!

What did I take away from this article?  Focus should be on the quality of foods in your diet because not all calories are created equal.  Duh!

2 thoughts on “All Calories Are Definitely Not Created Equal

  1. Pingback: BEWARE: Calorie Counts | healthygirlandthecity

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