Are all calories the same?

A number of nutritionists out there just tell you to eat low calorie foods to lose weight and that’s it. This is known as the ‘A calorie is a calorie’ concept. This indicates that all calories are the same. Well, strictly speaking, the calories are the same BUT the effect that they bring with them can either help your goals or make it harder to achieve them. Let’s take a look at them in greater details.

We have three macro-nutrients:

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for our body. They are present in fruits, dairy products and gains. Carbohydrates (also known as carbs) are broken down into glucose to be used as energy and also converted into glycogen to be stored in the muscles and liver. If you take in more carbs than you require, your body will convert these carbs into fat and store them for future use. This is one of the reasons why low-carb diets are so popular. Basically, there are a number of different types of carbohydrates. The traditional method of carb classification is simple carbs, complex carbs (starch), fiber. Another method to classify the carbs is the Glycemic Index including Low GI, Medium GI and High GI carbs which are based on how quickly the blood sugar level increases where you take in the carbs. A similar method is the insulin index which is fairly new based on which carbs effect insulin in which way. The main idea is to stick to Low GI and complex carbs and taking minimum carbs at night.

Proteins are present in different kinds of meat, dairy products, plants, beans and lentils etc. The main purpose of protein is to provide muscle and other tissue repairing properties. As far as nutrition goes the important things to note is that protein takes a lot of time to get digested thus keeping you full for a long time and also gets absorbed slowly. Protein also has a thermal effect, increasing our body temperature and therefore our metabolism. High protein diets are very popular nowadays mainly because of the reasons mentioned above. Proteins can be used as a source of energy minimizing the use of carbohydrates and they are also the least likely of the three macro-nutrients to get stored as fat, you will get a goof fat loss effect. However, eating too much protein has two big negative. Firstly – you start over working the kidneys as a lot of waste is created from protein rich foods. Another big big negative is increasing the risk of intestinal/stomach cancer and ulcers. The right balance is required to get the best benefits from proteins. There are a number of different kinds of proteins, ranging from dairy, to plant to animal. The best kind of protein is said to be ‘Whey’ protein followed by egg protein. Whey is a bi-product of cheese making and SURPRISE SURPRISE, it is also present in ice cream. So a very good post workout meal = ICE CREAM…hehe. These proteins are complete and incomplete, get digested either very quickly or take their time. These effects are very important to determine your success.

Fats are of the good kind and the bad kind. These are saturated fats, unsaturated fats (mono and poly) and trans-fats. The good fats (unsaturated) are vital components of building tissues and cells so cutting out fats completely from your diet (which many people do) is absolutely wrong. You need things like nuts, olive oil, fish oil etc. in your diet to ensure a balanced diet. However, the amount of fats should not be very high as they are rich in calories. The unsaturated fats also help you slow the digestion and absorption process (i.e. helping you stay full provide slow and constant energy to your body).

Amount of calories
Proteins – 4 calories per gram
Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram
Fats – 9 calories per gram

As you can see there are different classifications of different macro-nutrients, which means that they have different properties and effect us in different ways. If all calories were the same then eating only sugar in moderate amounts would help you lose fat, but does it? A calorie is in fact a calorie, but the effects such as saturated fat calories increasing cholesterol and unsaturated fats lowering cholesterol, insulin going sky high with High GI carbs and staying in control with Low GI are things that determine whether you will reach your fitness goal. I will be talking about each macro-nutrient in days to come to stay tuned.

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1 comment:

Tom Parker said...

Another great read Usman. Good breakdown of all the major food groups which make a healthy, balanced diet.