All Calories are NOT Created Equal

This article was published as my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.

Counting Calories Can Actually Work Against You

Research published last month in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms – again – what I’ve preached for two decades: all calories are NOT created equal. Counting calories not only fails as a method for weight loss, but will actually work against you, particularly if you repeatedly restrict calories over the course of your life.

As I’ve always told clients, and written previously, calories from different sources are metabolised differently. Sugar, and foods metabolised as sugar, create a cycle that contributes to obesity, regardless of the number of calories. These foods include white sugar, breads and pasta, as well as juices, corn syrup, rice, corn, and other grains. Even high glycemic fruits like grapes, mango, pineapple, and banana, can contribute to weight gain.

How The Study Was Conducted

In the study, overweight men consumed two meals with the same calories, macronutrients, and palatability, but one meal included a high glycemic index carb, and the other a low glycemic index carb. Brain scans showed that when people consumed high glycemic foods, they activated the addiction centers (pleasure and reward) in their brains. The study showed unequivocally that high glycemic foods effect not only our blood sugar, but our brains, starting a biochemical cascade that looks like addiction, resulting in more hunger, more cravings, and an ongoing cyle of poor eating.

The study was small but extremely conclusive: 100% of the subjects had the same definitive response. High glycemic foods caused a sharp spike, then a dramatic drop, in blood sugar, a condition known as hypoglyemia. The body then protects itself by generating a desire for quick fuel, ie more high glycemic carbohydrates.

Quality of Food Is What Counts

In my practice, I have seen many hundreds of clients who believed they were hypoglycemic, and eliminated those symptoms by eliminating refined and processed carbs, particularly gluten. I also teach my clients to balance protein, carbs and fats each time they eat to control the glycemic impact of the carbohydrates. A potato eaten alone will spike blood sugar, but a potato eaten as part of a balanced meal, with a few ounces of protein and healthy fats, will not.

I hope the old notion that weight loss is achieved by controlling calories is now finally put to rest. It’s not the number of calories, but the quality of the food, that determines your body composition.

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