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Nutrition Q & A – Not All Calories Are Created Equal

“What do you mean not all calories are not the same? Your last e-newsletter discussed how 100 calories from broccoli was different from 100 calories of white bread or chicken. I was totally shocked by this. Can you explain this a little more for me?”

This was just one of many similar questions that I received in response to my last response to a question on counting calories. Here is a little more background on calories and nutrition. The definition of a calorie has nothing to do with the human body. A calorie is defined as the amount of energy needed to raise one cubic centimeter (cc) of water one degree Celsius.

Most people may remember from their nutrition classes that certain fats, carbs, and proteins each provide a set number of calories per gram. Fats provide nine calories per gram, carbohydrates and proteins each provide four, alcohol provides seven, and water provides none. However, once nutrients are in the body everything changes.

 

Let’s examine three different meals each providing the same number of calories. We will focus in only on protein, carbohydrates, and fiber at this point. Assume that all three meals have no nutrient contribution from fats.

Meal A Meal B Meal C
Calories 600 600 600
Grams of Protein 60 50 30
Calories from Protein 240 200 120
Grams of Carbs 90 100 120
Calories from Carbs 350 400 480
Grams of Fiber (from Carbs) 15 10 5
Calories from Fiber 60 40 20

Now to look at how many calories you really end up with after eating each of these three meals.

Step #1 – Take out the calories from fiber, since fiber is unable to be used by our bodies. Not only do we gain no energy from ingesting it, but our body burns calories as it passes the fiber through out digestive tract.

So now the meal breakdowns look a little different.

 

Meal A Meal B Meal C
Calories 600 600 600
Grams of Protein 60 50 30
Calories from Protein 240 200 120
Grams of Carbs (with fiber) 90 100 120
Calories from Carbs 360 400 480
Grams of Fiber (minus fiber) 75 90 115
Remaining Carb Calories 300 360 460
Remaining Meal Calories 540 560 580

 

Step #2 – Now factor in the thermic effect (T.E.) of protein. Remember how for every calorie from protein, our body burns at least 25-30% of those calories just by ingesting the protein. We will use 25% for the calculations below.

Meal A Meal B Meal C
Calories 600 600 600
Grams of Protein 60 50 30
Calories from Protein 240 200 120
Grams of Carbs (with fiber) 90 100 120
Calories from Carbs 360 400 480
Grams of Fiber (minus fiber) 75 90 115
Remaining Carb Calories 300 360 460
Remaining Meal Calories 540 560 580
Calories Burned by T.E. 60 50 30
Remaining Meal Calories 480 510 550

 

On final inspection our three 600 calorie meals look a little different to our bodies. Our bodies don’t see numbers, they see fats, proteins, fiber, and other chemicals, which all interact with our internal chemistry. For example, it takes an addition of 3500 calories to add one pound of body fat. By eating meal C instead of meal A you are eating an additional 70 calories – over 50 days, that’s one more pound of fat around your mid section.

Just by manipulating protein and fiber in our meals you can eat the same “number” of calories (based on the food label), but actually lose weight (by choosing meals like A over meals like C). In fact many of my clients looking to lose body fat are shocked when I have them eating more calories per day then they were before they signed up for my services. However, in the end, when they lose pounds of body fat while preserving their lean body muscle they come around to see the science behind my methods.

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