A Calorie is a Calorie – Or Is It?

The NY Times published a recent article about, “what really makes us fat.”  Aside from the author’s agenda (Gary Taubes is a HUGE proponent of low-carb diets), let’s look at the question objectively.  The article contends a controversial topic in the nutrition field: is a calorie a calorie.  Why this is important for the discussion: when it comes to fat loss do calories matter more or is it the diet’s composition?  Short-term: Calories are king.  Long-term: diet quality is more important for sustainable, healthy weight loss.  Excess refined carbohydrates contribute to obesity more than say, a handful of calorically dense nuts.  The insulin response is what distinguishes fat calories from carbohydrate calories, but it is an important distinction (with regards to satiety and fat deposition).  What to take away from this – focus on the types of foods you are consuming and their respective portions.  When it comes to weight loss, it’s about improving the nutrient density (quality) of the diet.  Read on for further discussion.

Do extra calories make us gain weight?

Yes.  No matter what the composition of the diet (healthy or unhealthy), eating more calories than your body needs will cause weight gain.

But the goal of weight loss is to keep it off.  A very low calorie diet to get there is not sustainable and has myriad negative side effects, such as a slowed metabolism and increased protection of fat cells. This is because when you drastically reduce calories, the body is in a starved mode.  Constant hunger is usually the result, which is why those on low calorie diets for weight loss can’t sustain it and thus tend to gain back any accrued weight loss (and sometimes subjects have even gained more weight than from baseline).

Can I eat a low calorie diet of Twinkies and Coke for weight loss?

As mentioned above, refined carbohydrates (added sugars versus those found naturally in foods) does increase fat deposition on the body when eaten in excess (and by, “in excess,” this is much is less than what people would think).  “In excess” is more than 150 calories of discretionary spend (for men) and 100 calories (for women).  This means, for men, if a food has around 9 teaspoons of sugar (1 teaspoon weighs around 4 grams and so 9 teaspoons weighs 36 grams) they’ve had their limit for the day.  To put this into perspective, one 12 fl oz can of regular Coke has 40 grams of sugar J   More on sugars and carbohydrates at the American Heart Association website.

Best way to eat for weight loss?

Those who eat more lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbs and whole foods and less refined carbohydrates and processed foods lose weight quicker and don’t have a hard time keeping it off.  This is because there are many factors when it comes to weight reduction.  The reduced caloric plan is not sustainable and metabolism slows down to protect the fat it has on the body so as not to starve to death, etc).  With regards to what really helps us lose weight, fussing over caloric quantity is less effective than focusing on quality foods.

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