Are All Calories The Same?

(BeWellBuzz) Why is obesity on the rise? Most people will blame this on the habit of eating too much and exercising too little. They may be right, but a new study has put forward an alternative explanation. Read on to know more.

A calorie, after all, is a calorie, and all of them are the same, right? Wrong. A new study shows that all calories are not the same, at least not when viewed from the perspective of losing weight or maintaining it.

This study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in a way ends the mystery of why only a few overweight people ever manage to maintain weight loss over the long term. The answer, the new study suggests, is that they typically consume the wrong type of calories. You see, there are calories that have a restrictive effect on metabolism, because of which you do not burn as many calories as you otherwise would have. To put it plainly, what goes in decides how much goes out.

Surprised? Don’t be. This is the truth, and you would do well to embrace and practice it, especially if you are a few pounds on the heavier side or are someone who wants to maintain a healthy weight.

All calories are not alike, a new study reveals

Researchers studied the effect of calories derived from different foods on 21 participants. Each participant had lost about 15% of the total weight by following a diet comprising of 45% carbs, 25% protein, and 30% fat. The participants were divided into three groups, and each group was put on a different diet for a month.

  • The first group was put on a low-fat diet, comprising mainly of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. The participants of this group received 60% of their daily calories from carbs, 20% from protein, and the remaining 20% from fat.
  • The second group was asked to follow a very-low-carbohydrate diet, similar to the Atkins diet. The diet was designed such that carbs and protein together accounted for only 40% of the daily calorie intake (carbs 10%, protein 30%), while 60% of the daily calorie requirement came from fats.
  • The participants of the third group were asked to consume low-glycemic diet, such as vegetables, minimally processed grains, healthy fats, and legumes, with carbs accounting for 40% of daily calorie intake, protein for 20%, and fats for remaining 40%.

Note: At this point, it is necessary to explain what low-glycemic, or low-glycemic index foods are, as the term ‘low-glycemic’ will appear again, at least a few times more in this article. The glycemic index (GI for short) gives a measure of how fast the sugar level in the blood rises after you eat a particular food. Different types of foods have a different effect on the blood sugar levels. Some cause blood sugar levels to shoot up immediately, while some raise the blood sugar levels slightly. Low-glycemic foods, such as most sweet fruits (mangoes, peaches), most vegetables, whole intact grains (wheat, oat, barley, rice, millet), and beans (lentil, black, kidney, pink, white, peanut, almond, chickpea, walnut) belong to the latter category. A low-glycemic diet, or a low-glycemic index diet, is one that is comprised of low-glycemic foods.

All the participants were given approximately 1,600 calories each day. The scientists used the latest methods to monitor how many calories the group burned on a day-to-day basis.


Scientists made the following observations:

  • The participants who were put on a very-low-carb diet (the third group) burned approximately 300 calories more each day than the low-fat diet group and approximately 150 calories more than the participants who ate low-glycemic foods.
  • The participants who ate very-low-carb foods recorded the highest level of C-reactive protein—a marker of inflammation—and cortisol—the stress hormone.

Inferences that can be made from the above findings:

From the above information, we can safely infer the following:

  • There are different types of calories

Some calories slow the metabolic rate. As a result of this, we burn fewer calories. If you get most of your daily calories from carbs, you are going to have a tough time losing or maintaining weight. From a metabolic perspective, a low-fat diet is the most unsuitable one.

  • A very-low-carb diet allows you to burn maximum calories, but it is not the healthiest diet

To lose or maintain weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. A very low carb diet allows you to burn more calories than other diets, and yet, it is not something you must follow over long periods of time. Why? Because people who have foods with low carb content are at an increased risk of heart disease. A low-carb diet is associated with elevated levels of cortisol and C-reactive protein, both of which contribute to heart disease when present in high amounts.

  • A low-glycemic-index diet is a better option than a very-low-carb diet

Although foods with low-glycemic index are less restrictive from a metabolic perspective than a low-carb diet, they are a better option as they burn more calories than a low fat diet and at the same time, are not bad for the heart.



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