Are All Calories Created Equal?

You’ve probably heard the expression, “A calorie is just a calorie,” but is that truly accurate when you’re trying to manage your weight and eat a healthy diet? After all, common sense tells you 100 calories of cookies aren’t as good for you as 100 calories of fresh fruit, for example.

While it’s true that in a laboratory, a calorie is a calorie, the human body is a much different and more complex environment. The body metabolizes each of the macronutrients of protein, fat, and carbohydrate differently, and they have differing effects on the hormones and areas of the brain that control the signals of hunger and fullness.

When it comes to managing your weight, you want the biggest bang for your caloric buck. Choose foods that will meet your nutritional needs while also keeping you feeling full and satisfied as long as possible, rather than scrounging for a snack half an hour after eating a meal. Calories from whole or minimally processed foods will leave you feeling fuller and more satisfied for longer than processed foods and foods that contain more sugars.

In addition, because whole foods are digested more slowly, your blood sugar levels will remain steadier. Why is this important? When your blood sugar goes up quickly, your body may overproduce insulin in response, and that can lead to fat storage and a host of other metabolic problems, including inflammation, a rise in triglycerides, the lowering of HDL cholesterol (the good kind), and more. Continued blood sugar spikes may also eventually lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Also, when in comes to weight maintenance, a recent study seems to indicate that people consuming a diet low in carbohydrates burn more calories when at rest than those who eat a diet containing a higher proportion of carbohydrates. In this study, participants who ate a diet of 20 percent carbohydrates burned 250 more calories per day than those whose diets contained 60 percent carbs, and 111 more calories than those consuming a diet containing 40 percent carbs.

So the next time you get ready to eat a meal or snack, think about choosing the type of calories that will nourish your body and help you feel full longer—whole or minimally processed foods, rather than refined carbohydrates.